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Writer’s Remorse

by Olive Balla

Olive Balla245It’s a cousin to Buyer’s Remorse, which my friend and constant companion Google defines as an emotional response to a purchase. Feelings like regret, fear, depression, or anxiety. You know—the letdown that grabs the buyer by the throat immediately after he’s spent a pile of money on something he just knew he wanted more than anything.

But the feelings accompanying what I’ve dubbed Writer’s Remorse go beyond those just mentioned. Although depression is definitely part of it, the feeling is more of—as Peggy Lee crooned in the golden oldie of the same name—Is that all there is?

Regardless of what it’s called, I’ve been suffering from it.

After working for six years on my novel—six years, during which I thought about it constantly, jotted down snippets of overheard conversations to pepper into the dialogue, basically lived, breathed, and showered with it—the thing is suddenly finished. I’ve polished, rewritten, edited, and re-edited, and then found a beta reader who was a professional editor in a past life. It’s the best I can do.

But just as with the sudden cessation of any other perpetual activity, the completion of my novel left a void. I just didn’t know what to do with myself.

So I checked in with my online chat group of writers. I told them of the unexpected feelings of loss that have accompanied my novel’s completion. I poured out all my writer angst, certain that what I was going through was an anomaly. And a little fearful for my sanity. (Okay, maybe a bit melodramatic, but I was concerned.) I wondered if Stephen King had ever struggled with letting go of one of his twisted babies.

The responses that came pouring in from my colleagues boosted my morale. One savvy writer said that I have a case of what is basically empty-nest syndrome. She said I’m missing my characters. That they became an integral part of my life, and now I’m grieving their loss. And that feels about right.

Having raised three actual children, I must admit that the feelings I was experiencing were akin to those of giving birth, raising the child, and then watching her walk away to seek her fortune in the world without so much as a backward glance. The whole process was accompanied with the bittersweet knowledge that it’s all part of the beat of life—that once you’ve done your job, your services will no longer be required.

After all, I spent over half a decade scheduling my life around my writing time. I’d waken early, hurry to eat breakfast, and then happily lock myself away into my writing space—what author Elizabeth Sims calls getting into garret mode. I closed myself off to the here-and-now, completely immersed myself in a different dimension, and then for the next couple of hours I alternately dug through the darkness and marveled at the brilliant nobility of our human nature.

And then I was stricken with an energy-sucking ennui. I walked aimlessly around the house in search of something—I didn’t know quite what. Judging by the way my husband took to surreptitiously watching me out of the corner of his eye, I suspected my behavior verged on something clinical.

So I again approached my writer friends—much cheaper and less time consuming than therapy.

Within minutes, commiserations flew back across the ether and into my waiting arms. I wasn’t alone. Other writers had suffered the same feelings.

Several of them told me to get back on the horse and start another novel. Others said I should take a break and do something totally un-writer-like for several weeks before rolling up my sleeves and giving myself over to the birthing pangs of a new story.

I decided to do both. First, with unwavering determination, I powered down every piece of computer hardware in my house that could even remotely be used for word processing. And then, with an unexpected sense of freedom, I accompanied my husband on a road trip to Mount Rushmore.

The glorious scenery that flew past our car windows, the rest stops where I overheard people speaking about everything from ingrown toenails to saving wild horses, all sparked dozens of ideas, which I verbalized into the tiny digital recorder I’d snuck into my bag. I know, I know, I cheated. But the change of scenery was like a cool drink of water on my parched writer’s tongue, and I was overcome with a renewed joy in my chosen field of endeavor.

Once home, I replayed and then transcribed my recorded observations and comments. What if… and Yes, and then… cavorted and tumbled elbows over arse through my electrified imagination. I made more notes.

But I still didn’t have the heart to begin a new novel. At least, not until this morning.

Today I awakened to my Protagonist’s index finger tapping me on the forehead. She was yammering away about a woman who just moved from South Dakota and into the house across the street.

“She’s having trouble sleeping because of weird noises coming from her basement,” said my Protagonist around a mouthful of leftover welcome-to-the-neighborhood brownies.

