I’d be the first to admit that I sometimes don’t write every day. In fact, I can go for weeks at times without writing. But then I’ll suddenly start and the words will flow and stopping becomes quite difficult. Even when I’m superbly busy and should be doing other things.
Those spaces in between aren’t procrastination. Merely a different part of my process. I am planning, thinking, wondering. I am turning ideas around inside my head and waiting to know which one is worth pursuing. And once I know, I begin and I write with certainty.
What keeps me writing? I love it. It is a part of me. Every word given life upon the page and worked over and over again.
Yes, it is tiring. Yes, it is distracting from all the other things I could be doing. Yes, sometimes it keeps me away from things I want to do. But clearly I don’t want sleep or to do any of those other things as much as writing. And for as long as that is true, I will write.
Right now, I haven’t had the time to write properly (without distraction) for two days. My MC was left hanging underneath a rock ledge, fighting for grip on slippery rock in a scene that will undoubtably be cut from the next draft. I am currently pursuing a random thought that crossed my mind earlier in the week and I shoved the MC over the edge just to see what would happen. It is entertaining but really unhelpful to the plot so in the next rewrite she might be saved the effort of rescuing herself.
If I don’t write, she’ll hang there forever. I’ll always wonder what she would have done next. I’ll never see the story through and I’ll never get to the rewrite where I remove the useless scene (or find a use for it). Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. It isn’t as if this story that I’m working on will ever change the world. But I want to write it.
That is my motivation.
What is yours?
I ran across a post by Kyle on his blog “Exercise in Futility” called Writing Blind and really started thinking. Kyle asks:
How much should I know about my story before sitting down to start on a draft? Should I have the entire plot mapped out, with all the main plot points, or should I just go with it, and write whatever comes to mind?
And really, we all ask that question from time to time. We get an idea, get really excited and maybe want to leap straight into writing, and some people have to start writing straight away or they lose that spark, that fire, whatever it is that drives them to write the idea down. Others know from experience that they have to have at least an outline, while others still won’t consider drafting without detailed chapter by chapter break downs and six hundred colour coded notes on each character.
I’ve come to understand my own writing pattern fairly well and ever I still wonder whether I could do it better. I don’t plan too much. Mostly because I don’t look at any of my notes once I start writing the first draft. I just don’t. I close my eyes and type and when I feel my fingers slowing I read what I’ve written and sometimes start writing again and sometimes read blogs or tweets or go watch television or do some other work until I feel ready to write again.
However I never start a draft without having written out an outline and character profiles and concept maps. I have a notebook with all of these things in it. I just don’t use them once I’m writing.
My theory is it is a safety net. It’s like when I used to play the clarinet. I would practise a piece over and over again. I could play it perfectly. It could play it without ever actually looking at the music and I knew this because half the time I would forget to turn the page of the music. However, if someone took the music away I suddenly would freeze and wouldn’t be able to tell you what the first note was. The music was my safety net. I didn’t need it, but it made me feel like I knew what I was doing and so I was fine.
My note book with my plans is my safety net. If I get really, really stuck on something and I desperately want to finish it (though usually when I’m that stuck it is because what I’m working on is rubbish) I can go back and see where I was meant to be going and where I’ve gone wrong. That and I usually remember most of what I’ve written down in the book anyway and so I’m following the plan and just adding bits to it and tweaking it as I go.
And that works for me.
The advice I read many time, given to me by many of the bloggers out there, when I first started trying to write for something more than my own enjoyment was that every writer has to find what works for them. Read what others do and then try some of the different suggestions but don’t feel like there is some ‘right’ way to accomplish the task.
Incidentally, I would love to hear what is working for other people at the moment because I’m always looking for new ideas.
If I am reading something slowly it means I do not like it.
If I am reading it really slowly, it means I am dissecting it in my head and ready to rewrite it from the beginning because I really, really, dislike it.
See, when I like something, I race through it. I eagerly read, my eyes keep jumping further down the page, ploughing further into the story and I don’t want to pause or wait, I just want to know how the story ends. I need to know. I’m caught up and captivated.
Then there are the books like the one I am currently reading.
It is a Shadowrun book – this one by Mel Odom called Headhunters and the premise is interesting enough. Group A is hired to steal a body from the morgue as is Group B. Group A succeeds in getting the body but then are worried about getting killed by Group B and so have to find out who Group A is and why they wanted the body. Enter intrigue and the usual Shadowrun politics with corrupt police and corps and mercenaries and the meta-human race relations and all the things that can make Shadowrun books extremely interesting reads.
Yet this book does not grab my attention. I know this because I started reading it nearly 11 days ago and I’m barely half way through. Yes, I have been busy, but I still would have finished it by now if I had wanted to find out how the story ended. I’d have woken up in the morning and checked my watch and sat for fifteen, twenty minutes frantically devouring pages if I had an interest in finishing this book.
Why don’t I like it? I have read so many other books in this series and really enjoyed them. I’ve read them out of order so I can’t honestly say where this book falls as far as the timeline.
I think it comes down to the protagonist. Skater. The mercenary who in the midst of this body snatching crisis is facing a personal dilemma of how to care for his infant daughter and worrying he may not be a good father. I must admit, the moments when he is blathering on about his fatherly concerns are the bits where I keep putting the book down and then dragging my feet picking it up again. It isn’t that this sub-plot is not interesting. It is more that I don’t believe it. Everything else Skater does is rational and deliberate and I know that they are trying to open up this emotive can of worms but it just seems far-fetched and so out of character for him.
