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?
…and my characters should have their reasons.
It is really quite difficult to like a character, or even respect them, if they have no real reason for their actions. We may laugh at the cliche of an actor asking what their motivation is, but without it, things become pretty pointless, pretty quickly.
I recently started reading a book (it doesn’t really matter which one). Within two chapters I was incredibly frustrated with the protagonist. Mostly because they had wandered randomly through rooms and observed really strange things but hadn’t reacted to anything and had just made the decision to leave the building – though why they were there in the first place had yet to be established. The whole time, as a reader, I was wanting the protagonist to turn and figure out why something was in a certain place or doing something. I wanted to know why they were there, why they were so indifferent to the bizarre surroundings. I wanted to know what was going on inside their head so that I could figure out whether they were just really composed on the outside but freaking out on the inside.
Needless to say, I didn’t get much further into the story. I made the decision that whether or not the author ever explained what the protagonist was doing and why, I wasn’t going to continue reading it.
This is kind of an extreme case and there is every possibility that within the next chapter all may have been explained.
More commonly we find villains who are bad because, well, the protagonist needed someone in their way.
We find sidekicks who help because… They’re a sidekick. That’s their job.
We have hench men who hench but have no apparent personality or individual drive for anything and as a consequence fade into obscurity.
And the unforgivable – heroes who are good because they are.
How imporant do you think character motivation is? Better yet – have you got an example of a protagonist who drove you crazy because they seemed to have no motivation?
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.
Right now it would be a very useful skill. See, I had that brilliant idea of a character and the story is literally falling into place around her, only I had this dream the other night that was filling in a lot of holes in my story plot but it took place in this fantastic setting.
It was this enormous rock dome with this central pillar type thing, which was actually like a multi-level sky scraper and there were other pillars that also had various buildings inside and they were connected by these smooth rock walkways (that of course had no rails or any means of preventing people from tumbling to their death). The entire thing was very clear in my dream and became pivotal in this scene I was envisioning and I can see it really clearly when I close my eyes but can’t really think of how to explain it.
This brings me back to the idea where I wish I could draw. Then I could map it out on paper and see how it looks when not inside my head and that would help me figure out how to describe it so someone other than me could make sense of it.
I did actually try to sketch it. It kind of looks like a wilted mushroom and it wasn’t particularly inspiring.
In the next few days I’m going to sit down and just close my eyes in front of the computer and walk through the scene. I’ll see it in my head and let my fingers run over the keyboard and see what I come up with. Probably some weird word vomit but you never know. I might just figure out the words to describe it and then I’ll be back into tweaking my plan so that this story actually goes somewhere.
Have you ever seen something in a dream, known it was going to be perfect, and been unable to explain it in words?
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.