Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Getting Past the First Chapter Blues

Back in 2017, when I had a year-long mission of finishing work on a bunch of manuscripts, I ran into a problem late in the year. I attempted to start writing a book my co-author requested I write, even though I had her blessing to go ahead and finish what I was working on that took up all year to complete. (Sadly, that didn’t happen, as I got VERY sick and had to be hospitalized and THEN I couldn’t write!) But I felt like I was ready to start writing this book now. It wasn’t 2018 yet, but I felt that NOW was the time to start writing.


Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. I was stuck and could go no further. And, you know, I should have known that SOMETHING was wrong with my ability to write, because one other book I was writing had VERY lousy writing at the end. It just STUNK! That writing in the last few chapters was awful and not like the writing in the rest of the book (it was a novel, by the way). But I just didn’t realize something was up. I just shrugged it off and figured that maybe I wasn’t ready after all and moved on.


Then, during my recovery from my illness, I tried to write another book. Once again, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. I wrote Chapter One and that was it. I was blocked. I had NOTHING.


Then I tried again in November of this year. It was my NaNoWriMo book. I was determined that THIS time, it will happen. I WILL write Chapter Two and beyond!


But, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I only wrote the first chapter and could write no more. I could only scribble bits and pieces of the second chapter but not actually WRITE it.


What. The. Heck??!!! Why was this happening? I was stumped. This had NEVER happened to me before, in my 20+ years as a writer, and I didn’t understand what was wrong. Why was I only able to write just one chapter and nothing else???


I tried to find out if this has happened to other writers too but came up with nothing. I was stumped. I even diagnosed myself with First-Chapteritis.


But then something awesome happened. Inspiration struck. I started writing a new book in my notebook. This was something that hit me out of nowhere.


I actually started writing this book in October of this year. I put it on hold in November, hoping that might help my attempts at NaNoWriMo (it didn’t), then resumed writing it in December.


And I finished writing this book on Christmas Eve. Not only did I write Chapter Two, but also Three, Four, Five, Six – all the way up to Chapter Thirty.


That’s right. I wrote 30 chapters after I struggled for so long to get past Chapter One. Now I finally had gotten past Chapter One. I wrote a WHOLE NEW BOOK!


This accomplishment is telling me one thing: It’s time to get back to finishing those OTHER books that only have one chapter, because now I CAN write a whole book again! This accomplishment is PROOF that I can. I CAN write and I CAN write a whole book.


I am excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the books next year. Thankfully, my new job has me working less hours than my old job (which I LOVE), and it is not as physically/mentally draining as my last job. I have been able to write even after I got off work. So I do believe I will be able to write on a workday, too. I believe that it can happen. In 2021, I am going to make it happen. I’m back, baby! I am back to writing books, and that’s exactly how it should be.


There is a quote I like: “Turn your setback into a comeback.” After struggling for months to write before I finally managed to write a whole book, I feel like that quote sums it up pretty good for me. I didn’t give up on wanting to write again. I didn’t give up on trying again. I kept trying and working at it until it finally happened. I didn’t stop writing; I was just dealing with a setback. Now it’s time for my comeback!


Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Failure is Not The End


So I have allowed myself to start writing again. Yes, I actually had to give myself permission to write. I hadn’t been writing like I used to for a very long time. My writing spree came to a screeching halt when I became sick with alcohol-induced pancreatitis and had to be rushed to the hospital. That is a night I will never forget. That was the first step I’d take on my path to becoming sober, but it was also the end of my old writer self. The writer who was at the desk Every Day, spending hours working on a book or an article or a short story, etc. I had done well then; managing to get some books published, working as an editor for a publishing company, working as a ghostwriter for ebooks and writing for a national newspaper. Among some other things. But after I was fully recovered from my sickness (which took several months), I just wasn’t able to write again. Not like I used to, anyway.

