Tag Archives: writer’s block

Scrub Up and Slice In


The revision process for a novel has a series of steps associated with it, much like the stages of grief.

First, you’re kind of enchanted with this thing you wrote, and you spend a lot of time patting yourself on the back: hey look at that neat character I wrote back then, boy that twist was kind of clever, and wow this might not actually be that bad to edit. (See also: my posts from about six weeks ago when I started the current edit.)

Then you begin to hate the thing you wrote, because the more flaws you come across, the more glaring they become and the more likely you are to see more flaws. A snowball rolling downhill, collecting more snow and branches and dead moose until it flattens a town.

Then, resignation: the thing is what it is, and no amount of unicorn-chasing denial or grizzly-bear-wrestling self-hate is going to change it, so with steely resolve, you go to work on it. Narrative Surgery. With no training, no qualifications, and no idea what you’re even supposed to be doing, you scrub up and dive in.

The problem is, like an insane spider’s web, every part of the thing is interconnected. There is no such thing as a “minor correction.” The hip-bone is connected to the leg-bone, but in this metaphor, it’s also connected to the patellar tendon, the lower intestines, one and a half lungs and the eye on the non-heart side (which — surprise! — is not the side you thought it was).

You go to make your incision, to correct that one little nagging issue in the third chapter, and blood starts leaking out of the character resolution in chapter eighteen. You try to tamp that down with a little narrative pressure, but that causes a backup in the side conflict while also necessitating the introduction of brand-new tissue in the opening chapters. You set to work rectifying all this, but because you also have a full-time job and for god’s sake you’re only human, your rectifications themselves are flawed and not as focused as they maybe should be because oh my god there’s inkblood everywhere.

surgery-676375_1280

Did I drop my keys in there? I think I dropped my keys in there.

Now you’ve got internal bleeding and contusions popping up under the skin all over the place, and you’re not actually any closer to fixing the problem you set out to fix in the first place, you’re just playing Whack-a-Mole with the fallout from your “fixes.” Worse still, you’re starting to see that the big problem you ignored in the first draft — the one you just stuck a post-it note to your future self on that read YOU DEAL WITH THIS ONE, GOOD LUCK (an actual comment I left for myself around the 1/3 mark of this particular draft) — has metastasized out of control. A broken bone repaired by interweaving itself with all the surrounding tissue. The hive in Aliens that has swollen and spilled over, and now threatens to consume the entire ship. Every blood vessel, every nerve ending, every plot line, every narrative thread seems to run through this one spot, this one tangle of viscera and scar tissue.

And you don’t want to do it. To go to work on this thing will throw the entire project into limbo. The bleeding will be massive, the repair work intensive, the recovery extensive. But that angry little knot, interspersing its evil tentacles through the heart and every extremity of your story, pulses defiantly. Taunting you. And that’s when you realize that you do want to do it, that despite the trauma and triage, despite the emotional and psychological fallout that will surely result, this thing can be saved. It can be made clean again.

So you slice into it.

And as the first gout of narrative blood stain your scrubs, you glance just a little bit further down the chest cavity… and you see another tumor.

Ahem.

So, you know. The edit’s going fine … just fine.

*screams internally*

*dies inside*

*animates self with a straight shot of caffeine to the pleasure center and sheer force of will*

*zombie self continues writing*

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Any Words Are Good Words


Writing is a little bit like owning a dog.

You have to deal with it every day: give it some attention, let it out to poop in the yard, feed it, love it, clean up its poop from the yard — elsewise it gets antsy and angry and starts chewing on the furniture, peeing in your shoes, snapping at the kids. Except in this metaphor, the furniture is your sanity, the shoes are your productivity, and the kids are your own kids.

Writing is a monster, in other words, in a cute, lovable outer shell — one that needs taming every day. Not a lot of taming, of course — a well-exercised writing habit remembers who its master is and will generally come when called — but a neglected writing habit will turn on you faster than you can say “bad dog.”

Problem is, unlike a dog, who, when it needs water or food or to go take a dump, will paw at the walls, nose at your feet, and generally bug the hell out of you, the writing habit will quietly turn sour when you neglect it. It won’t snap at you right away — it takes a passive-aggressive approach. The words don’t come as easily. Or even when they do, they turn to hot sewage on the page. Or the urge to write just doesn’t show up.

Which is where I found myself this week. Lots going on at work and at home. Little time and energy left over for writing. Neglected the habit a little bit and found myself struggling to even want to do it.

