WRITER PROCRASTINATION PRODUCES WRITER PARALYSIS

Viga Boland

Viga Boland is the author of 4 memoirs. She mentors memoir and creative writing groups for the Hamilton, Ontario Public Library. She is also a paid speaker at conferences on child sexual abuse. Viga blogs and podcasts from her site at MEMOIRABILIA, from her personal author's website, VIGA BOLAND, and on her latest site for writers of all genres, VIANVI.

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30 Responses

  1. You may find the review I just posted of Murder on the Floodways particularly apt, as the author was just 12 when the events occurred and was not at the funerals he describes in detail, but filled the gaps with research and a keen understanding of the personalities and sensibilities of the locals in that unique locale.

    • Viga Boland says:

      Thanks for commenting Donald. Where is your review so I can read it? My problem isn’t with events and details around those events. It’s being true to what my mother may have or have not been thinking. Because of the issue in my true story, sexual abuse by my biological father for 14 years, there was a lot of unspoken emotion between my mother and me, and much of it emerged only in the last year of her life. I’m forced to “manufacture” what she might have felt about her husband as a young bride and later as the mother of a child she never really wanted and as a wife whose opinion held no weight with her husband. These are not something one can research. The story has to be based on knowledge of the personalities and sensibilities of the people involved…nothing to do with the locale.

  2. Cindy Keiger says:

    Having absolutely no knowledge or authority in this field, I say, “Write!” Let the words flow from your heart and thoughts, and see what happens. In the writing, perhaps clarity will come. The point, right now, is not how to classify it (memoir or otherwise) but to write it. That’s my one-and-a-half cents worth 🙂

    • Viga Boland says:

      Thanks Cindy and what you’ve said here is exactly what I’ve been thinking ie. just write the story and worry about genre later. If I don’t I’ll be paralysed indefinitely.

  3. In my opinion if it is written in the first person, from your perspective, it would be a memoir. Even though the stories you were told by your mother are subjective from her point of view, they are also subjective from yours, and that is what you would be writing about. The reporting of the information you received and your interpretation of and reaction to it thereby make it a memoir.

  4. After reading “No Tears for My Father,” I can understand why writing a book from your mother’s POV must be a daunting task. Somehow, you have to channel her thoughts and feelings and that, I know from experience, is painful and takes time–alone time. Without distractions, and you have a lot of those, especially all the demands on your time. As far as I know, there’s only one cure for writing paralysis: Get on with your story. If you can’t write about it, write around it, or a description, or an anecdote. Anything! Even one paragraph at a time. Or as Cyndy, above, said: “Write!”

    • Viga Boland says:

      Another perfect answer. Thanks Penelope. It’s not painful writing about mom. I just want to do her justice and try to make readers see the story from her side and understand why I couldn’t hate her as so many readers did and felt I should.

  5. Ashley Steinfink says:

    I agree with Cindy. As writers, I think we are more likely to fall prey to overthinking. The first thing we have to do is get those thoughts down on paper. Once we’ve done that, we can analyze them, make necessary changes and further consider if we’ve applied our words appropriately. If you dwell too much on the issue at hand (although it is important to consider), you might not be able to write it at all. If it were me, I’d take the resources I do have and get it out; not only for the sake of the book but for yourself as well. You said something above that made me think that your brain might be trying to protect itself from having to think too deeply about these things. Given the unspoken emotion from your mother and the abuse from your father, it wouldn’t be surprising. Writing freely without constraint on your thoughts might help the memories flow without the interference.

    • Viga Boland says:

      Thanks Ashley. No, my issue with writing mom’s story has nothing to do facing my painful past. As i mentioned in the Facebook group, I faced all that writing my first two books and at this age, am not pained by any of it, including my mom’s role in it. As for my methodology of writing, just writing freely and not stopping to rethink or edit what I’ve written is the ONLY way I write and what I tell attendees in my workshops to do, and what i have promoted in all issues of Memoirabilia. It’s what I call “freewriting”, and it pours straight from my head and heart and onto the page. The time for re-thinking and editing comes after the book is written. I only raised this entire question now in regards to how to classify a book I’m writing which is essentially memoir but has to be fictionalized to some degree as the thoughts my mother has in the story as I tell it, are what I think she might have been thinking, but may not necessarily be so. This is an issue that deals with truth in memoir. That’s all I’m concerned with and hence, the reason for my procrastination.

