Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Writer's Block-Or Not

So, with the sound of screeching metal and the smell of burning brake pads, my muse has come to a sudden and complete stop on my Medieval France story. Just like that, she was done with it and try as I might, I could not eke out another single word.

Now, that might sound frustrating, but it actually worked out pretty well. I reached 100,000 words on the mss, with the last 2,000 words being a very rough outline of the last handful of chapters. So I know what happens, I’ve filled in the daunting middle, and now just need to let everything stew for a couple of weeks before writing any more on it.

Some people might consider this a writer’s block. I am not one of those people. For a number of reasons. One of the things I notice is that if I have a writing binge, I cannot sustain it indefinitely. I eventually catch up to my muse’s output then have to stop and wait while they generate more material. It’s not a writing block, more of an empty tank. Until the fuel levels rise, I ain’t goin’ anywhere.

I could choose to apply firm discipline and try to make myself keep going, but I’ve learned from bitter experience that that is almost always a major waste. This does, however, work for some people. My guess is that it depends on WHY you’ve stopped writing in the first place. If it’s fear or trepidation, sometimes working through it is exactly what you need. But if it’s an empty tank or well run dry, I’m not sure any amount of discipline will help. This is where spending some time to get to know yourself and your writing process can be of enormous value.

For myself, I know that I default to writing. It is one of my preferred activities in life. It is my job, my hobby, my escape, and my passion. Therefore, if I’m not doing it, it usually means there is a really good reason for me not to be doing it and I have learned to respect that.

For others, however, who have not yet awakened to the absolute necessity of having writing in their lives, perhaps discipline is called for in order to really ingrain the writing habit. In fact, a very wise writing teacher once told me that one of the best reasons for really devoting yourself to writing for a couple of years was that the habit became fully ingrained and then you would not have to fight that particular battle all the time. You will have convinced yourself of the “rightness” of having writing in your life, and would be free to pay closer attentions to other writing lesson and patterns.

So for me, the best approach is to turn to another project. Luckily, I have a contracted book that I really should get started on anyway, so this screeching halt coincides very nicely with my writing schedule. It is also one of the ways I’ve learned to make ADD work for me. It doesn’t always have to be a negative. If you structure your life in the right way, it can be a huge plus. So for me, between my fickle muse and my short attention span, having revolving projects like this works very well. Which is a really convoluted way of saying whatever works for you so that you end up with words on the page over time, with as little frustration as possible, is the right approach.

But let’s say you’re a one-project-writer kind of gal (or guy) or you really don’t think you need to recharge your creative batteries. In that case, I think another common cause of “writer’s block” is that we simply do not know enough about the story to keep going, OR, we are going in the wrong direction. But since this post is already the size of a small chapter book (Clearly I studiously ignore the cyber rule that blog entries should be short and punchy) I'll post more about that tomorrow.


Aspiring Author said...

Thanks so much Robin! I did have another book I was dying to write, but I was convinced that I had to finish the book I'm stuck on. Now I'm off to write what I want to!

Greek Girl said...

Ahh, your blogs are so helpful. I'm a person who has these great ideas, strong begginnings and then, boom, loses it in the early middle. One idea which I wanted SO much to make it somewhere was dropped along with 2 other unfinished manuscripts making me a never published kinda girl. I think that you are definitely right when it comes to the "not going anywhere" circumstance. I think that I need to develop my main plot to help keep things flowing. I have a book to write so thanks!

Robin L said...

Oh yeay, glad the post was helpful.

AA, I do think that, after three or four years of writing, if one has lots of started manuscripts but doesn't end up with a single finished books, one has a problem. But if you're not there yet, I wouldn't worry about it.

And GG, stay tuned for tomorrow's post. It will have some more concrete, craft type things you can explore to help you hammer out an actual middle for your books so you can make it all the way to the end. :-)

Robin L said...


I should also say that I personally have a number of mss that I haven't been able to finish over the years simply because the idea wasn't big enough to sustain an entire novel. Some ideas or characters are born flawed and it's better to put them aside than to torture everyone involved into forcing them into a story that won't, ultimately, work.

Greek Girl said...

Thanks! Last night I got sooooo much done on this book I really really want to finish. I don't know about publishing it but it's just so fun to write and comes easier to me than any of the other books I've tried to complete. (my first novel from a year ago flowed well but looking back, ugghhhh!)