My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

Beth Kaplan logo

Nicole Breit’s advice

Lots and lots of snow. There’s a particular kind of silence in a snowy Toronto – you can hardly hear the cars, the sirens, everything is muffled. Even at night, with the lights off, the house is illuminated through the windows by all that silver white. Very pretty. For now.

Gifts. Yesterday I wrote to Nicole Breit, whom I met at the Canadian Creative Non-fiction Conference at Banff this spring. She took my workshop on public speaking for writers and did a great job, and then I learned that she’d won our writing prize for this year. She has since won several other prizes – a fantastic writer, focussed, powerful, haunting.

I wrote to her yesterday after reading her interview for “Room” magazine that I posted on my writing Facebook page, Borntoblogbybethkaplan. It was inspiring, and I wanted to read the essay that won the prize. She wrote back and sent me the essay, which I can’t wait to read. We also discussed writing blocks – I confessed I’m still struggling to get back to work on the memoir. She gave me a great suggestion: write down what is blocking you.

So I did. For those of you interested in the writing process of a scattered writer, here it is:

I’m stuck
Because Act One needs more
intimate family material, which means figuring out what it should be, which
means going back to diaries and letters to dredge up what should be included.
The necessity for research paralyses me always. I look at the stack of
material, don’t know where to start, give up, find something else to do.
What to do about it:
Give yourself a set time to go through the
material – a week or two. Keep moving through the pages  – and then pick something and go with it.
Because this latest round of
edits makes me feel like a lousy writer. I know it doesn’t help, I always nag
my students who say generic self-deprecating things like that, but when I feel
this negative, it also paralyses me. I feel – as usual – that I’m shallow and
hasty, rushing through, not giving the story and the writing the depth of
thought it requires. So what’s the point of doing more?
Putting yourself and your work down doesn’t
help anyone, certainly not you. You are who you are as a person and a writer.
You have not accomplished great things but you’ve accomplished a hell of a lot
more than many. Stop dwelling on defeat and get on with the work. It’s the only
way forward. You’ve done so much work on this book already; people who’ve read
it say they’ve enjoyed it, and that’s just an early draft. There’s great
potential there. Listen to that voice, not the other.
Because the work still to be done requires the unpacking of family unhappiness. That’s what’s
needed to give the book context – the dysfunction that created the young woman
who’s narrating, i.e. me. It’s a positive story in the end, redemptive, but it
needs to start in a dark place, and I’m resisting going there.
Do your job. It’s your job to go there, because your readers can’t and don’t. What to do with what you’ve been
given: write about it.
Because Facebook, email, reading, Christmas, the house, the Y, reading, the family, even this blog and now Netflix and, always, reading – all these feel more important, immediate, satisfying, compelling.
Do your job. First thing after breakfast as
many mornings in the week as you can. Use the pomidoro method if you need to –
set the timer for 25 minutes to start. This is your key writing time, between teaching
terms. Go.

Okay, let’s see if that works. And if that doesn’t, this might:



4 Responses to “Nicole Breit’s advice”

  1. theresa says:

    Good advice! Go, Beth! Some of us are looking forward to your memoir…

  2. beth says:

    Thanks, Theresa. I'll get on the case. Just got to do a few things first … NO I DON'T!

  3. “Writer’s block,” at least for me, has “romantic” (for lack of a better word) connotations. It never sounds like a serious affliction because the bearer has nearly always been busy doing something else they have chosen to do. I think it feels “romantic” to me because writers have made the expression popular and they are actually bragging about being “special” as artists or writers.

    I’m NOT saying you’re doing that; I’m saying that one profession has romanticized a basic human issue. A writer invented the term but there are procrastinators in every profession. It sounds much more “romantic” to say: “I have writer’s block” as opposed to saying “I am procrastinating” don’t you think? That’s why I sense the romance in the phrase.

    I think it’s likely we all get sick of doing what we do most — even if we love to do it.

    Your post is writing about being unable to write. Whereas you cannot work on your big writing project, you can post on your blog. I do that too because we both love writing but not necessarily “working;” when we take on huge writing projects, the further into the projects we go, the longer they take to complete, the more the writing of them feels like “work.”

    And true worthwhile work is demanding. The concentration is wearying, especially in us old timers.

    You wrote this list of the things keeping you from writing. Your list proves your mind and body are up to the task you don’t want to do — same with me, yesterday. And I get days like yesterday periodically — days of crafter’s block.

    I think the better term is “work fatigue.” Sometimes we need to take a break — especially when the only deadline is self-imposed.

    And I wrote this long comment instead of "working" on the script I want to complete. Sigh. But why label a temporary aversion to work? Lets have fun doing what we're doing when we're not "working!"

    Tell your "should" voice to shut up and have a Merry Christmas. That's what I've decided to do.


  4. beth says:

    Wise words, old friend. Yes, it's not writer's block, because I'm emailing and blogging, and even reading old essays to rewrite and getting ideas. I am avoiding a particular project, which has taken a lot from me and needs a lot more. I'm having a rest, is a better way to put it, but feeling guilty about it. It's nice to have a romantic name for avoidance, isn't it? The trouble for freelancers, as you know, is that the work is always, always there. Anyway, I will get back to it, but Christmas is on its way, the usual tsunami. I envy those dedicated people who write every day, no matter what. But yes, SHUT UP, should voice. I send my love to you across the mountains.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.


Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.


I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.


Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.


Juliet in Paris, Spain and Beyond
Juliet is a Canadian who’s lived for decades in Paris and writes about her travels and the many things that interest her.