  6. Barbara Raue says:

    I agree with Cindy, but I would also have this to add from a course I am currently taking on Writing Non-Fiction. It has to do with free direct discourse where you can “stray somewhat” from the actual. I will look up the lesson and see if I can be more precise.

    • Viga Boland says:

      Thanks Barbara. It’s probably close to what I’ve taught in my workshops regarding the impossibility of writing dialogue exactly as it was because memory is far to inadequate to make it exact.

  7. I posted a similar problem I was having on the FB page of Memoirabilia and someone (you) told me something smart and inspiring that I think can apply here: “I don’t think there is any wrong or right about what you propose if you can blend the two (genres) and explain to the reader…what it is you are doing. So it’s half & half. So’s cream…and it still tastes great!” So quit looking for excuses (that’s coming from someone who is in a perpetual state of procrastination)!

    I think the concept you are tackling is hard, but it’s a great concept. I think as you get going you’ll be able to kind of channel your mother and see/hear her side of it and put it in your words and she’ll have a voice through you in some way. Don’t stop now!

    • Viga Boland says:

      No intention of stopping Brandon and thanks for reminding me of my own advice LOL. Yes, I did say that, didn’t I. So no more delays. I’ll forge on!

  8. Viga,
    I wrote my memoir about my relationship with my mother long after her passing. I was pretty amazed at the tactile, sensory and deep down feelings that I could remember. Even now there are some things I think about, new to me again, that I wish I had included in the memoir. What I wrote was connected to my holiest attempts at what was true for me. In one chapter, a part where I learned to start accepting my mother as a woman, not just my mother, I could ‘see’ her as a young girl, feeling neglected by her own mother. I could imagine her as the young bride, so happy, so in love with my father and how broken her heart was when he died. There are things that I just know, on a visceral level, and many of these things were not shared with me by her or by anyone else. My connection to her, my oftentimes despair of loss of connection with her, still informed my writing with the truth as my heart heard it. I say, ‘dig deep’, the story is yours, keep going and visit these doubts later if you must….after you’ve got an armful of pages.
    You can’t go wrong with this, Viga.
    Kathleen

    • Viga Boland says:

      Wonderful answer Kathleen. Thanks for the encouragement. And you are so right in how this process works and will work as I try to write mom’s story from her point of view. Sage words, Kathleen.

  9. Viga,
    I am currently experiencing a similar difficulty. In my case, ALL of my family members are deceased and I must decide truth or fiction? Most of the truth is on the page, but now, in the revising process, my writing group advised to include more dialogue. Okay, easier said than done. I remember snippets of conversation, and certain phrases. (A lot of cussing, haha). But as others on your FB page have stated: Write from your heart, this is YOUR story, and YOUR truth. Your perspective. You can fill in the blanks with what you think was said or done, with the front matter disclaimer saying so. I was going to publish my memoir as fiction, and you all talked me out of it 🙂

    • Viga Boland says:

      Thanks Lois. I think the best way for me to reply to your commments is to copy/paste what I left you on Facebook LOL so others visiting this post can read what I said there: “want to address the point you raise re dialogue here as it’s so important that all members of this group be aware of the use of dialogue in Memoir. Number 1) Nothing bores me more when I read a memoir than seeing pages and pages of narrative! I want to scream. When I get submissions that are all narrative, I cringe. I’ve said in issue after issue of Memoirabilia: use dialogue to breathe life into your story. It’s flat, dead without dialogue. Now, as for Number 2, in your specific case Lois Paige Simenson, and this has been said before as well, NO-ONE expects a memoirist to write exactly what others said years ago! Who can remember the exact words years later? Given how poorly most people listen (and read too, as I’m finding when it comes to instructions on how to order Memoirabilia LOL) folks miss half of what we say because most of us have rotten listening skills. So who is going to remember exactly what some family member said years ago? And even if 2 members of a family were present at the time, odds are good each heard what was said differently as we listen, hear, not just with our ears and heads, but with our hearts and feellings. Get my point? So bottom line, you, the writer, deliver the conversation as closely as you remember it. This is not about 100% accuracy of words but capturing the moment in dialogue instead of narrative. Much more exciting!”

