Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don’t Throw Out Your Novel Like a Worn-Out Shoe

By Marilyn Baron

If I were a Catholic I could seek reconciliation and do my penance with a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 30 days since I last worked on my novel. And when I did write I violated the rule of Show, Don’t Tell, not to mention indulging in too much backstory. I’ve head hopped and have created unsympathetic characters. For these and all my other writing sins, I am truly sorry.

I imagine there must be a tremendous feeling of relief that comes with a sense of forgiveness and starting with a clean slate, much like tackling a neglected novel and finally getting it put to rights.
If I were an alcoholic, I could stand up at an AA meeting [or a GRW chapter meeting] and admit:
Hi. My name is Marilyn Baron and I’m a blocked writer. It’s been 30 days since the start of my current dry spell. I’m parched and I really need a cool burst of inspiration.

But I’m neither Catholic nor an alcoholic. So what’s a Jewish writer to do? When in doubt, I can always call on that age-old standby, Jewish Guilt. Luckily, you don’t have to be Jewish to experience Jewish guilt.

What do you do when your novel starts talking back?

Here’s how it works. You start hallucinating to the point where your novel starts talking back to you.

Your novel: “You haven’t written a word in 30 days. You haven’t called. You haven’t come to see me. Don’t mind me. I’ll just sit over here in a dark, drafty corner. Go ahead, throw me out like a worn-out shoe. I’m not important. I’m just your novel.”

You: “Don’t give me a guilt trip. I carried you around for nine long months. I was in labor for days. I gave birth to you, so don’t tell me I don’t care about you.”

Then you just have to forgive yourself and move on. It reminds me of working with my personal trainer at the gym I just joined. I hate the gym. To me, exercise is a dirty word, but my daughter convinced me to join with her so I’m slogging it out. That personal trainer really puts me through my paces. I don’t like going, but I’ve run out of excuses. I’m just going to have to buckle down and work out. And buckle down and write.

Guilt is a great motivator. Guilt can really get you going. It can help you get back in the game. It can help you finish a page, a chapter, and then a complete manuscript. So don’t feel bad about feeling guilty. Embrace your guilt. Don’t throw your manuscript out like a worn-out shoe. Listen to your novel when it starts talking back to you. Start writing again.

What do you have to feel guilty about (in your writing world)? Unburden yourself or just drop by and wish me Happy Birthday!
This post is dedicated to Jewish mother's everywhere.


Tammy Schubert said...

Happy Birthday, Marilyn!

Anna Steffl said...

Happy Birthday and thanks for giving me a gift!You are a wonderful, generous person and I am so glad I've had the opportunity to get to know you.

I go through writer's block (also known as self-hatred). I'm Catholic and how I wish I could confess things and move along. But, the funny thing is, you have to be willing to let go of the bad stuff in order to make it work. I hold onto the bad stuff because it is what I write about. Crazy.

I've put a novel aside for a year!Eventually the gnawing gets so bad that I pick it back up. Now, I have someone I write with and I feel a bit compelled to make progress. Guilt?

Man, that guilt is something Catholic and Jewish folks have in common. I so understand it.

Cyrano said...

I'm catholic and Italian, double guilt whammy.
It would be so great if I could go to confession and relay all my writing sins to Father Doyle. I wonder how many Hail Mary's he would give me. No doubt I'd be there penitant and on my knees for hours.
Actually, I think it's a good idea. Next time I'm in confession I'm going to mention my writer's sins of self-doubt along with pessimissm and occasional sloth. Maybe some extra Hail Mary's will help after all!
Great post, very clever.
And keep up the good work in the gym Marilyn.
Have a happy, productive day,

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Marilyn (and Anna),

I too have put my writing on hold. Life is just too busy and unfortunately, that is the one thing I can easily let go of at the moment. Problem for me is that I can't totally let it go. I hear those voices, too... I wish I could confess and feel better, but like Anna, it just doesn't work that way.

I also need to work out. I have a really cool gym at work and get paid to work out 2 days a week. What better motivation is there than that!!!

I'll have to think on it!!!

Happy Birthday, Marilyn!!!


Dianna Love said...

Marilyn -

LOL - what fun post! And very motivating. I can relate about the gym. I had a trainer once and guilt drove me there, but I actually came home feeling good about the time spent in the gym.