“Aha,” I said. “Weird noises coming from her basement? That’s good. Then what if…”

And we’re off.

AnArmAndALeg72Olive Balla, author of suspense novel An Arm and a Leg, is mother of 3, grandmother to 13, great-grandmother of 4, a retired educator, and part-time professional musician. Having been everything from secretary at a used car dealership, a university student, and a high school Spanish teacher, Balla states her characters are, in part, amalgamations of people she’s met. Living with her husband Victor in the Albuquerque area, she spends her spare time in a small woodworking shop designing and building everything from breadboxes and wine racks, to a porch bench. Visit her website at

This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

The Writing Life: Finding the Fight and the Fun in Your Work

by Sherri Burr


Recently, fortune blessed me with the opportunity to watch live tennis at a high-level tournament in Ohio. As I observed tennis star Serena Williams fight back after losing the first set to win the next two sets and claim the match, I thought about how much we writers can learn from her determination to succeed.

Just as tennis players face the constant threat of losing points, games, sets and matches, we writers often confront rejection. Author Gregg Levoy (This Business of Writing) once told a SouthWest Writers audience that if you are not constantly receiving rejection letters, you are operating too far into your comfort zone. I initially thought this harsh as no one wants to receive rejection letters. But his larger point resonated. If you constantly put out work that gets accepted, perhaps you are not challenging yourself to go to the next level. Are there higher levels of publications that you have not submitted to for fear of rejection? This is like the tennis player who only plays players who are worse than they are. Where’s the test? Where’s the opportunity?

By daring ourselves to query top book and magazine publishers, we increase our risk of rejection but we potentially set ourselves up for great rewards. Tennis players know that if they want to win the big tournaments, the Grand Slam events, they have to constantly improve their games. This requires honest assessments of weaknesses and strengths. Do they have an accurate serve, which allows them to claim free points? Or a weak serve that leads to double faults? Do they have a lightning-accurate forehand, or one that constantly sails long? Is their backhand hit with power, or does it soft-land on the other side of the net and permit the opponent to hit a punishing return?

For writers, do we write articles with humor, or do our attempts fall flat? To predict an audience’s reaction requires test driving the material. This is where critique groups that require writers to read their submissions can be absolutely critical to writer success. As you deliver your words out loud, you can obtain an instant reaction as to whether the material is hitting the intended emotional cues. If your critique group members react by laughing out loud or crying, then you know you are hitting the right level. If there is no reaction, then you know you have to go back to the drawing board.

This is why I prefer critique groups whose members read the material compared to those who pre-send the material by email and then discuss it when the group meets. In the former, you can instantly see the reaction. In the latter, the person might tell you they found something funny but you won’t know how funny. Were they falling out of their seat with laughter or did a bemused look cross their brow?

Similarly in tennis, a speed gun measures the serve. Players don’t have to guess how fast a serve was, they know. After Croatian player Marin Cilic won the 2014 US Open, he was interviewed about his suspension for four months during 2013 for having a banned substance in his urine tests. Cilic used the time to practice his serve and to work on finding the enjoyment in his game. Others might have spent the four months in “woe is me” mode. Instead, Cilic used it as an opportunity to improve.

When life gives an opportunity to remove ourselves from the normal and reassess, take it as a golden opportunity to improve. Examine weaknesses and strengths. Find the fun in your work. That’s where long-run success lies. That’s where the willingness to fight in difficult moments arises. At the Ohio tournament, Serena Williams battled from a set down to win the semi-final match against Caroline Wozniacki. She won her next match in straight sets and the U.S. Open for the sixth time by beating the same opponent in the finals. Williams took note of her earlier struggles and improved her game.

For writers, progress can come from reading and writing daily, as well as signing up for writing courses. When writing is fun, abandoning your life’s work never enters your mind. You commit to fight until the last letter is struck on your keyboard. Writers don’t retire; the ideas keep flowing until they take their last breath. Challenge yourself to submit to different publishers. The successes may surprise and amaze you.

