Monday’s Friend: Melissa Field
Today I am pleased to welcome Melissa Field to the blog.
Using frustration, tension and pressure to your advantage …
By Melissa Field
When going through the writing process all writers feel frustration at different moments for different reasons. The range of reasons is pretty large, going from knowing something isn’t right but unsure how to fix to feeling something is perfect and everyone is telling you to change it. And then there’s the frustration of rejection and criticism, which generally holds hands with other feelings such as sadness, anxiety, and anger.
I went through the frustration of writing and getting rejected on and off for five years before taking a long break of several years. During that time I just didn’t think I could take the difficult parts that came with the writing. The rejection was difficult, but it was generally all of the feelings that came up to the rejection letters that really made my nerves raw. The actual process of writing gave me a constant feeling of tension, like I was a big knot being pulled ever tighter and more compressed. Once the process was over and I’d revised to my heart’s content, then came the other side of the coin, the fear and intensity of making your work public. I came to decide I just wasn’t cut out for it and it was best to stop for the sake of my health.
But then something happened. I began to feel that undeniable spark of a story brewing. I tried hard to ignore it. When it came I was in fact in one of the most relaxed places in my life. I was crewing on a sailboat and traveling through the Mediterranean Sea. The feeling came in the middle of the night, a sharp and heavy contrast to the warm sea air surrounding me in my cabin. By the next day the feeling was consuming my whole body. I had to write down my new idea.
Despite my sabbatical plunging back into writing came with the inevitable feelings of frustration, tension and of course fear. I was plagued by doubt and fear. Was I really going to go through all of that again? This time, the feelings grew even stronger because I was writing from a much more personal place. I was using my own stories and those of my friends. I don’t know why but I just felt the need to tell honest stories of female friends and their experiences. Before I had written for the love of writing, but now I wrote not just out of love but a feeling of necessity.
My personal feelings made my attachment to the book I created, THE GOOD LUCK KNOT, deeper than with any other work. It was stories from me and my friends, and therefore the book felt like a friend also. When the criticism and then rejection letters came it hit me harder than ever. This time it really was personal. I was so angry and frustrated on certain days I couldn’t handle it. Sometimes I drank too much and at other times just went into a TV stupor, watching LOST until I could finally relax a little.
After the book failed to get picked up I decided that was it. This was just too hard. Now I knew for sure, I couldn’t do it. I was convinced that I was doing something extremely wrong. If I was so tense, frustrated and upset then there was no way I was going to succeed. I thought at some point I should reach a plateau where I was confident and excited about my work. I expected at the end of THE GOOD LUCK KNOT to be thrilled at the prospect of writing again. But I wasn’t. I could barely write an email without associating it with dark mood over the book.
During this period I was in a bookstore perusing writing articles (I know – glutton for punishment here). I read an article from a published author over how she felt after completing a book. She said after each book she was exhausted and would swear she’d never write again. I was stunned. I thought I only felt this way because I was doing something terribly wrong. It amazed me that a published writer shared the same feelings of frustration and exhaustion that I did. If she was doing everything right and still hit such levels, then did that mean I was just quitting too soon? For the writer, she said that after some time the feelings would subside, she’d become bored, and once again be inspired and energized to write. Hmmm. That sounded familiar.
After reading the article I have to admit I didn’t exactly jump for joy and get back to writing. I was intrigued by it, but still seeing too many signs that said “quit” rather than “try again.”
It’s been about six months since I called it a wrap on THE GOOD LUCK KNOT. I self published, did the promotional bit, and now I’m moving on. Only this time I’m refusing to let the feelings that come with writing (frustration, tension, pressure and even anger) tell me I’m doing everything wrong. I know these are a natural part of the process. I see now that learning not to drown in the frustration is perhaps one of the most important tools a writer must develop. Frustration and tension can lead to the feeling that you just can’t go on. You’re burned out. But perhaps you need to take that frustration and build off of it. It can be the catalyst that inspires a character in your next book, or perhaps even inspires an entire plot built around frustration and desire.
It’s often easy to forget that tension and pressure are what create some of the most beautiful things in our world. How does a violinist create music? You have a string pulled to the point of tension, and then by putting pressure on the string you create a disturbance in the air. None of these things sounds very pleasant, tension, pressure or disturbance, but the sounds created by a violin are powerful and often times stunning. There are other example of this, such as the pressure on carbon that creates diamonds. And let’s not forget a diamond takes billions of years to form. A novel or work of art of course doesn’t take billions of years, but it is important to remember that to create something takes time. Most writers and artists are incredibly hard on themselves if they don’t reach their goals in a specific amount of time. And even worse is feeling you suck at this because sometimes you’re just really frustrated or tense. I can’t manage these feelings perfect yet myself, but I am attempting to gain a little perspective on them and see if in fact there’s beautiful music attempting to be realized.
If you’re feeling frustrated or tense yourself don’t give up. Take a moment and see what’s behind the tension. Perhaps just by asking yourself, ‘what is it I want right now that I’m not getting?’ that you’ll find some resolution. We’re writers, so put down whatever comes to you. Such as, “I’m really pissed off because this character has no depth.” Then, just leave it. Walk away, leave the source of frustration, and come back to it when you’re ready. There are other ways to cope also, and I hope you find what works for you.
Melissa Field grew up in the central valley of California. She attended college in California but never graduated. After leaving she took odd jobs in various locations and travelled as much as possible. She now lives in Holland with her boyfriend. She has a blog on travel and writing and also continues to work on various fiction projects.
THE GOOD LUCK KNOT is available on the Amazon Kindle.