Writer’s Block: A Look at Music, Novels, and Life

July 12, 2017
Posted in Life, Writing
July 12, 2017 bryan

Writer's Block: A Look at Music, Novels, and Life

I used to write.

A lot. Between 2006 and 2012 I was kind of a writing machine. I had written a bunch of songs one after the other after almost 6 years of a previous writer’s block. In 2007, I put those songs together and produced a 5-song EP called “Heartbreak Superstar.” (You can check out the songs on YouTube below.)

Then I wrote two novels back to back.

The Dreaming Highway (2009) and Merry Men (2012).

The Dreaming Highway and Merry Men side by side

The Dreaming Highway tells the story of a newly divorced man with an emotional and confusing recurring dream who decides to take a cross-country trip to track down clues from his dreams in hopes of getting to the bottom of it. Along the way, he joins up with his brother, a Jewish seminary dropout, and a former televangelist with a knack for predicting the future, as they journey across the US to unravel his dream and reconnect with his first love.

Looking back, the story is flawed, but it was exciting to write, and it was a way to work out some of my own struggles with faith, religion, and family and relationship questions. I knew I wanted to tackle the struggle that thoughtful religious people had with some of the sillier and sometimes off-putting baggage in their religions. I also wanted to use this small story as a way to promote and fight for LGBT rights, even when our religions discourage it. I’d hoped it would allow for some thought and conversation to develop through a humorous and quirky story. I was influenced by quirky writers like Jonathan Safran Foer (mainly “Everything Is Illuminated”) and Joshua Ferris (mainly “And Then We Came to The End”) and even quirkier filmmakers and screenwriters like Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tanenbaums”) and Charlie Kauffman (“Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).

Unfortunately I couldn’t get an agent to represent it. I got mostly form rejection slips, but did have a couple of potential agents ultimately reject my proposal because they didn’t know how they would market it. It was about pastors, priests, and rabbis (sounds like the perfect set-up of an old bar joke) so the agents feared no normal people would be able to relate. And they couldn’t market it to the Christian Fiction market because they likely wouldn’t accept a book that was pro-LGBT and one of the characters swore a lot.

Never fear! My next novel was here. Merry Men was a modern Robin Hood story for the ages. Written between 2010 and 2012, I was influenced by the classic Robin Hood stories of Howard Pyle, but was also hugely inspired by filmmaker Jason Rietman, who had taken public awareness topics like the tobacco industry (“Thank You for Smoking”), teen pregnancy (“Juno”) and the economic crisis of 2008 (“Up In the Air”). I liked how he took these real topics and made these films that were essentially feature-length public service announcements.

I knew I wanted to tell a funny story that dealt with real issues. If The Dreaming Highway was about religious people and the humanity behind them, I wanted Merry Men to be about toxic workplaces. I’ve had some good work environments and bad ones. And one thing I’ve learned – even recently – is that if you are the slightest bit jaded and messed up, a bad work environment can enhance that unhealthiness and make even good people do really bad things. And so that’s what Merry Men was about. A decent guy who is pushed to his limits and makes some really bad choices.

But I got rejected from agents on this one, too. And while it has its flaws and is a LONG read for a comedy, I still loved these characters and thought it was a good book. Unfortunately, my bank account was so tight I was unable to self-publish on any platform besides ebooks. Thankfully I have been able to sell it on Amazon Kindle, Nook, and Apple. But even so, I would love to revise it and sell a printed version.

Then, in 2010, I began blogging.

It was a personal growth blog called “ElevationLife” to inspire people to get “from where you are to where you want to be.” I was able to network with other bloggers and begin to grow a readership. These weren’t fictional stories, and they were really connecting with people in a way that my novels couldn’t. It had helped that I was out of church ministry and was working a mundane job where I could put most of my creative energy into the blog. In 2011, I even wrote a new ebook that I gave away called “The One Thing You Were Born to Do.” (Read it here! It’s free!) It was a quick read to help people figure out what their passion was and turn that into a new way of thinking about work. It grew my email list quickly.

That’s When Life Got Busy.

But then I joined the staff of another church that kept me busier than I’d ever been in my life. And from there, it seemed like real life began hitting my family and me in the face, with a couple of cross-country moves involved, and then the idea to turn the personal growth topics and life hacks into a live church experience and try to create a church that – in my head – was less of a religious institution and more of a chance to turn the life-changing experience of a Tony Robbins or Wayne Dyer event into a weekly live experience for people who didn’t have to pay $2000 per ticket to get into. The experiment failed – largely because I didn’t know how to raise funding for it and because I really didn’t know how to describe this kind of “church” to the larger churches that were the only real connections I had. My family’s personal finances hit all-time new lows at this point, and I tried to heal our devastation by going back to the only thing I knew – back on staff at a church to lead worship. I was already exhausted, and in the process, I made some of the biggest blunders of my own life, both personally and professionally.

All of this to say that all of these “real life” experiences really took their toll on me, and that has led me to where I’m at currently.

A lot of writer’s block.

I have taken the last several months and tried to regroup my creative ideas. I have tried writing more personal growth articles, but in reality, I just felt spent. I felt like I didn’t have anything to say that would be worth saying. I felt like I’d failed at more than I’d even remotely succeeded at. We’re getting our financial footing back little by little, but it’s been really difficult.

This blog is probably more for my own therapy than anything, but I also decided I needed to do some writing for myself instead of just trying to write what I think others would be looking to read. Maybe writings like this one will help me to get some of my own thoughts back. Maybe it will help me create new stories again. I haven’t written anything musically in over a decade and the story ideas I have had didn’t feel big enough to build anything substantial around.

I’ve thought of rewriting The Dreaming Highway as I feel I have a lot more of a story to tell in this universe, but it seems like such a massive undertaking it’s a little overwhelming. I had further stories for the characters in that book, too, one of them being a stand-alone sequel with the priest, Father Wiley, and his own story continuing where The Dreaming Highway left off. Another idea was a look at alternate universes – like dreams – and opening hopeful conversations about what Quantum Physics are uncovering each day and how our own ideas of God and good and evil play into them.

I have another story I’ve been trying to write for ten years about a man who is the last remaining descendant of George Washington and his journey into American politics.

But largely, I just feel kind of lost at the moment.

So, I’m going to attempt to write more on this site to help me get my mind working properly again.

This post seems like a pretty long rant and ramble about a million different things. But honestly, it’s just where I am at the moment.

If you’d like to help support my journey and work, you can purchase my two novels, The Dreaming Highway and Merry Men. I’d love to hear from you if you read them and see what you think. Good or bad. You can help me possibly work out some kinks.

Thanks for reading!

Writer's Block selfie