RSS Feed

Why am I still struggling to write fiction?

            For a long time now I’ve been trying to be practical: I went out and got a social work degree because I thought I needed to have a practical career, and I discovered that wanting to be practical and being able to do those practical things is not the same at all; and then, or even before then, I tried to be more practical about my writing, and focus on what other people wanted me to write, instead of trusting myself and writing what I needed to write.

            I spent most of last summer working on essays about psychology and trauma, because that’s what I thought I should do, because it seemed more practical than writing fiction, and more likely to get published. But, while my therapist was somewhat happy with my efforts (nothing I write is quite how she would write it, so…), I found the writing difficult and frustrating, and alienating, and the rejections kept coming anyway.

“Oy.”

            Back when I went to school to be a writer, the message was always that there is a right way to write: there are rules you have to follow, and styles and techniques that you have to master. But four years of graduate school (two masters degrees) didn’t teach me how to be that writer, they just instilled a lot of stop signs in my brain, telling me what not to do, and who not to be (basically me). And then came all of the rejections from the publishing world, for work my teachers thought would get accepted. It’s demoralizing to be rejected both for who you are and for who you aren’t. It doesn’t leave many options.

            But it would be unfair to blame my fiction block solely on those rejections. I haven’t felt safe writing fiction for a while now, partially because of the external voices telling me that I’m writing all the wrong things, but even more so because I’ve been afraid of the truths that will come out if I allow my imagination to run free. At least with memoir writing, I only have to deal with the things I was willing and able to do in my real life; in fiction I would be opening the door to all of the forbidden thoughts: all of the dreams and ideas and impulses I’ve refused to act on.

            The thing I’ve always loved about writing fiction is that I don’t have to worry so much about the truth. I don’t have to worry if I’m misquoting or mischaracterizing someone (or capturing them exactly as they are, but as they don’t want to be seen). I can play. As a kid that meant that I could write wish-fulfillment stories, and send my characters to exciting places and give them of all the money and friends and good looks I could ever want. But even then I discovered that letting my imagination go where it wanted to go meant that other things came up too, darker things that I didn’t want to deal with. I’d try to write my version of Fantasy Island, where everything was supposed to be perfect, and monsters would start climbing up the walls and crawling out from under the beds.

“Monsters?!”

            I kept writing fiction, but I found ways to keep a lid on my imagination, listening to all of the No’s in my head, from teachers and family and friends and writing around all of those stop signs. Each story or novel took forever to write, with all of those interruptions, and the process was not fun, and I became more and more discouraged.

            But I can’t stop writing; that’s not one of the options. I want to be able to convince myself that the rejections are irrelevant, and that instead of writing what I think I am supposed to write, I should write the things I need to write. But even if I can overcome the first set of stop signs, I’m not sure I can convince myself that it’s safe to write whatever comes into my mind. I want to trust myself. I want to be ready to just write and let the chips fall where they may, but what if those chips explode in my face?

“Potato chips?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

77 responses »

  1. Rachel, just write what you want to write. You are the boss behind the pen.

    Reply
  2. Sometimes it’s cathartic simply to write what you’re feeling. Doesn’t mean anyone else has to see it. That’s your choice later… and you can edit as much as you want. It’s fiction!

    Reply
  3. While writing fiction is your dream and desire, I hope you never feel you don’t communicate well through writing. The success of your blog and the huge amount of interaction you achieve is a testament to your skills as a written communicator.

    Reply
  4. So, I looked up Yeshiva Girl on Amazon ….57 ratings, 4.7 out of 5 stars….beautiful reviews, you go, girl!’You are already doing it!😁 Plus, I love the pic on your Amazon author page. just sayin’….
    Julie

    Reply
  5. Go with your heart, do what your heart wants. You write very well. I enjoyed reading your blog and if that is anything to go by your fiction will be amazing!

    Reply
  6. Because your goal is to write what is inside your vivid imagination, I say do for it. What you do with it afterwards is your decision to make.