But in that situation, any words are good words. Because if a writing habit is like owning a dog, the writing itself has the attention span of a dog. Ideas and words aren’t flowing on your main project? Just take the words for a walk — write about anything: Donald Trump, ridiculous naming conventions, whatever — and the dog will quickly get distracted just being out in the world. They’re flowing anyway, and all of a sudden, the ideas and the words are bending themselves toward what you wanted to write in the first place, just because you let them out of the house.

Writer’s Block is only as real as you allow it to be. It doesn’t block you from writing, it just blocks you from writing what you want to write. It’s your dog saying, I’m not gonna eat that new kibble. So what do you do? You give it something else it wants to eat, and mix some of the kibble in. Write about anything — any words are good words — and soon enough the kibble, which looked so unappetizing a moment ago, is disappearing from the bowl.

The same principle works on almost anything. Breaking the momentum is the hardest part. Don’t feel like going for a run? Put your shoes on anyway and jog to the end of the block — odds are you’ll feel like continuing. Any miles are good miles. Don’t feel like cleaning? Wash a single dish or pick up a single toy off the floor, and you’ll feel silly when you think about stopping before it’s all done. Any thing cleaned is a good thing.

Any words are good words.

Have you walked your dog today?

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week? Maybe not so productive.


Regularity


Been thinking a lot about regularity, lately … or more correctly, the lack thereof. (No, not that kind of regularity. THAT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.)  Regularity is what made me so productive over the past couple years; it kept me clipping along on my novels, it kept me in good upkeep with my running, it kept me making good decisions with food and working out.

But lately, I feel like that shopping cart with the one gimpy wheel; things are mostly swell, the machinery is mostly functioning as intended and you can certainly still use it to get your shopping done, but there’s this constant pull yanking me off course. It squeak, squeak, squeaks on every turnover like nails on a chalkboard in the back of my brain, it thump, thump, thumps like the fingers of a bemused god on the top of my skull.

And even when I am working as intended, things feel off. Like a bit of gravel stuck in the bottom of your shoe. Like a vacuum cleaner with too much hair clogging the brush. Like that leaky faucet that won’t stop dripping no matter how many times you take the damned thing apart and fix it.

I’m getting my writing done, but not quite in the quantity I’d like, and it’s not coming as easily as it seems like it ought to. I’m getting my runs in, but my pace isn’t what it should be, and I can’t seem to shake off the aches and pains. I’ve fallen off the wagon entirely with my workouts, and my diet … well. My diet has always been pretty terrible, but lately it feels like it’s more terribler than ever.

I just can’t get regular.

I don’t really know what to put it down to. New job? Maybe. Malaise and spiritual indigestion over the election? Could be. The natural ebb and flow of all things? Sure.

I dunno. I feel out of my groove, which is no big deal — these things usually work themselves out. The fact that this particular thing hasn’t yet worked itself out makes me … uneasy.

Not much else to say about it just now. Just trying to give this thing, whatever it is, a shape so I can pick and prod at it.


Fly Away


I’ve had to kill more than a few flies over the past few days.

Part of it, I think, is that the little buggers feel the end of summer coming on, and they’re trying to get indoors before the cooler weather comes. And part of it, of course, owes to the fact that the building I now work in was built in the 70s and shows every sign of it, down to the poor ventilation and the likely hundreds of nests and colonies in the walls. My room is always host to some six-legged creature or other, and this week, it’s been flies.

Which are the hardest things to deal with, it turns out. Mosquitoes you can catch in a closed fist. Bees drone along and then hover in space. But not flies. Flies catapult themselves through the air like UFOs powered by technology that shatters physics.

I remember reading once upon a time that flies have all kinds of extra sensory organs — from their tiny little antennae to the hair-like structures on their legs and body to their 800-faceted eyes — which make them one of nature’s most talented getaway artists. They end up with the reflexes of a cat that can see into the future, so that you’re always just a snap too slow, you always seem to strike the air just behind them. It’s almost as if they can sense that you’re about to swat them, and they leap out of the way.

Turns out, the actual air pressure created by your rapidly descending hands is sufficient to push the little critters out of the way; in other words, the act itself of swatting at the fly increases the fly’s odds of escape. The only way to counteract this is to anticipate where the fly is going to jump to and try clapping your hands at that spot, rather than aiming at the fly itself.

Which is a mug’s game, right? You can’t predict which way a fly is going to jump, any more than you can predict which way a flipped coin will land or which face a tossed die will fall on.

Still, guessing — even guessing wrong — gives you better odds than striking straight at the thing itself.

And there’s metaphors here, aren’t there? Life is a moving target, and all that. And by the time you think you’ve drawn a good bead on something, it’s moved along and you’re swiping at the empty air.