And while that was going on, I started to wonder what had happened. Why couldn’t I write anymore? And also during this time, I started to feel angry. I mean, I reflected on everything that had happened at the so-called “end” of my chapter in life of being a writer. The big thing I noticed? My books didn’t sell. Not like how I wanted them to, anyway. I promoted my books like crazy. I did all the things I was told to do: Blog tours, submitting articles everywhere, trying to get my name everywhere, trying to get published everywhere, being on Twitter Every Day pushing my books and also networking. But none of that stuff worked. Sales were mediocre, at best. A few books sold here and there, but that was it.

And I started to wonder, you know, why was I missing this? Why was I sad that I couldn’t write books anymore? I was a FAILURE. I invested over 10 years as an author, trying EVERYTHING to get my books to sell. Even when local venues turned me away from doing readings and businesses refused to carry my books, I still kept at it and kept trying everything to boost sales. But it never happened. The only one of my books that even actually sold a good number of copies was my book on deaf parenting. (I sold 70 copies of that book – the most of ANY of my books.) But even still, I was dissatisfied with the end result.

I came to the conclusion that nobody cared about my books. Nobody wanted them. So why bother? I was wasting my time stressing about it. I was nothing but a burden to any publisher who invested in my books because I could not bring in the sales that they wanted/needed. So I was better off.

Then I started writing again, here and there. The miracle happened when I actually managed to crank out a new poetry book. A Brand New Book! Written post-sickness! WOW!

That right there told me, I CAN write again! Because, I just did.

Then memories of my writing days flooded back to me. What if I started drinking again? What if I started spending several hours on the computer writing again and missing out on everything else? What if I started obsessing over the writing again and not providing for my family like I was supposed to? (Sadly, what little I earned from writing gigs was not enough to make a living.)

All of those memories got me scared. I started to back off, ignoring those little nudges to write and filing away ideas for another day.

But the thing of it was, writing made me HAPPY. It’s what helped me o feel that feeling again, that feeling that I did something that was Important To Me.

Life just started to feel more complete once I started writing again. Because up until then, I kept feeling like something was missing. I felt like I was living somebody else’s life.

Now that I am writing again, I feel like I am living my own life again. I feel like I am being true to myself, sales be damned! I was going to write whether or not people wanted to read or buy my writing!

And, you know, I just told myself, I don’t HAVE to submit my writing for publication! Might as well keep it all in a box or in a drawer or filed away in a file cabinet since mine is not the stuff of book sales. I am So Convinced that my books won’t sell that I deleted many emails I got from a book publisher who was interested in publishing all of my books. I thought, Why bother? I would save him the trouble of ditching me just like another publisher who ditched me and another publisher who turned me away because my one book with them was not selling. (The world of book publishing is heartless and unforgiving.) To be honest, I am thinking of having ALL of my unpublished work thrown into an incinerator after I die.


But part of me thinks…why not try again? Maybe I was going about it all the wrong way. There is no One Way to do things. There is always another way! And what if that particular path I did not take is the one that brings me the success that matters to me so much?

I was thinking about this a lot lately. And then this morning, while I was reading the December 2020 issue of Peter Bowerman’s Well-Fed E-PUB (a newsletter from his Well-Fed Writer series https://www.wellfedwriter.com/), I saw this quote in an article: "Sometimes in life, you have to fail to succeed." That really hit me. It was like a wake-up call. I saw those words and all of a sudden I realized that this was true of a failed attempt at being a successful author. (And by “successful author’ I mean an author whose books actually SELL.)

I called my first attempt at being a successful author a “failure.” I had failed. And I figured, that’s it. End scene. Everybody go home, we’re done here. Roll credits!

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. One failure doesn’t have to be The End. It’s just ONE failure! And that quote “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” has me feeling hopeful, too.

Maybe I can try again. Maybe I can give it another go. I don’t know how, but maybe I will figure it out. But all that matters now is that I am willing to pick myself back up and be ready to take on another attempt.

I might have two failed attempts before I succeed, or even three or four. But that quote made me realize that one failure is not the end. It’s not where we just give up and call it a day. It’s an invitation to try again. It’s a challenge to try again. To give it another go.

And I am beginning to think that maybe I will do that. But this time, with some changes.