Happy Birthday to you and I think it's Debbie K's birthday as well. :)

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Happy birthday, Marilyn!

I loved your post. If I really do "embrace my guilt" anymore, I think my husband may disown me. I started to say I needed a Jewish mother of a manuscript, but I'm working with a somewhat understated Calvinist in Methodist's clothing, I think. Thanks for reminding me to show my manuscript a little love. : )

Debbie Kaufman said...

Love your sense of humor. Great post. I could so picture the whole confession scenario.

Happy Birthday to us!

Marilyn Baron said...

Happy Birthday, Debbie! I am NOT going to the gym today (I'm going tomorrow though)to work off my birthday dinner tonight. And my goal is to get my Maggie Entry in today no matter what happens.

Tammy, Anna, Tamara, Tami, Dianna and Sally, thanks for the birthday wishes. I won't tell you my age (although we had to tell the AJC reporter our ages, but luckily she only used the age of Sally, our youngest PF&HT.

Anna, thanks for the wonderful words, that's a great birthday gift.

I am excited about starting a new project, a single title mystery. My daughter, who has come to two GRW meetings, and her friend are so diligent writing their novel (they get together every night and work) that it has motivated me.

Thanks to all my wonderful blog sisters and friends for your good wishes and support.

Marilyn Baron

tatt3r said...

Happy Birthday, Marilyn!

But I have to ask, how did you get a picture of my shoe? That's gotta be my shoe, and I swear it's under my bed. It even looks like it's the same size, 5M.

Sometimes old shoes fit best, other times your feet have changed and they have to go. Same thing with manuscripts, but I don't have enough experience to make the decision with confidence. My first effort is under the bed, right beside that old shoe.


Susan May said...

Happy Birthday! Great post. Putting it out, doing it last, more important stuff needs to be done all make it hard for me to be where I should be in my writing. I have to remind myself daily to focus. Sometimes it works, other days it doesn't

Joyce J. said...

Great post, Marilyn. Sounded like you were talking about my mother; she had a Ph.D. in Jewish Guilt. It took medication to help me get over it!!!
Happy Birthday!
Joyce J.

Maxine Davis said...

Happy Birthday Marilyn & Debbie.

This was a fantastic post! I laughed and could just picture it.

Me, too. Guilt is a motivator - that and more people have found out I am a closet-writer so now I HAVE to do it.

Marilyn Baron said...


You're too funny. Looking forward to lunch today.

Tatt3r: 5M? I wish. I'm more like 9M. I really had to look hard to find that old boat shoe, but it was comfortable.

Now reach under the bed and dust off that old manuscript!
Thanks for your comment.

Susan, yes focusing is difficult, especially with each successive birthday. Thanks.

Marilyn Baron

Nancy said...

Hi, Marilyn--

Happy Birthday!

Writer guilt, huh? Not writing can cause it, but I get it more from glossing over, indulging the I'll-get-that-later rush to move on to a more exciting scene. Then the one I skated past starts bugging me until I go back and do what it needs. *sigh*

Marilyn Baron said...

Maxine and Nancy, thanks for the birthday wishes and comments.

Nancy, yes I understand that feeling of stressing over things that are undone.


Anonymous said...

I loved the blog. When I turned 50 I decided to lighten up. That means forget feeling guilty. Unfortunately I now complain more. Enjoy your Birthday and work out for me when you go to the gym. I haven't gone for almost three years, but pay the monthly low rate of $27.00.

B.J. Anderson said...

Lol, that was so funny! What a great imagination you have. :)

Marilyn Baron said...

Thanks BJ for your comment

Anonymous, About the trainer. I wanted to just join the gym but they put so much pressure on me to sign up for personal training. I only do that once a week and if I didn't do that, I might not get to the gym at all so it's probably a good thing.


Marin Thomas said...

Loved your post--Happy Birthday, Marilyn! Hope you do something "guilt-free" to celebrate today :-)


Debby Giusti said...

Happy Birthday, Marilyn and Debbie! Loved seeing the photo and reading the great article in Sunday's AJC. You gals rock!

Guilt? Never! Okay, I lie. I sometimes feel guilty too, but I usually give myself only a day or two AT THE MOST to be away from the computer. And then, I'm usually brainstorming plot ideas. Bet you're doing behind-the-scenes work in your time away as well.