    Reply
  7. Fiction is tougher than nonfiction for me. I finally took the “what if” slant and have written two great books of fiction. My very latest boo, “Chiara” is an example: https://www.amazon.com/Chiara-Allen-Rizzi/dp/B09R3HQ1JG/

    Reply
  8. I love your writing. Your book, your blog, it’s all excellent.

    Reply
  9. This writing business is a conundrum for sure. But I think you’re a great writer!

    Reply
  10. Keep writing. Your blog keeps me engaged. You’ve definitely got the chops. I once met a writer who told me he received 150 rejections before he was published by one of the “big 4” publishers. My finished novel has gotten about 40 rejections in 5 years, 3 requests for full manuscripts, and no offers to represent or publish, yet I keep submitting it. My backup plan is to self-publish a collection of short stories, and that novel, before I die.

    Reply
  11. Keep writing, Rachel. Fiction. Non Fiction. You are good at it and it is a release to help you keep happy. PS: I think that there is more truth in Fiction than what is passed off today as Non Fiction.

    Reply
  12. I once tried “parenting my inner child” through drawing, and I was amazed at the amount of anger I have toward myself. It reminded me a bit of of your wish fulfillment fiction. Why is it we can’t allow ourselves to imagine happy things? 🤔

    Reply
  13. Idk the nonfiction you write on the blog has always been captigating, I’m actually surprised you keep getting rejections 🤗

    Reply
  14. The likes and comments on this blog alone are a credit to your writing skill and your connection to your readers. I think some excellent fiction will be flowing from your vivid imagination soon.

    Reply
  15. No one is watching over your shoulder. Do your own thing.

    Reply
  16. Wordsfromanneli is spot on. And, just remember how many rejections JK Rowling received before she hit the jackpot.

    Reply
  17. I remember being told by my high school creative writing teacher that good fiction is autobiography by proxy. As for myself, I’ve never been able to make that leap.

    Reply
  18. I’ve written a few short stories, not to be published but to be shared with people I trust not to judge me by them. I’ve never told them that the stories were based upon actual fantasies I have in my brain and, if anyone suspected that, they never mentioned it to me. It makes me sad that you still choose to worry about the chips exploding in your face if you write from the real you. The people you want to keep in your life are people who want to see the real you and be a part of the real you’s life. I’d rather have a small circle of people who truly know me and choose to love me anyhow than a large circle of people I always make sure to hide certain parts of me out of fear they will leave the circle. I so enjoy what you do write about yourself and feel desire to know you at even a deeper level.

    Reply
  19. Take a little time and think through why it is so important to you to write and get published. I don’t think it is for the money(which we all know isn’t there.) If it is for connection, you already have that in abundance from the blog. If it is for validation, we both know that is a dead end. But if it turns out that you KNOW that what you have written needs to be out in the world, send it out until it finds just the right niche to which it belongs. Peace.

    Reply
  20. Write whatever genre you can when you can. Don’t worry it, if possible. Just keep at it. You’re very good and have discipline. Trust yourself.

    Reply
  21. You touched on many of the things I worry about, particularly that ‘there are RULES” part. I never finished any sort of useful degree, but I have taken a number of writing classes. I’m unafraid to let the story tell itself (and mine are almost solely fiction), and I’ve ceased to care if I break some rule that either I’m not aware of or that I don’t care about because it impedes the natural flow of that story. I hope you find your voice in fiction, if that’s the genre you wish to work in. There’s always a risk of rejection too, even authors like Stephen King had their rejections (and according to his autobiography) he had a LOT at first. Also I’ve found that writing fiction allows the monsters to come out onto the page and out of my head. That’s so freeing I can’t begin to describe it. Best of success, you are a great writer. Now you have to believe it.

    Reply
  22. I write fiction almost every day, in the form of a fictional serial. I need to be relaxed to write that, and usually find that one glass of red wine at 6pm helps me to get that episode out every day. For some people, it is coffee, for others, peace and quiet. But for me it is red wine, every time.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Reply
  23. You are very talented. Keep being wonderful you. I LOVED Yeshiva girl. Just write what you feel at the moment.