  10. Paula Turner says:

    Dear Viga,

    I agree with Cindy just write. The adage pictures are worth a thousand words is so true. Do picture therapy. What do you believe were the “Unspoken emotions” between you and your mother. This is fair game and not contrived. I feel is a strong component to recollection. Remember at a very young age you learned to intuit. It was a coping skill for your survival.

    What you might consider is drafting a personality and sensibility summary of the people involved around each event and hypothesize what motivated her inaction, or willingness to protect herself and you. You saw her as a completely competent individual with her fellow workers. She also had a public personae at parties with friends. You grew up as a child, adolescent, young adult, a married woman and mother. It is fair game to let the reader know how she did show up in your life, what it meant to you, how it confused you in her not taking a stand with your father. You can say what you wished for in her as your mother and voice what you felt over that span of time.
    Did your mother ever talk about the camps? Did she share why she did not want a child? What she did share with you may or may not feel was “The window into her soul.” This is your perspective Viga. You may be kind to her or angry. It is about you.

    • Viga Boland says:

      My dearest Paula. How wonderful for you to weigh in on this question, and given you’ve read both my books on this subject, I know how well you understand all that happened before and after and my mother’s role in it. You also know how I have nothing but love for my mom, even though at times I didn’t feel she loved and protected me as a mother should. I feel from what I knew of her past (and yes, that includes camp life, her life as a child at home etc) I have plenty to base a story on told from her point of view, even if some one the details will need to be fictionalized. Just as with my other books, the purpose behind writing this book is based on enlightening the thousands out there who are unable to understand why a mother failed to protect her child in this case. There are so many reasons and just like my story, there are so many aspects that those who’ve never lived through it will never understand. I am trying to help them understand and feel the compassion for her that I feel, instead of writing, as readers have, that they “hated” my mother. She’s doesn’t deserve their hate; she deserves the respect I have for her. Folks have told me how courageous I am in speaking out. It takes a certain kind of courage to live with what she did too, even though others will see it as weakness. It’s like the debate we always had in school about Romeo and Juliet: is it more courageous to stay and fight “the outrageous slings of fortune” or commit suicide. A never-ending question isn’t it.

  11. Barbara says:

    It doesn’t have to be memoir or fiction. It could just be reflections or musings. Write the vignettes you do remember about your mother, then reflect on the missing parts by bringing in your own thoughts (see page 72 of NTFMF–Furthermore, what would she think of me? Would she believe… etc), and perhaps the comments others made about her or her situation (see page 89 of NTFMF–“As dad often reminded her, she was just a stupid farm girl… etc). You could even reflect on what might have been if she’d discovered the sexual abuse and put a stop to it–how different would your life have been, etc? And what about what’s been happening lately regarding your mom, that you mentioned to me. Bring all those pieces together to make the story. If the gaps are too large, keep it to a short story in her memory.

    • Viga Boland says:

      Thanks Barbara. It would certainly be a different approach but I really want to write it as a story, just as my other 3 books have been stories. I’m not having issues with how to write it, just with the accepted requisite for memoir, that it be truth. Even though we all accept that it’s impossible to write exact dialogue, there can be a risk of memoir becoming more a fiction if one has to “make up” scenes to carry the story forward. I am trying to avoid that and hence, the book will, as all my books have been, closer to a series of vignettes, but I still want them to be seen as a cohesive, continuing whole and essentially, a memoir. Whatever I end up with, it will be memoir, but a second-hand one. That said, the way I’ve written it so far, it works great as fiction too LOL

      • Barbara says:

        I think the bottom line is, if you don’t have enough facts to fill a full-size book, then it would have to be written as fiction. You could simply add the vignettes of truth and highlight them as such. But if there are too few, I doubt it could be considered memoir.

        • Viga Boland says:

          Thanks Barb. Fortunately, I think I have enough facts for a smaller memoir than my first two, which suits me fine. Don’t want it to be bigger than Ladies of Loretto. A quick, but sometimes heart-wrenching read about a sad woman who also wanted love but never got it.

