Attempts To Get Off The Sofa

by Jill Amadio

Like most writers I have read dozens of how-to books, joined Sisters in Crime; Mystery Writers of America; the Authors Guild, and even ASJA – the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’ve been a panelist at conferences, given talks all over the place, and enjoyed writing for this blog and magazines.    

These days I have suffered from a lack of inspiration.

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 Previously I had deadlines that worked when I had a demanding publisher or if I was ghostwriting for a client. At present neither apply and I find myself with days, weeks even, of time to work on three books of my own that have been on the back burner.
 
They include a biography of a woman who pioneered aviation art in America; my third mystery, and a book about a terrorist event that was originally to be ghostwritten.
 
This last one is a true account of a teenager who was married in 1992 to a Middle Eastern college student who later became a terrorist. Divorced in 1994 she went on with her life. When she saw her ex-husband’s photograph on TV as one of the terrorists she contacted the authorities.
 
I interviewed her years ago in Oregon, made copies of her marriage certificate and divorce decree, and wrote a 40-page book proposal. I was quickly signed up with a top-five New York literary agent. However, no publisher was willing to touch it back then and a few months later, at the age of 31 and just before I was due to meet with her again, the young woman died in a suspicious car accident reminiscent of the Karen Silkwood story.
 
Last year, before moving to Connecticut, I emptied my storage unit and found the two bins of research I’d collected containing recordings of the girl, her mother, sister, and brother who knew the terrorist husband. Mindful of the fate she suffered I decided to fictionalize the book.  I’d signed a contract with her mother giving me all rights, registered the book proposal with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, and went to work. So far I have nine chapters.
 
The decision to go forward with this project was easy. The implementation almost impossible. I just haven’t been able to get myself to work on it further for the past few months, perhaps because of the overwhelming amount of research I had gathered.
 
My research includes several books on the event and I have great quotes from the young woman and the family. I visited locations and took photos, and had lunch in the same restaurants her ex-husband had taken her to where they met up with  “friends.”
 
The bins are brimming with marvelous, usable material. I was pumped and eagerly dove into writing. I became so engrossed I made dozens of cups of tea and left them in the kitchen forgetting they were there. The agent lost interest because the subject was no longer alive to promote the book. I stored the names of the detectives who investigated her death; transcriptions; the coroner’s report; the death certificate, and her obituary. So I went on to other projects.
 
Now, I want to complete it. But guess what?   
 
I can’t get myself to open the document. I’ve thankfully avoided writer’s block for decades and I have come the conclusion that I am simply lazy. This condition is exacerbated by the virus causing enforced isolation more than usual, and my discovery of the wonders of Netflix.  Or maybe the 123 files staring me in the face are too intimidating.
 
I remember reading how John Updike solved his lack of excitement for a story when he lived here in Connecticut, incidentally. In his den he set up three typewriters on which he was typing three different stories, During a day he walked from one to another when he ran out of ideas for one novel and moved on to the next for a while.
 
What to do? After a stern argument with myself last week which got me nowhere I reached out to friends for a solution and received some excellent advice. 
 
Peggy Ehrhart who is on her eighth mystery in her knitting series, had a suggestion. She told me to start at the front of a bin, pull out the first file and insert whatever material was in that file into the appropriates chapters.  And so on. Great idea.
 
Sandy Giedeman, a well-published award-winning poet who often edits my books offered more advice. I told her one of my favorite guides was “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. Sandy told me to re-read it and start putting flesh on the skeleton I had already created in the synopsis that included a sentence or two for each of the chapters. That helped. I had a terrific, ready-made skeleton for the entire book in the book proposal I had shelved years earlier. (It is one reason I am a fanatic for flash drives and printing out hard copies of precious writings)
 
A third friend said I should listen to uplifting music. I dug out my favorite CDs and heard the Mamas and Pappas singing “California Dreamin’” Well, that was a little sad as I was no longer in California and had a hankering to be back there. I also listened to ABBA, again a bit of a mistake since instead of writing anything I sat on the sofa and daydreamed about my life when the band was famous many years ago.
 
I also played “The Standing Stones of Callanish,” Celtic music composed about an ancient site in Cornwall but then I remembered I had bought that disc to put me in the mood for my Cornishwoman mysteries. I replaced it with “Puccini Without Words,” which is quite lovely but again, maudlin in parts because operas are so melodramatic. Nevertheless, all three suggestions helped and I am now happily engaged in methodically sorting through the first bin of files.
 
It is so easy to waste time instead of sitting down and writing. Such a strange paradox as we all share the passion and when inspiration smacks us on the jaw it is thrilling to get our ideas onto the electronic page – and just as disappointing when we don’t or can’t.
 
I’m sure most writers have their own solutions, even quirky ones, and someone has probably written a book about them. I still like Goldberg’s book not only because I write mysteries and love its title, “Writing Down the Bones,” but also for its content.
 
My current plan is to finish the first draft of the story by May 15, self-publish, and see how it goes. 

 

Photo by Inside Weather on Unsplash

14 thoughts on “Attempts To Get Off The Sofa”

  1. Oh Jill – I am so with you on this! I have been there through all of the above. I’m still somewhat in the overwhelmed with too many files stage, but slowly getting back into it. I like the idea of a deadline. And I am so relieved I’m not alone with this guilty back-and-forth. Thank you for a helpful and insightful post! Onwards and Upwards! And we miss you in California!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Rosie, it a b**** sometimes but we just press on regardless, right? Shame and guilt about our laziness but at least we didn’t kill anyone – well, only in our books.

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  2. Jill, I actually liked the idea of having three typewriters going at once with three different stories on them. We can basically do that with a computer by switching between saved work. But you are right about this mandatory lock-down. Before this happened writers couldn’t wait to get off by themselves to write. Sort of like Garbo’s: “I vant to be alone.” Now it’s like we are in solitary confinement because we had a bad lawyer. But good for you to be getting back into your writing. I’m doing the same thing and hope to finish the second Chance McCoy book by early summer. Hang in there.

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  3. Jill, you are sure not alone with the inertia. The pandemic, the social justice uprising, the election and its fallout–it’s paralyzed almost all my writer friends, save one, who is a production machine. Glad you found some helpful advice. Another good book is “Bird by Bird” by Ann Lamott–the first place I came across the term “s****y first draft.” It helped. Good luck–your project sounds fascinating. I’ll be among the first in line to buy the book!

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  4. I’m a great believer in writers writing when and how they need to, Jill–and maybe it’s time for you to get that draft done by May 15, as you said. If it’s not, I’ve no doubt that your mind is already churning on other ideas that may take its place. It does sound like a wonderful, intriguing idea, though.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I love the way us Residence writers support and encourage each other, each with our own brand of inspiration.

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  5. I’m laughing because I understand your problem better than you think. I’m writing again, and my protagonist Lala is going through exactly what you describe. Her savvy mother intuits Lala’s dilemma and asks her, “Is this something you want to do or have to do?” When Lala tells her the former, her mother chuckles. “That explains it. When you would like to do something, there’s no pressure to get it done like when you must do something.” Having a deadline or other constraint to produce something in a timely manner forces us to complete a project, but if we’re on our own, with no pressure to finish, we don’t always get it done. Lala seeks inspiration from those she’s inspired. It might work for you as well.

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  6. You’re definitely not alone, Jill! And your project sounds excellent. Deadlines are my “get it done” mechanism. Don’t always hit the mark…but having that gold post out there gets me going…(I know, a lot of mixed metaphors!) I think your post has energized a lot of us…

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