How this writer got stuck, then got unstuck

by Meredith Resnick

by Meredith Resnick

A few years ago I was stuck. And stumped.

I had a manuscript and an agent and editors who were, supposedly, interested in a book I’d written.

But then editors rejected it. Though they couldn’t put their finger on what was wrong with the manuscript. In fact, nothing was really wrong with the manuscript. It was a fine manuscript. “Such beautiful writing!” they said. “Wow, what a story!” This kind of feedback is a writer’s dream. Unless it’s a recurring dream — the kind that, unfortunately, goes nowhere.

As a writer, at the time, I felt the same could be said of me.

•••

Growing up I was raised with the mixed signals of “do only what you love” and “it better be something you can get a job with.”

Dutiful, diligent; I held a license in clinical social work and a degree in communications—both of which, faithfully, led me to jobs that offered a certain degree of both freedom and stability. I had time to write, to create.

But soon anxiety loomed. Being raised to value that which could pay the bills — I was, thankfully, doing that — creating for the sheer joy of it seemed like an indulgence I could ill afford.

That’s what fear will do to you.

I thought about this a lot: Was it worse—or better—to follow one’s dreams at the expense of meeting financial obligations? Was it wrong — or right — to believe that the only creative pursuits that counted had to be tied to a paycheck? I’d had essays published in national magazines and prestigious literary journals. I’d written hundreds of pages from which to glean the publishable gold. So why was I miserably unhappy?

Why was my writing world so black and white?

I thought it was because my manuscript wasn’t selling. I mean, who wouldn’t be upset about that — right?

•••

One idea that kept getting thrown at me from editors, agents was one of “platform.”

For those who are not writers, a platform is one way of showing potential investors (agents, editors, for example) that you already have a foothold in the marketplace, a built-in readership and buyer-ship of your products or, for the writer, books.

If you don’t have a platform, you’re told to get one. And then, when you do get one, you’re likely to be told it’s not quite big/sturdy/wide/deep/relatable enough.

Might you land a column at a national paper? Can you get a movie star to endorse you? How about a talk show, even as a guest host? Yet more suggestions to keep the focus outside of oneself, not on the creative process.

For the record, platform in and of itself is neither good nor bad; it just is. Some writers have them, some don’t. For better or worse I’ve come to view platform as an interconnection of relationships, but mostly — for me — a connection with one’s own process as a creative. If the connection truly sparks inside it naturally extends outward by virtue of our ability to honor it. Then we see it grow, and marvel at its expansion.

But back to the manuscript. Months passed. It was rejected. Again.

My husband, a CPA with a big-picture view and lots of patience, had been encouraging me to start a blog, not as a way to build a platform, or to make myself a household name, but as a way to connect with other writers, and to give my own voice a place to thrive.

Before the whole manuscript-rejection saga, I’d loved to create mosaics, make jewelry, collage and lots of other right-brained activities. But now I could only focus on my writing — writing that was not getting published, mind you; writing I was not getting paid for.

My husband could see that I needed to reconnect, somehow, to myself.

He was right.

And I was so miserable I was willing to listen.

•••

I’m not sure how I came up with the idea, but I created the kind of blog I needed most for myself, a place to come and read about how another writer’s process was completely different from my own. I was exhausted and depleted from trying to conform with what a fickle marketplace wanted (and my success, modest at best, helped me to understand the stress true celebrities likely encounter if they are not following their own hearts).

At my core I did not believe there was one right way to write. I knew this much: By reading how others create I was going to discover that everyone did it differently. And that was going to be a great relief. To me.

And, it turned out, it was for many other people as well.

Some wrote everyday; some didn’t. Some outlined; others didn’t. Some had writing groups while others shunned them. And some wrote for money, while others wrote because they couldn’t not write.

The Writer’s [Inner] Journey 5-Question Author Interview was the magical tool I developed early after I launched the blog. It was designed to help authors translate complex, abstract ideas into creative insights the rest of us can relate to — and benefit from.

I hypothesized that if I asked each author or creative the same question, I would receive entirely different answers. There would be no how-to or one “right way.” The fact that the answers were so different, often diametrically opposed to one another, was an important clue that despite what many books, articles, how-to sites and alleged experts will tell you and me, there is no one path to becoming a writer, a creative.

And that manuscript?

I can happily report that I’ve let it go. And by that I mean dissecting parts of it and turning it into essays, and using chunks of it to transform into a novel. Creativity, like intuition, takes on different forms, and is always developing.

Starting The Writer’s [Inner] Journey was the ultimate surrender to my creative process.

This essay first appeared in The Orange County Register.

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Mary Celeste

Thanks for such an honest story of your journey. We all have a (or more than one!) writing journey, and following our own road, truthfully, is what leads us to peace and freedom. Thanks for the inspiration – have this blog bookmarked and I check it daily!

Meredith

Thank you, Mary Celeste – and welcome.

Kristen

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your though-provoking interviews here. Each person taps into their creativity in different ways and to read how people do that has been an education for me. There is no right way and yet I still feel pulled to find one.

Alexandra

What a wonderful post, and so inspiring.

Sheryl

I love this post! Thanks fo sharing a very personal part of your (continued) journey. More and more, I’m convinced that things happen when we let go of all expectations and fears.

Christinegl

This is a great story, intimate and instructive. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Roxanne

I feel better about struggles here. Thank you.

Living Large

A very inspiring post. I love reading about other writer’s journeys!

Jennifer Margulis

As someone who regularly reads this blog, I loved reading the back story of how it was started. Rejection is really hard to deal with, and part of every writer’s life. I love your way of overcoming it–building something positive out of something negative. Shakespeare said it so well, “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” Not always. But in your case this is certainly true!

Ruth pennebaker

What a wonderful essay, Meredith. Funny how these things work out in ways we never anticipate.

Alisa Bowman

I’m feeling a bit of this now myself. I love to write. I would do it for no pay if I didn’t have bills to pay. Sometimes I do some of it for no pay–the blogging, for instance. Sometimes I have to write things that I know I cannot sell. They are there to be written, just like a statue is there to be sculpted.

Jeanine Barone

What a wonderful and honest essay. As a writer, I enjoy reading about the journeys of other writers.

Jane Boursaw

It’s all so exhausting. And beautiful, too. And exhausting. I don’t really know why I write. I guess because it just comes naturally to me and I can’t really think of doing anything else at the moment. Like, if I had a gazillion dollars, would I still write? I would, but it would probably be much different than the writing I do now. I’d write about the place I grew up and still live, write about my family history and community. Sadly, I don’t have time for that type of writing at the moment, because I’ve got this mortgage that needs to be paid and three other people in the house who need to be fed and whatnot. This isn’t a very creatively encouraging comment, is it?

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