  12. Nancy Gustafson says:

    Dear Viga,
    When a mother fails to protect her child from abuse, I must ask what she suffered as a child herself that keeps her blind eye to the situation. What fears, what failures happened to harm your mother? Who failed to tell her she is valuable and must stand up for herself and her children? If we study a bit about the situations that bring about such a subservient and wounded attitude, we can be pretty sure that the “disease” will be passed on, although it may take a different forms (not unlike alcoholism and drug addiction). If she had been confronted with it and brave enough to trace back to her own experiences, she would have lost the mask she used to survive and would have been near to shattering. So how do we write about what we don’t know as fact? What do you know about her childhood? her parents? We can figure out so much and safely assume events that we were not privy to. What a wonderful opportunity for healing this book will be! What an opportunity for being merciful to yourself and your mother. You can do it. You must do it.

    • Viga Boland says:

      Nancy, it is the very questions you raise that has prompted me to write mom’s story. I want to address the questions readers of my first book had about my mother; I want them to see why they shouldn’t “hate” her as several have said, but instead should pity her, as they did me, and respect her for hanging in there. She may not have helped me as most thought she should, but she never abandoned me. And on her death-bed, she wondered several times how she could have been so blind to what was going on and asked my forgiveness for being such a “weak” mother. She wasn’t weak in my eyes but she was every bit as much a victim as I was. And now, it’s time to tell her side of the story. Wish me luck!

      And as I wrote in the Facebook group, I am long healed from the trauma Nancy. This book is not about my healing. I did that in my first two books. There is no need to be merciful to myself, but it’s time my readers felt some of the compassion I feel toward my mother. This is her story, not mine.

  13. Meghan Portillo says:

    A lot of my story/novel ideas seem to involve writing from the perspective of a person I don’t understand so that I can get to know him/her and hopefully get incite into what kind of person he/she was. The point of my typing that is to say that you know your mother better than anyone – instead of trying to “create” or “fictionalize,” just write the way you feel your mother would have spoken and have *her* tell your readers the hows and whys of it all. (I hope that makes sense – I’m really tired but I didn’t want to forget to reply to this.)

    You seem to be struggling with Fiction vs. Memoir. I feel that you can definitely keep this a memoir. Let your readers know that you are recreating whatever it is that involves your mother but you are doing it in a way that would do your mother justice because you feel so strongly that this is how it would have happened, based on what you know about your mother and what kind of a person she was; you would not be including it if you thought it was something your mother would not have said, done, or even thought.

    (I really hope this helps and makes sense.)

    • Viga Boland says:

      Meghan, your reply makes a ton of sense and thanks for taking the time to write it. Your advice in this sentence: “just write the way you feel your mother would have spoken and have *her* tell your readers the hows and whys of it all” is exactly the approach I’ve taken so far. So it’s all good. All that stopped me was the conflict between what is generally considered “memoir” ie.. how do you write memoir, which is about “me” when it’s not about you but someone else. Anyway, with all the input, I’m past the hump and moving on. It will be what it will be. Thanks!

  14. Leslie Clary says:

    I have sort of a different take — not about writing the story. I would write it and not worry about whether its “true” or not. The emotional truth is there. And you can always write a disclaimer at the beginning. But when it comes to procrastination, I try to not let it bother me too much and do just what you did. Write something else or do something else. I don’t think of that as either procrastination or paralysis. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our writing is set it aside for a while and let it simmer. If you go for a walk, watch a movie, bake cookies, I think you’re still working. You’re letting your subconscious have time to do its thing. Also, if you step away from it, you might find your mother “talking” to you and you’ll know the right approach. As for the topic, I think it’s great that you’re doing this. I often wonder about these mothers (I had one too) who can’t or didn’t protect their children.

    • Viga Boland says:

      That’s a very valid point, Leslie, that “the emotional truth is there”. As for the procrastination, how you deal with it is how I deal with it too. I was only stuck on this particular piece of writing. I am always writing. This is only one of several pieces I have underway. Glad you like the topic. I hope my fans will too when I’m done. Thanks for your thoughts.