Friday, February 28, 2020

Writer's Block

It happens to all of us. We're going along just fine on a story -- the characters are talking, doing, reacting -- and then, BAM! They shut up. They freeze in position like a photograph in time. Everything screeches to a halt. Including you.

Writer's Block.

It happens so often, we've given it a name.

I don't get it often, but when I do -- I can sit on a story for years. Yes, you read that right. Years before I can get it to move again. The order in which books are released has nothing to do with the order in which they were begun.

I'm just coming off a several-year hiatus on my current work-in-progress (wip - an apt name for how I feel about it sometimes). The Companion is a book I started back in the '90's. I wrote several parts of it, changing the name of the main character, changing the setting, changing her attitude - but it wouldn't get off the ground. If I didn't like the story so much, I probably would've abandoned it all together, but the concept really had a hold of me.

But then I got published in the genre of erotic romance and I figured, "You don't want to cooperate? Fine, I'll go write something else."

So I did. Oh, I returned to it several times. Found a new place to start the story and wrote thousands of words on that draft. Even pitched it at a conference to an editor from Avon. She liked the concept enough to ask for the first three chapters (which I had) and a synopsis (which I didn't). I wrote the second and sent it off and she. quite rightfully, rejected it. It wasn't ready. I was still stuck on those early pieces I'd written, trying to work them in so I wouldn't have wasted my time.

Of course, that time wasn't wasted. I know the main character's backstory now and that informs much of what she's planning to do in the rest of the book. Perhaps someday those scenes will get published in a "deleted scenes" type book. That means, however, that I have to finish the main story.

Except that the characters of The Companion had stopped talking. I'd switched points of view (there are three main characters and switching between and among them helped move the story forward when I got stuck in the past. I'd ask myself, "Well, what does Kiera think about all this?" or I'd move to Martin's story and let him take the lead for a while.

That worked for a long time. For 145,000 words, in fact (about 450 pages). I played with format, I played with story arcs, I played with other parts of the story and each time I did, I managed to avoid getting stuck for too long a time. I'd leave one set of characters in their photograph and visit those who wanted to show me what was happening in their lives. Then, when they got tired and froze, I'd go back to the others and (usually) they'd be ready to talk.

And, to be honest, some of the writer's block is BIC problems. BIC = Butt In Chair. Having time dedicated to writing is part of it, but then again, the pressure is on to create. Creativity doesn't always come when you say, "Okay, I'm here. The computer file is open and I'm ready to go. Let's write!" So procrastination kicks in and I clean the house (see this post for more on that), I go grocery shopping, I scrapbook -- I have lots of procrastination tools. The key is not using them and forcing myself to stick my rump in the chair and write. Even if what I write is terrible. It can be fixed later. Just get words on paper.

Neil Gaiman, in his Masterclass, said, "You cannot fix a blank piece of paper," and that has become my mantra. Get the words down and fix them in the next draft. Taking several of the Masterclasses has helped me with the BIC and with the mental challenge of writing such a large story (this is an epic fantasy - and I'm about halfway through the first of what I suspect will be two books).

Yesterday, I went back to a tried-and-true method. I'd been stuck for several days. I knew what had to happen, but I couldn't figure out how to get to that point. I had snippets in my head but no string to hang them on.

So, I printed out the last two pages, pulled out a spiral notebook, made sure I had plenty of sharpened pencils, and got myself comfy in my overstuffed recliner and worked the old-fashioned way - in longhand. I teach my composition students that the brain works differently when holding a pen or pencil than it does when typing. Yesterday, I put that into practice - and wrote over a thousand good words before I was done for the day. Sometimes you just have to go old school.

So, have writer's block? Here are several ways to work around it:

  •    Set the story aside and work on something else. If it isn't working, stop beating your head against it. You'll only get a headache.
  •    Believe in your concept. That will prevent you from abandoning altogether.
  •    Try starting the story (or scene) in a different place or time. Take the character(s) someplace else and see what happens.
  •    Change the point of view. Either choose a different character or a different voice (switch from first to third person or vice-versa to get them talking again).
  •    Stick your Butt in Chair.. Get the words down, no matter how bad they are. That's what the next draft is for. Keep writing.
  •    Know your procrastination tools and don't give into them. They will lead you astray!
  •    Go old-fashioned and get out the paper and pen (or pencil). Use a different part of your brain.

So, go write!

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