Some of you may disagree with this, but I don’t believe in the feared curse called “writer’s block.”
Don’t get me wrong: There are obstacles to our writing progress, but let’s be more specific in order to properly diagnose what ails us…and our writing.
The traditional idea of Writer’s Block being some mystical curse to blame for a writer’s lack of progress is silly. Anytime we sit down at a computer (a typewriter, a pen and paper) and nothing comes out of our fingertips then it’s likely we’ve come unprepared in one way or another. Either it’s our lack of planning and organization within the subject itself or it’s a lack of emotional preparation. I’ve seen this with my own writing so many times. Sitting down to write unprepared can lead to disaster and delays, especially when it comes to the emotional influences of writing.
In my own writing experience, it’s typically the following that hinder writing:
Have you experienced any or all of the following scenarios?
“What kind of crap am I writing? No one will read this!”
“Ugh. I’m so unorganized; I don’t know how to write a paragraph, let alone a novel. What do I do next?”
“I need to perfect every word, every sentence…now!”
“If I write this, will anyone read it?”
“Okay, I’m sitting down to write. Where do I start?”
“I’ll write tomorrow.”
“I want this to be a bestseller, but I’m not good enough for that kind of success.”
“I don’t want to write an outline. That’s boring.”
“I think I’ll do some research tonight [instead of writing].”
How do you overcome this giant we call Writers’ Block?
Plotters: “You should outline your entire story before writing!”
Pantsers (as in, By-the-Seat-of-Their Pants): “You shouldn’t waste time outlining—wing it!”
You’ve heard the terms plotters and pantsers, right? We’re all different. Like I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts, you must do what works for you. (Finding what works for you takes time–and lots of writing!) Outlining works for some; writing as you go works for others.
But here’s my question…questions: What do you do when neither method seems to work for you? Use a combination of both?
I’ve resorted to both. I think that’s okay. But is that truly the challenge? For me there’s something more menacing, more antagonistic, more…okay, it’s…staying organized. My stories get crazy, grow up, live their own lives, get jobs, have kids and buy homes. And then they don’t call home. When I do talk to them, it’s like I don’t know them anymore. Who is this story child I’ve spawned?
So the questions are: How do you stay organized? How do you keep your story reigned in? How do you remember what you wrote months ago (if you’re not self-editing along the way)?
If you’re editing early on in your draft process, that’s fine, if it doesn’t slow you down too much. Gone are my days of self-editing as I write. My current novel I spit out on page within six months because I didn’t stop to slow down and see what I wrote (and edit it). I wrote 60k words in six months. There’s something remarkable about “finishing” a rough draft. Quite the confidence booster. The boost can be short lived, however, when the quick progress you made initially comes close to a halt in the rewrite process.
Now is the hard part.
Like I’ve told folks, I’m slashing and burning my story like it’s virgin rainforest. Painful at times, but rewarding too because I get to see all that I’ve accomplished with a first draft. I’ve eliminated a LOT of my original writing flourish, and much of what I put on paper will not make it to the final draft. And that’s okay.
But with that approach do you lose connection with your story if you don’t analyze it every day? If you don’t re-read it and make adjustments as you go?
These are important questions to think about. If you haven’t been there yet, be prepared. For as much as I’m a pantser most of the time, I have to admit, the plotters are on to something when it comes to planning and organization.
Either way you chose to create your stories, keep on writing! As some say, writing is easy; it’s the re-writing that’s hard.
(But it’s still fun.)
Here’s a very short excerpt of the story I’m currently writing, When It All Comes Crashing Down. A teaser, I suppose. It doesn’t give you much about the story, but, hey, I had fun writing it. (This is an example of “writing” while driving–you can write, gather ideas anywhere. I recorded this into my voice recorder while taking a long drive through Wisconsin.)
The stand of pines stood tall and straight to the edge of the field. Their branches hung over the field, welcoming Thoreau into the stand of trees. Not like the opposite stand of oaks, with their twisted and gnarled branches, sinister and unwelcoming, the pines seemed to him open, their whispers in the wind comforted him. The oaks leafless and silent, held their secrets in thick bark. Ancient secrets, Thoreau thought. Unspoken things from unspoken worlds. Hard hearts as hard as his. The pines, he could feel in his hands, had thinner bark, their lower limbs coming off easily, their dead wood cast off early to prevent diseases, before they brought about death. The pines seemed happy, lighter. They caught the wind, hoping to share their secrets with the wind. And just like Echo, this new person in his life, they were ever green. Always alive, always moving and thriving. Colorful. Thoreau imagined that he was not unlike an oak, a hardwood tree. Like an oak, Thoreau now felt dead and hard inside. Barely alive, barely surviving the winter. How did she do it? She didn’t survive, she thrived. He had become stiff and unbending. Yet still, he thought somewhere deep inside, he was strong. Something inside, a quality about him that made him sturdy, something strong, something lasting. He was a hardwood, not a softwood. Could it be that the pine, while seemingly alive, seemingly gracious and on the surface soft and smooth, be too soft inside, lacking integrity? He thought Echo could be this way. Maybe it was an act. Maybe inside she was soft, that she lacked integrity, couldn’t withstand time and difficulty. He wasn’t so sure what to think of her. He didn’t trust her. He didn’t trust the pines, but he still slept under their branches that night.