    Reply
  24. I let out all my darkness when writing, and it has helped me tremendously. Counseling isn’t always the correct approach, as you’re trying to fit into someone else’s dream of who you should be. Yes, it can be horrific looking at what you wrote on the page, but then you start to find a way to let go of the pain…a way to survive it.

    Reply
  25. Every time a stream of rejections gets me down, I think about all the super famous artists who died in poverty but who’s work sells for millions today and tell myself not everyone is appreciated during their own time. The best writing advice I ever received was you learn all the rules so you can break them. I hope you find freedom (and success) with your fiction and come to write even your wildest ideas without fear

    Reply
  26. It sounds like horror will be your new genre, LOL. Seriously, just like others said, write what you want, and it will flow, and it will be good. Let those monsters out of the closet and out from under the bed. Shine the light on them, and they will have less power. (Except perhaps as a good scare for your readers!)

    Reply
  27. I know the feeling. I tend to focus on what I shouldn’t do when I write, rather than what I can do. I think I’m getting better though.

    Reply
  28. Keep going & believe in yourself! Also,the novel looks interesting 😉

    Reply
  29. And all I can think lately, is why can’t I write … at all?!

    Reply
  30. What you said about fiction being “safe” is appealing to me as well. There are so many stories, nonfiction, that are available to me but they have no details. I have to fill in thoughts and motives, other people and actions, and by the time I’m done it is clearly fiction. And I safely call it that.
    Kudos for all your hard work, but seriously, write what you’re happy writing.

    Reply
  31. I enjoy writing fiction so much. I created a bunch of characters I want to hang out with. Its been awhile since I got back to my series and I really, really miss my fictional friends! Create, Rachel! Make a new world!

    Reply
  32. You should check out The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. (Yes, the title is a play on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.)

    The central message is that writing is work, and if we don’t approach it as work that must be done, we are dabbling in it as amateurs. The professional gets the work done, no matter the excuses or justifications that bubble up in our thoughts.

    One problem with writing is that we romanticize it, as if it’s some mystical exercise beyond our control, as if we must wait for the muses to provide us with a flash of inspiration, and then the finished work comes pouring out of us. As if it’s a spiritual exercise.

    If we think of it that way, we’re doomed.

    I come from a news background and came up writing for some of the best newspapers in the country, so I am fortunate in learning early on that writers block doesn’t exist, only excuses do. That’s not to say that there aren’t hurdles, or that it’s always going to be easy to bang out 1,000 words in an hour or two. But those times when we don’t want to write are the most important times to make sure we write.

    Another good thing to do, if you’re having trouble focusing, is to work on an old laptop without internet access, or in a word processor like FocusWriter, which goes full-screen and blocks everything else.

    Reply
  33. Ah, but it’s NOT safe to write whatever comes to mind. That seems to be part of the attraction; it may be unrequited, but it’s love nevertheless. You ARE a writer, Rachel, as you say, and as those of us who’ve read your work heartily affirm.

    Reply
  34. Just don’t give up! I got 150 rejection slips. I didn’t give up. I now have 34 published books. God bless.

    Reply
  35. After reading this, I decided to look at the kindle sample of Yeshiva Girl. Brilliant writing style! I’ve bought a copy. You are a very good writer Rachel and you ought to write many more.

    Thank you for being such a big fan of my blog. I’m surprised you like it so much when it is so totally different from what you would write about. Don’t worry about the tough road to being a professional writer. I gave up after two bad experiences with publishers, and I’ve self-published twelve free (and fairly short) fiction books. That might not be the answer for you, but you need to find a place you feel comfortable in as an author and don’t let anyone put you off doing what you want to do.

    Reply
  36. Don’t give up on writing. Maybe start smaller such as a contest or magazine.

    Reply
  37. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t satisfy everyone, so I write to satisfy myself. As for rejection slips, I think I’ve had more than 200. So there! LOL!

    Reply
  38. I went into psychology as a career so that I had a ‘real’ job and fiction writing just kept getting pushed to the background. Part of me does wish I had done things differently and I’m now trying to make writing more a priority. Well done on writing your novel and hope writing becomes easier for you!

    Reply

Leave a Reply to floridaborne Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: