Tuesday, June 03, 2008
It's Writer's Block, You Blockhead
I get really ticked at people who say writer's block doesn't exist. I get even more ticked when I hear writers say it.
What they're really saying is they, for some inexplicable and completely unfair reason, have never experienced writer's block. Therefore it doesn't exist. So those writers who say it does are just lazy and unwilling to park their rear end in the chair.
Perhaps we're not talking about the same thing. Just to make sure my rant has some solid foundation, let me explain what I mean by writer's block. It's when I don't know what happens next in my story--and no matter how hard I think, the plot points Just. Won't. Come.
Some novelists advocate free-writing during this blocked time. Sit down and write a page on something--anything. Doesn't work for me. What's the point of writing a page that goes nowhere? I'm on a deadline and need pages that count.
Perhaps the more accurate term for my problem is "plotting block."
I had a major plotting block in my current story. I knew the main character and the premise and where that story leads. Sort of. But that was only half the book. I needed a whole different set of characters in a whole different plot that would in time coalesce with the first. And it wouldn't come.
Maybe I expect too much from my plots. They have to be tightly woven, contain a lot of action, yet be character driven. And they have to include major twists. Now some other novelist may just be able to pop such ideas right and left. Ain't me.
In struggling with this story I could literally sit at my desk all day and write down plot points, or pick up some line of thought and run with it--and nothing would work. In fact, I didn't sit at my desk trying to figure it out all day, because I know my pea brain. I can't force it to create when it's not ready to create. In the end the answers came to me in little drops and over time. A looong time.
There are certain things I do on a regular basis to help feed my creativity. I watch my true crime TV shows. I read the newspaper. I watch people and pay attention to conversations. And I pray. In the middle of a crunch I pray a lot. In the end, God leads me to the ideas and gets me through.
So how did this current half of a plot come to me?
I was watching a true crime show on Mafia hit men. Boom. One piece of the puzzle fell into place.
I was blowdrying my hair one morning, not even thinking about my book--boom, a second piece. I had been trying to make the plot work with a lead male character. It occurred to me the character should be female. In that second I felt a shift in my gut. Like I could get excited about the story. Whatever the story was.
Based on the true crime show I bought a book for further research. Good ol' Amazon. I ordered it one morning and it was on my doorstep the next. Yes, I had to pay more for the overnight shipping than for the book, but it was worth it. I read the book that day, underlining key passages. Certain phrases and bits of dialogue stood out to me. The aura of one of the supporting characters in the plot started to take shape.
I went on the Internet and googled about one of the crimes I considered using in the plot. Got a bunch of hits on real life cases. Read those articles, printed some out. Yeah, I could use this type of crime. I could combine aspects from the various real life crimes into mine to make it more authentic.
During some of this time I wrote the half-plot that I did have, knowing I would be inserting the other plot in between chapters. But there came a time when I'd written all I could of the first story without having the second. That's when the days without writing started to pass. Did I have writers block? Oh, yeah. And I didn't like it. But this is so typical with me. Seems I reach a point like that with almost every book.
I've realized the bottom-line problem, and I don't there's anything I can do but learn to live with it. In Myers Briggs I'm an ISTJ. I like everything planned. No happy-go-lucky spontaneity for me. I would love to write that way. Plot everything ahead time, down to each scene. Know exactly where the story's going, then just sit down and write it. Piece of cake. If I know where I'm going, I can do the pages. But I can't do this. I've tried all the plotting devices out there, and none of them work for me. I simply can't plot out an entire book first. I get the premise, the basic characters, I know the end. But doggone if there's not this missing middle.
I love to do brainstorming sessions. I'm not proud, I'll take all the help I can get. I did two sessions for this book, one with a group of people and one with one very talented, idea-popping person. Out of each session I gleaned only one thing--a very important fundamental thought for the character or story. So those sessions weren't wasted. But they certainly didn't yield anywhere near a fully-plotted story.
The only way I can find the missing pieces is to start writing. Sometimes the rest of the story unfolds along the way, and I don't miss page-writing days. Most of the time I hit that wall. Weeks can pass. Yeah, weeks. Each one of those aha moments listed above was separated from the previous one by days.
Whatever you call it, writer's block or plotter's block, I get it. It's real. If you've never experienced it, yay for you. Be very grateful. Just don't tell me it doesn't exist. I just might have to kill you off in my next book.
Or maybe the current one.
When I know the plot.