It could also be that they keep telling me things. Skater was angry. Skater felt betrayed. Skater this. Skater that. I don’t like Skater as a character to begin with and he emotes so little on the outside that without being told he is experiencing emotion we, as the reader, would probably never know and it bothers me.
I am going to finish reading this book. I want to know why the body is so important. Unfortunately I fear I probably missed some key clues and I know I’m not going to go back to read them. Hopefully it all comes together.
By the way, if you are interested in a Shadowrun book I would suggest 2XS. It is a fascinating read and the protagonist in that (also bogged down by a family sub-plot) is really quite interesting. I actually cared whether he was getting shot at or not.
How about you? Do you read slower or faster when you are not enjoying something?
My characters don’t eat meals anywhere near often enough in my stories. I guess nothing overly interesting happens while they are eating because it doesn’t seem to be a focus point. However, they do eat frequently while walking or just have a snack and I’ve noticed that almost all of my characters are addicted to sugar. Particularly chocolate.
So I’ve decided to sit all my characters that I am currently trying to work with down and to have a banquet.
The problem being that as soon as the first course (chicken and corn soup with sweet bread) was served I had two rival factions throwing the bread at each other from across the room and about a dozen minor altercations breaking out at various tables. Clearly sitting all my characters down and feeding them wasn’t going to work if I actually wanted to find out what food they would eat.
Having called security to run all these rampant characters out of the room I decided to just have a few of the main characters at the table with very strong security forces lining the walls and a clear sign reading ‘no violence’ on the table. They didn’t like it but they did try the soup.
The main antagonist of the story told me that soup was not suitable food for someone of her station and the bread was far too dry. After one mouthful she pushed it aside with a sniff.
Most of the other characters ate it and when asked their opinion shrugged. They didn’t really care. They had other things to worry about than food.
That might be why food does not get a lot of time in my books. The characters have a few other concerns.
How do you work with food? Do you worry about it? Is it important to your story?
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking a poll and doing a lot of research on the idea of writer’s block, trying to come up with a list of helpful strategies to overcome it. Much of my research has included the blogs of other writer’s who hold various opinions, everything from writer’s block being an excuse to being a genuine problem that needs extensive work to overcome. For most of us, writer’s block just means we are stuck on a particular part of a particular story and from most of what I’ve read and discussed, most writers have their own means and ways of getting around this tricky block.
From the vote, writing anyway and other came up even with six votes each. Really needed a few more people to take the poll for the results to be statistically meaningful but we’ll just make do with what we have. Our six other votes each came with a brief descriptor with two of the others claiming they will write something else for awhile, one suggested staying up late, one suggested editing, another suggested a combination of several of the options, and the final vote was to use a creative headspace activity.
I found it interesting that no one nominated exercise or eating and very few suggested talking with people. For short term writer’s block these are always my first stops. A quick walk around the block, having a snack, or just chatting to someone can jog my mind and usually I’ll race back to the computer and keep going. If it doesn’t I end up resorting to writing something else, editing something or, if I’ve accomplished some writing, calling it a day and reading or watching television.
What did become obvious is that every person who writes will face some sort of block at some stage. Either because they are distracted, or they’ve run into an unforseen plot problem, or a character isn’t working the way they should, and there is no obvious solution. I may not have uncovered some fantastic sure fire way of overcoming writer’s block, but I did come across many things that most people will agree won’t help.
Ways to not get over writer’s block:
2. Avoid the computer and shut yourself away for days
3. Complain bitterly to anyone who will listen about why you can’t write the next sentence
4. Stare listlessly at the WIP waiting for inspiration to strike
5. Anything that involves banging your head hard against something.
Feel free in the comments to suggest your way of overcoming writer’s block, or reason why writer’s block doesn’t exist, or ways to not overcome writer’s block, etc.
I finally had a day to edit. Not just a few pages and tweaking a word here and there but actually had the time to go through in detail, consult my original story plans and character outlines and update the necessary bits and pieces, and really work my MS over. Such time is a rarity and over the next few weeks is going to be even rarer. Knowing this you would think that I could focus on what I was doing for more than twenty minutes at a time.
Progress has definitely been made. It isn’t that I didn’t do any editing or spend any time, however I just couldn’t stay focused. First there were these really cute birds out in the trees, chirping because the sun came up (this was first thing in the morning mind you which is normally my best writing time but apparently editing doesn’t count). Then I made a little progress and decided I had to have breakfast. Come back, little more work, check email, blog, twitter, facebook, random scans of other blogs, check out what friends are doing, oh yeah, I was supposed to be doing something.
Then I realised I’d been sitting at the computer for too long and had to do something active. I helped paint two rooms of my house. They look good and I think after the second coat they will be really amazing. The house was now full of paint fumes and my study is right next to one of the freshly painted rooms, so I might as well eat lunch before getting back to work.
Finally I sat at the computer and I read through two lines before checking twitter etc again.
Despite all of this, I’m not worried. My editing will get done. I just have to apply some basic discipline. Set a goal for the day. Don’t go to bed until the goal is met. Want to watch that show on television? Finish up to point x first.
That said, before I got back into editing, I spent some time finding just the right music to listen to, just to help me concentrate of course.