Remember the half-hour suggestion Stephanie Bond gave all of us in GRW some years ago? Set a timer and work for 30 minutes each day. Try it. It works.

The Writers Canvas said...

Happy Birthday Marilyn!

Great post. Actually I find it's a combination of guilt prodding me with its ugly stick, along with the feeling of antsy-ness I get when I don't write. Without meaning to, I took the weekend off from writing...but not on purpose.

I was blocked, unmotivated, tired, and things didn't come together. But I returned to it at lunch yesterday and things are better.

Happy BerfdaY!


jeanettec said...

Happy Birthday critique partner! Of course I can't remember the last time we critiqued anything. :) How's that for guilt. Yea, I know, I know. My ms is in the corner giving me dirty looks. It stopped speaking to me months ago. But what's a writer to do when you've got all these distractions? Spring gardening, son graduating from college, sick with strep... EXCUSES, EXCUSES, EXCUSES! I'm a hopeless case and guilt doesn't seem to work with me. Of course I did guilt myself into walking Kennesaw Mountain today. "Remember you had those donuts this morning and you've got to weigh-in tomorrow." Works every time.

Great post. Maybe it'll help me. Hmm.

Marilyn Baron said...

Hey, Jeanette, I'm so happy you stopped by to comment. I like your picture.

Thanks for the birthday wishes Jeanette, Elaine and Debby. Actually I still have my timer from Stephanie's talk and now my daughter is using it but I am motivated now to start my new novel.

Marin, Thanks for the birthday wishes. I did do something guilt-free today. I had lunch with a friend and my husband took off work to buy me a chandelier for the foyer and a necklace. Tonight we're going out to dinner so all in all it's been a great birthday.


Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Marilyn,

Happy Birthday! I took the other birthday girl, (Debbie, my critique partner)to lunch. Guess I owe you one.

The post was LOL funny. Guilt? My mother, (not Catholic, Italian,or Jewish) didn't use the guilt trip, so I have to find motivation from within.

Glad you're part of our group, lady, you're a great writer. Really enjoyed the post.


Cinthia Hamer said...

Marilyn, your post made me smile. I've had some issues with being blocked lately, too. Why oh WHY does it have to come in May when the Maggie deadline is just around the corner?????

Thankfully, it seems to have pretty much resolved itself through lots of deep thinking and slogging through until the writing evolved into something readable.

Happy Birthday (or what's left of it!) to you and Debbie.

Linsey Lanier said...


Absolutely hysterical post. And you're right. When all else fails, there's nothing like a good shot of guilt to get me to finish a scene I've been dabbling at forever. Thanks for the tip!

Now exercise . . . that's another story. LOL

Have a very happy birthday! And to Debbie, too.


Belinda Peterson said...

Happy birthday Marilyn and Debbie!!

What a timely post. How did you know I was struggling?
But I'll finish the book, am starting a new one and will keep plodding along.

Marilyn Baron said...

Sandy, Cinthia, Linsey and Belinda,
Thanks for the birthday wishes. Sandy, I'm glad you and Debbie went out.

We just got back from a great dinner so tomorrow I will definitely be exercising! And bringing my Maggie entry to the post office. All I was missing were the binder clips. I should have taken Nicki up on her offer at the meeting on Saturday.

Then my two girls got me a beautiful lounge chair to use out at the pool.

This has been a great birthday.

Thank you all!

Marilyn Baron

Nicki Salcedo said...

Marilyn! Don't deny that you are 16, again. You look fabulous. You are fabulous. I am your other delinquent critique partner (Who's Jeanette? I haven't seen that chick in months). This post is a reminder of just how funny you are and can be when you sit down to write.

I feel guilty about the extremes. I do everything or nothing. I feel guilty on the everything days and guilty on the nothing days. I'm trying to learn moderation. And motivation. I'm getting my pages ready for the Maggies, so I don't feel guilty about that. Enjoy the rest of the day! I love you.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Did you say binder clips? You know I always have binder clips!

Marilyn Baron said...


You are so funny (Who's Jeanette? I haven't seen that chick in months). You'll be happy to know I found three binder clips that fit the manuscript and I am ready to submit my Maggie entry!