April 19, 2012

Self-help book of the writing variety

Posted in thoughts, writing tagged , at 11:16 am by z. l. sasnett

A problem cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it. – Albert Einstein

I work very hard at being upbeat. I like to see the positive side of things. If that’s not possible, then to draw my attention away from the negative side and find a nice neutral position to settle into. Rarely will depression take me under, possibly due to the fact that I always strive to not let my wheels get mired in the mud.

Some days, many days — weeks and months, actually — I do just fine. There are many more good days than bad and the bad are never crushingly bad. It’s easy for me to turn a bad day into a good one. Not by blowing sunshine, but because I know how my mind works and how to direct positive-thought flow.

My moments when I stumble, however, hit me fairly hard. I catch myself going into the spiral, see my axle approaching the mud level. Those moments are tough. Not impossible to recover from, but tough.  One of the things I do is read self-help books.

Only, these aren’t your usual self-help books.

I love to read writing how-to books. There’s something about the discussion of the craft, theories behind it, techniques to try, unique perspectives embedded in the pages that manage to really pull my thinking back around. They re-energize me. Writing is on my mind almost constantly and it helps immensely to take my scattered focus and shift it back into one of the things I love to do.

Today’s exercise in pulling out of my slump was to read Donald Maass’ The Breakout Novelist.

One of my projects is writing collaboratively with a truly fine writer. I hit a sticking point while writing and it sucked away my ability to get anything down. I wasn’t even able to get into words what my issues were and why and where I was stumbling. I turned and turned and turned, churning up mud and sinking deeper and deeper until I could feel the mud against my axle. It was affecting my other writing until I was doing nothing at all. Then it turned to other aspects of my life and everything that was wrong, all the things I worry over, started to tumble down on my head at once. I was getting frantic.

All the advice in the world from writers were of no help. “Sit and write” they all cry. “Even when you don’t feel like it, put BIC/FOK and write” as if the ‘all you gotta do is’ platitude works. It wasn’t working and that was lending energy to my desperation.

I’m not even sure what possessed me to pick up Maass’ book. I have it and I’ve read it before. This read through, though…something stuck. A lot of things stuck, actually, and it was what I needed to get traction under my wheels. I waylaid my co-author on AIM and banged out some thoughts. We came up with the thing I believe will boost me past my stumbling point.

With solution in hand, sure enough the drag and doom that clung to me like a sopping blanket fell away with a squelchy slop. I have what I need to move forward. This is a good feeling. I can breathe. I can think. I can focus. Projects that fired me with enthusiasm have caught me again. Worries which are my constant companion no longer seem so ominous.

I am happy.


  1. wordsmith647 said,

    I have a collection of “how to..” books on writing, but I have not read them thru. I have glanced at them in times of desperation, but never sat and read them….
    Your positivity comes thru the minor setbacks…this is a very good thing.

    • It was a marathon read, really more fast skimming. Maass has some exercises in there to help get a handle on various aspects of writing. I knew about them but the last time I just skimmed over. Just reading a few of the questions (which I intend to do for my collaborative project) was enough for me to make some realizations of where I was falling down.

      I think what emboldened me most on the self-help/positive front, was his constant reaffirmation that while many things may be out of our control as authors, the one thing we do have control over is writing the best book we can. And there in my hands (actually, on my kindle for the pc) was a tool to help me achieve that. I wasn’t alone. I could do this.

      That’s very powerful. 🙂

  2. Heidi Hagmann said,

    I love to read self-help books both online and offline. Self-help is a great topic too and of course we should always improve ourselves. *:,””

    Till next time

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