Friday, January 14, 2011

Around the Block with Guest Blogger Shana Mahaffey

Meet author Shana Mahaffey today at the Book Boost and read what she has to say about defeating writer's block, procrastination and your own personal demons.

Here's what she had to say...

Writer’s Block, procrastination, demons, we all have them—the crowd that tends to sail in and drop anchor at the mere glimpse of the thought of any creative endeavor, which for me, is writing. So lets talk about procrastination and the writer. Some writers never have to wade through a crowd of demons and distractions to get to their task of daily writing. And I say “good for them.” I suspect that the key word for their success is some kind of magic shield and focus vitamin that you only get if you know the five passwords and have connections. HA! Or maybe it is the practice of “daily writing.”

My grandfather, and writing inspiration, model, and mentor believed that anything worth achieving required discipline and daily practice. I listened intently and nodded my head every time he told me this. Yet, it took me many years to understand the difference between the words discipline and daily practice and the action associated with them. And then, misunderstanding the difference between action and acting, I talked a good game for a good decade or more the whole time wondering why nothing ever materialized. I still didn’t occur to me that I had to actually do something to see something.

When it did I set up one plan of action after the next, once more waiting and scratching my head over the lack of production (knowing the path versus walking the path). I did manage to eek out a bit more in this phase then in the talking phase, but still not much to show. Finally, I understood that words and action mean nothing if you don’t act, and a plan of action is meaningless without the actual act.

So I made a plan and began to act. Then I discovered that my ability to waver from the plan and impeded my acting was a easy as the distraction presenting itself at the moment—the dust behind the stove that had been there for who knows how many months, or years even, that had to be cleaned now now now or the world would end. The phone call I had to make, the wall I needed to stare at. The nails that needed to be filed. The guest blog that needs to be written…

Next I got a writing office—the Sanchez Grotto []a space shared with 10 or so other authors—a sacred space where only writing takes place. Or that was the plan. I did work hard to fill my tiny space with few distractions as possible. But who knew that there would be a rat the size of a slipper at the end of the alley that is my view and that rat would become truly mesmerizing. Trust me when I say I have spent long periods of time staring at him, wondering about his girth, does he floss, where are his friends, maybe he’s a loner….

What did I learn from all of this? Plan, act, and office still needed some critical guidelines if they are to be successful. Here are mine:

1. Have a daily schedule AND keep it—i.e., show up no matter what. It’s that last part that is critical. As Steven Pressfield says in the War of Art: “If you want the muse to show up on a regular basis you need to be available to receive him/her on a regular basis—same bat time, same bat channel. "

2. Invite all the demons and distractions to come along, take a seat, hang out, floss, chat, whatever they want. In other words, make them my friends because friends want what’s best for you and what’s best for me is to write. After befriending my demons and distractions, I found they were thrilled to let me write. And they don’t even mind when I am lucky enough to reach those rare moments of bliss when time and space cease letting me lose myself in writing Nirvana.

3. Get help when I need it—e.g., one of the best writing tools I have used are those outlined in BlockBuster Plots by Martha Alderson. I used her tools for my first novel, this included plotting the book, discovering all facets of my characters, and tracking the scene progressions. I am using the tools again for my second novel, which is in progress. I highly recommend her process. It not only helps you focus your plot, but it also helps for when you get stuck.

4. Have writing rituals, secrets or superstitions, mine go like this:

Inspired by my grandfather, Joseph McGrath, especially since on his deathbed I promised if he’d help me from the “other side,” I would dedicate everything I write to him (he was a writer and a coach), I start each day by touching his old IBM Selectric for good luck and good writing. Then before I begin writing, I close my eyes, imagine him sitting in my office “coaching” me.

5. Have backup for those emergencies like when that rat doesn’t want to be friends, he wants to be admired…. My backup is my grandfather’s old sweater, which I keep in my office. If I am truly struck and/or totally distracted—like those occasions where slogging through mud in cement shoes is easier than writing—I wrap the sweater I wrap it around my neck. It somehow works. In case I am writing at home and the same thing happens, I use his old wool hat.

I encourage everyone to do the same when approaching anything you’re passionate about. Trust me, it works. Thanks and now I will get back to writing.

A Note from the Book Boost: What a great story and I love how your grandfather was a writer and continues to be your inspiration from beyond. Thanks for joining us today and please tell us more about your book!


Sounds Like Crazy is as a darkly comic and ultimately healing story about Holly Miller, an Emmy Award winning cartoon voiceover performer who has actual voices in her head, multiple personalities who make her career a huge success, and shield her from a terrible secret in her past.

Want More Shana?

Shana Mahaffey lives in San Francisco in an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends and five cats. She’s a survivor of Catechism and cat scratch fever, and is a member of the Sanchez Grotto Annex, a writers’ community. Her work has been published in SoMa Literary Review and Sunset Magazine.

Visit her website here:

Pick up your copy of her book today! Click here!


thewriterslife said...

Thanks for hosting Shana today, Kerri!

Ellen said...

Great ideas for overcoming procrastination! Thanks for sharing.

Cheryl said...

Great article. I have to admit that writer's block doesn't plague me because I have so little time to write, but these are fabulous ideas for those who suffer from it.

Best of luck with your book.


Rachel Newstead said...

My struggle with writer's block has more to do with just getting *started*--when I attempt fiction, just trying to come up the right premise can completely paralyze me.

I'd be interested in knowing what Shana would have to say about that situation.

I do think those are great ideas, though. Comic strip creators pretty much say the same thing--especially the part about keeping a regular schedule. Charles Schulz always did.

Unknown said...

Rachel, I find that just writing anything is a good way to start. Don't worry about a premise, just write, even it is just a description of what is outside your window or how your fingers feel when they tap the keyboard. It really helps take the pressure of.

Unknown said...

Or shall I say, takes the pressure OFF :-) Cheers.

Margay Leah Justice said...

Shana, I suffer those demons, too, believe me! I really like your strategies for dealing with them.

Morgan Mandel said...

We all are haunted by distractions to writing!

Now about that rat - it needs a special spot in your book.

Morgan Mandel

Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks for the great tips!

Unknown said...

What a beautiful story, Shana and thank you for sharing. I get paralyzed by my demons some times. I feel like what ever I write will be garbage, won't make sense, then when I do write, I spend more time self-editing. I'm going to try and relax and follow your guidelines here. Thank you.

Tribute Books said...

I like grandpa's advice:

"Anything worth achieving required discipline and daily practice."

Right on!

Best wishes,
Tribute Books