A Short and Happy Guide to Financial Well BeingSherri Burr is the Regents’ Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law where she teaches Entertainment Law, Intellectual Property Law, and Art Law. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and the Yale Law School, she has authored or co-authored 20 books, including A Short and Happy Guide to Financial Well-Being (West Academic, 2014). Sherri is also a long-time member of SouthWest Writers and a regular contributor to the organization’s newsletter SouthWest Sage.

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

On Finding a Reason to Join the Crowd

by Bentley Clark

Out of Ones Head1

I attended my first SouthWest Writers Saturday meeting a couple of months ago. By the time I got there, all the seats were taken, so I stood in a back corner of the room. I began meet-and-greet by circling the room, smiling at people and idling near interesting conversations. When I gathered the nerve, I made a beeline for the most densely populated part of the room with every intention of adding my perspective to some rousing debate. But by the time I made my way into the hub, my heart was racing, my palms were sweating and I felt as though my expression had gone wild eyed and maniacal. I beat a retreat to the food table, grabbed coffee and a cookie, and tucked myself back into the corner from whence I came.

Standing there terrified and praying that the crowd wouldn’t turn on me like an angry mob of rabid zombies—have I mentioned that my anxiety is both wildly irrational and excessively creative?—I wondered why I seemed to be the only writer completely paralyzed by her own introverted nature. Goodness knows, I can’t have been the only introvert in the room. And yet, if there were others, they were so graceful in maneuvering their way around that particular obstacle that no one was the wiser.

Dusting cookie crumbs from my shirt, I wondered what motivates introverted writers to behave so against the grain of their nature in situations such as this. Myself, I am hard-pressed to think of more than two things that I value enough artistically to push through the hyperventilation and flop sweat to have a discussion with complete strangers. Then I remembered a lovely encounter my husband and I had on a recent weekend in Santa Fe.

We were having a quiet breakfast at Bishop’s Lodge. The restaurant was empty, but for ourselves and a well-dressed older woman contentedly dining alone. At the end of our meal, as we rose from the table and moved to push in our seats, the woman politely motioned us over to her table. My husband and I were taken aback and a bit incredulous. She just wanted to thank us, she said, for our genteelness and consideration. She appreciated that we didn’t talk on our cell phones during the meal or make her an unwilling participant in our conversation by talking too loudly. She told us it was refreshing to have a peaceful breakfast out and to be able to hear herself think. Or, more accurately, to have a peaceful breakfast out and to be able to concentrate on editing.

As it turned out, she had been editing the galley of her novel while dining. When I asked her about the progress of her editing, she smiled courteously and mildly cursed the “find and replace” function of her editor’s word processing program. But when I asked her about her novel, she transformed from a quiet, unassuming diner to a passionate artist and enthusiastic salesperson. While she maintained her impeccable decorum in discussing her novel, her eyes lit up, her vocabulary became peppered with hyperbole and she leaned in so close to us that she nearly put her elbow in her eggs. The novel she was editing was the first in a series that married theology, spirituality and history. And while this combination isn’t my usual fare, her exuberance made me want to run out and buy the first copy to hit the bookshelves.

I clutched my Styrofoam coffee cup to my chest and willed myself to breathe deeply, and thought about the impetus for her transformation from mild-mannered Lone Diner, valuing quiet and solitude, to enthralling Intense Writer, discussing theology with strangers. Quite simply, I had asked her about a piece of work that she believed in, that she had worked on for years and that she now wanted to share with others. Discussing and promoting her book were so important to her that there was nothing else she could have done in that moment but passionately broach taboo subjects with two random fellow diners.

If this level of enthusiasm and passion for writing is at the heart of the conversation and buzz at our Saturday meetings, I am simply awestruck. Awestruck and humbled. Awestruck, humbled, and determined to find that piece of work that will propel me into the throng with wild abandon, leaving my introversion in the corner with a cookie.

BentleyClark125Though it has virtually nothing to do with this article, Bentley Clark wonders if zombies can get rabies. Opine and give her a piece of your mind in the comments below.

This article was originally published in the April 2012 issue of SouthWest Sage, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Image “Out Of One\’s Head, Relax The Brain” courtesy of thaikrit /

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