Can’t be said enough, writers! I love this post by the ever creative, Coco Ginger. This is my new Writers’ Manifesto:
I’m as serious as I can be when I say this–and I say this from my years of writing famine–stop the excuses and stop waiting for inspiration. Sit down to write and write! Inspiration will come. There is magic in your fingers.
Here’s a short story for your enjoyment. It’s based on a dream I had on Monday. Don’t know what will come of it. Not carefully edited or even well-thought out at this point–I just threw it down on paper. I’m WRITING and that is what counts, baby.
Will it turn into a book, a short story, end here as flash fiction? Let me know what you think.
A cadaver lies frozen on our gravel driveway.
Nothing strange about that, really. My family is buying it today. Or are we renting it? Storing it for someone else’s safe keeping? I’ve been exporting goods in from India to keep my American clients happy, so I haven’t been around much lately. Always interesting to see what they’ve been doing to make money when I’m not around.
My latest haul was an ungodly-sized asbestos sheet. It’s the new stuff. Thin and flexible, safe for your lungs, supposedly. (Dad never believed the asbestos scare in the first place, “back in the day.”) Made in India. Very safe, they say, but the stuff flakes off like a…. Very expensive too, so I’ll make some decent change. What my clients will use it for, I have no idea. The thing is huge: imagine trying to lug one around, extremely thin 10 x 18 foot sheet of this stuff. Well, I am. One sheet. If it was at least two or more, the sheets would give each other a bit of support. As it is, one sheet gives me the challenge of strapping it down and keeping it from flying loose. And that’s all before I tried smuggling it in, which is even more difficult. Okay, boring for you, I know. The cadaver, now that’s more interesting, right?
I’ve learned not to ask anymore, to let my family do what they need to do. To survive? I’m not sure. They have plenty to eat—that’s certainly not a problem evidenced by my father’s rather porcine gut and my mother’s generous backside. When things were more difficult—a decade or so ago—my parents sold off my older sister as a prostitute. I was only eight at the time, ate like a bird, so they kept me around.
“Help us carry it in, will you?” my dad asks.
“Really? I’ve got enough going on,” I reply. Honestly, dead people creep me out—especially stiff, frozen ones. I see plenty most days in my work, and I never get used to it. I just can’t work with them.
“Then find a way to make yourself useful; we feed you, you know.” That’s my mom.
You feed me because I help support you with my business, Mom!
The two of them struggle to pull the stiff into the house, its heals dragging on the driveway, making little ruts in the gravel.
“Where are you keeping it?” I ask.
“Your brother’s room.” Dad.
“And he’s okay with that?”
“He has no choice,” Mom says, “It’s the coldest room in the house.” (Every room in our house is cold; I’m not sure what she means.)
My brother, who will remain nameless, is a passive-aggressive type so we won’t know for some time how he feels about a dead guy in his room. Nameless will lash out at some point when we least expect it.
In other words, it could get violent.
To be continued…?
I have published nothing. I’m on my third unfinished novel—at least. Languishing on my hard drive, there are over 50 (securely backed-up) story ideas. I’m dreadful at finishing what I start. I love ideas, but hate working out the details, hate executing every little minor but important bit of information that could haunt me later for lack of continuity. Of course, I love the end product…if I can get to an end product.
So do you really want my writing advice? I think you do.
I’ve learned a lot. I can share my pain and my suffering with you as a writer. Will you avoid my mistakes? I sure hope you do!
One BIG reason that I’ve made so many mistakes is that I’ve tried to be somebody I’m not. I’ve followed too many opinions when it comes to the creative process of novel writing and screenwriting. For both the overall writing process and the editing process.
The greatest advice I can give a writer (beside write EVERY FLIPPIN’ DAY) is this:
Here it comes…
Do what works for you.
It’s that simple. However, figuring out what works for you isn’t simple. It takes time to understand yourself. That’s the biggest reason I believe writing can be so difficult. There are no excuses, no easy detours around the hard work of writing. It’s a trial-and-error, pain-inducing, psyche-all-in creative act—all for the purpose of discovering you and creating great stories other will read. It’s so worth it in the end.
Discover yourself in the journey, but discover yourself as you write. As you write, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work. Take note of those things and keep doing them.
Before you know it, you’ll finish a book.