Sure feels like that lately, anyway. Working on this new story, it feels like the real thing — the good stuff, the soft, nougaty center of this idea — is buzzing around my head, lighting here on a bookcase, there on a lamp, occasionally on the skin of my scalp. But every time I try to nail the thing down, it flits away effortlessly, and I can almost hear its tiny, incessant insectoid laughter. And I bang my head away against some weak facsimile of the story I want to write and curse the muse for not dropping any of her glittery inspiration turdlets in my direction.

But then I strike off in a totally new direction; rather than trying to write the story I thought I was writing, I make a hard left and take the story in a new direction, and for a few blessed days at least, I get to bottle the lightning. I trap the fly between my hands and work gleefully while it bangs itself silly trying to escape.

And of course, it does. It escapes again. You can’t hold onto these things any more than you can hold on to a fistful of the ocean.

But you keep grabbing onto it all the same, as long as the story cries out to be told.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be flailing around like an insane person trying to swat this storyfly.


LightningStruck


Often, I rail against the mortal writing sin of “waiting for inspiration.” The fact is, you can’t count on inspiration. The muses are busy little bees, and if they only turn their divinely inspiring faces your way even every few months, well, you should consider yourself lucky. But you don’t get things done by sitting around, waiting for that to happen. Novels are not written with a muse perched over your shoulder, hmming and ahhing as you get to the good bits, putting whiskey into your hand just when you need it, and yanking you out of your stuffy crapsack apartment every now and then for the fresh air you so desperately need to keep the creative juices flowing. The muses have better things to do, and you should have better things to do than to sit around waiting for them.

Still, though, on some days the car just won’t start. Some days, you’re in between projects, and your routine is shattered, and you’re unsure what to do, and even the thought of opening up that blank document and screwing it up with your words is enough to send you into an existential spiral of doubt and dread and you go binge-watch Orphan Black instead. Some days, it’s hard to believe that you ever thought of yourself as a writer at all. Who does that, anyway? Who has the time or the creativity to turn out stories day after day, to think up new characters and conflicts, to flesh out entire worlds? It can’t be done. The authors who’ve done it are either fake people — computer-simulated AI programs that analyze market trends and tailor the storylines to what people really want to read. Or maybe they’re just independently wealthy people who don’t have to hold down jobs or families or any other inconveniences of living in modern society. That must be it.

These are the days that break a lot of folks down. They’re the days that broke me down in the past. “I just don’t feel like writing today, so I’ll start the new project tomorrow.” “I’m not sure what to do with this scene; I’ll just ponder on it until I figure it out.” “The story’s kind of up a tree. Maybe I just need to let it be for a while.” The problem is, momentum matters. “Tomorrow” turns into the next day, then a week, and so on until the novel you are writing turns into the novel you were writing, once upon a time. “Until I figure it out” becomes “until I feel like it,” which becomes the trash fire of “maybe I’ll get back to it one day.” “Letting it be for a while” likewise becomes “dust on the shelf.” You’re writing, you’re writing, you’re writing, and then poof, you lose the spark, and all of a sudden, you’re not writing anymore. You’re waiting.

For what? For the magic to happen?

Keep waiting. There is no magic in this world outside of the magic we create, so if you want inspiration, you have to seize it where it comes and drive it in front of you like a herd of goats when it doesn’t.

It shames me to admit (though I must) that I’ve been waiting for a while. Sitting back, letting my tomorrows turn into one days, letting my until I figure it outs turn into until I feel like its. I’ve had excuses. Good excuses, even! It was the end of the year; I was focused on wrapping up at school. I had just finished the AI edit, I needed some time to decompress before the next project. I wasn’t even certain what the next project wanted to be; how could I just start working on something with no guidance, no map?

Well, valid excuses turn into crap ones the longer you stretch them out, and I’ve stretched mine for about a month. And I wish I could say that I have seized gumption by the scruffy nethers and started shaping my creative expression like a sculptor with a particularly pliable bit of clay. That I hoisted myself by the bootstraps and threw myself back into the habit and started crotchpunching the sharks out of my way.

But the sad fact is, it took a visit from the muse to kickstart me into motion again.

Lightning, Thunderstorm, Storm, Weather, Clouds, Nature

Somewhere between trolling the internet, not thinking about writing too much, and mowing the lawn, lightning struck, and all of a sudden my brain is like a pack of jackals scrabbling against the inside of my skull. All of a sudden, the story demands to be written.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten started up again, but there’s no telling how long it might have taken. That scares me. More than a little bit. It’s humbling, this thought that for all I preach about the virtues of sticktoitiveness, of writing through every day even when the writing sucks, I got mired in the morass myself.

But you know what?

I’m writing again. And you know that thing they say about gift horses.

Jump on and ride them till they throw you.


%d bloggers like this: