So writers’ block is a thing.
It can be a lot like wanting to gnaw your own arm off. I spent some words on the topic back in January, but a few more might be in order.
Like how to get over it.
I’m sure everyone has their tricks, but in my estimation, we can never have enough tools in this particular toolkit, so I thought I’d share one of those gems that got me through the winter of my discontent.
At the time, there seemed to be no way to conjure up those next scenes, those next images. Anything remotely resembling an idea that might carry me through to inspiration eluded me completely. I stared at the blinding screen for days. I ignored the beckoning keyboard for weeks. I felt Scrivener calling to me in my sleep. “Hey jackwagon! You gonna’ do something, here?” But nothing would come.
I knew what had to happen. No, I didn’t. I knew what I was missing. Erm, I’m not even sure I knew that. I knew that, A. I was writing a novel, and B. It wasn’t done. And that in my experience, Scrivener wasn’t going to write it for me, so all that remained was me actually typing something. I sighed a lot.
“Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.”
~ Madeleine L’Engle
And then, in an act of defiance against the monster, accompanied by sneers and violent keystrokes, I started. I did not start writing that scene that I needed. I started writing about that scene that I needed. The words flowed out of frustration, but what you have going for you here is the wildly unfair fact that frustration is inexhaustible. So I wrote.
I did it in the very sacred space that had been reserved for my scene. It may have even borne a title already. It had laid bare for so many weeks, and it was quickly filling up before my very eyes. It was filling up with angst, yes, but it was filling up nonetheless. And the strangest thing happened.
The more I wrote about my inability to write, the more focused I became on what actually had to happen. Through no credit of my own, mind you. It just happened. You can only rant for so long before things naturally start turning over into realms of productivity.
And there I was, first verbalizing the frustration in that willy-nilly, haphazard, seven-year-old fashion, then moving on to more specific frustrations, aimed at my storyline itself. Somewhere in the railing against myself for not being able to do this simple thing, I started telling myself how simple it was, and what needed to happen, and before I knew it I had a plan. It was only a few sentences long, but it was direction, and it was more than I had ten minutes earlier. I closed the computer and went to bed.
The next day, I read my tirade and the pot of gold at the end, and I started over. I deleted nothing, just started again after a few carriage returns. This time things fleshed out into six, or maybe ten sentences. I closed the computer and went to bed.
Next day, we went round and round again, Scrivener and I. Four, maybe five paragraphs. Things were coming together, fattening up, like any healthy baby should. I closed the computer and went to bed.
Next day… Again, I expounded. I extrapolated. Really, I did nothing at all but tell myself again what to do, but each time, more detail, more bulk came through. I closed the computer and went to bed.
It went on like this for a while. Maybe a week. Maybe two. I grew more and more unabashed in my insistence that I could do this better than I could, and dang it, I was going to tell me all about it, that things started turning into the actual scene. And honestly, I knew I was done when really all I had to do was convert some voices and tenses. I had a scene.
And I had, after some serious cutting and pasting of the riff-raff, an impressive collection of notes regarding the rest of the novel. This was going to have to go. We needed more of that. Where on earth was I planning on coming up with that? What happened to this? The giant brain dump not only culminated in the scene I was looking for – and more importantly the breaking through of the dreaded block – but a plethora of thoughts on other aspects and elements of the story.
Today I ran across the above quote by Madeline L’Engle, one of my favorites. And I was reminded that as Natalie Goldberg says, we need to have our pen on paper. Staring can only get us so far, and it is not an impressive distance. But actually writing, now that has some power.
I heard this song on the radio tonight, on my way home from my writers’ group. You could argue its validity here, or not. I might be reaching, but I loved the song, and I do believe I can make it apply. Take a listen. Then go through.
‘Til next time,