Saturday, March 10, 2012

Writer's Block

Overcoming Writer's Block.

I'm always a little nervous when it comes time to talk writing. For me it's like giving marital or spiritual advice. Who am I to even think that I can give advice when I'm still trying to figure it all out? With each and every book I learn something, struggle with something, finally get it, and sometimes forget it before I start the next project. I will always be learning.

I've been married twenty-six years this year. I'm just now starting to think maybe I've got marriage figured out to the point that I can give someone advice. I definitely wouldn't have given advice the first few years. Or the first ten. And I still think I have a lot to learn.

With writing, as with marriage, we encounter problems or obstacles. With experience we learn how to overcome or get past those problems.

Today's writer's block problem:

Imagine yourself hiking along, enjoying the scenery, watching birds, and breathing in the fresh air of the forest. Suddenly the previously wide trail narrows. The birds stop singing. The forest grows dark. Ahead of you there are three paths to choose from. One seems like the obvious choice. You decide to meander down that path. As you walk you realize your mistake. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself this is the right path, it just isn't working.

What do you do?
Stay on that path, even if it feels wrong, and hope it comes out right in the end?
Take off through the brush and hope for the best? Swing your warms at spider's webs, avoid skunks and reptiles. Struggle against vines that snare and hold you back.
Go back to the path you were on and make a better choice for moving forward. Sometimes that means trying several paths until you get the right one.

Yes, I'm digging the analogies today.

Now, back to the real problem, writer's block brought on by taking the wrong path, the wrong scene, the wrong plot turn.

I've been dealing with this problem, fighting it, struggling against it. I had my story down. I knew my characters (for the most part, but that's a different blog post). Suddenly I found myself struggling, unable to get the scene the way I wanted. I couldn't figure out where to go next with the characters. I kept digging in, moving forward and hoping it would all work out. I just knew I'd eventually break free.

My very smart editor once told me to trust my instincts. And I constantly remind myself of her advice. Trust my instincts. I think if we're going the wrong direction, we usually know it. Sometimes we think we'll eventually find the right direction if we keep going the wrong direction. Or we want to wait a little while before we turn around because we might find the right way, maybe its just around the next bend. But the wrong path is the wrong path.

Accept it: If the scenes aren't working, if they aren't allowing you to move forward with strength and conviction, DELETE. Don't get stuck fighting what doesn't work. That's a sure ingredient for writer's block.

The wrong path shifts everything in the story. It changes voice, it changes the plot, the characters and it drags the story down.

When I hit 'wrong path writer's block' I have one option: I go back to the main path of my story, to the last scenes that  worked. From there I find a starting point that I know matters to the story and to my characters and that's the path I take. I have to find the scene that gets the characters back in the story. A scene that matters to the plot.

With the story that I'm working on, it took me a few tries to get it right. I started scenes, deleted scenes, started new ones. Finally I hit on the right scene for my characters, my plot and my story. The words started to flow.

There are times we have to just move forward, to keep writing because we need to get those words down and that's okay. But learn to recognize when writer's block is happening because you're on the wrong path or chasing the wrong thread. If your story has meandered off the beaten path it's up to you, the author, to get it back on track.


Rhonda Gibson said...

Wow Brenda!!

This was the day to read this post. I tell myself I don't get writer's block. LOL, I guess I didn't know what it was but speaking from experience, your advice is right on!

brenda minton said...

Rhonda, I used to say the same thing. I don't get writer's block. I always have an idea, a story.

But when you struggle with the same chapter for a week, play mahjong repeatedly to avoid said chapter, and drink coffee until you have an irregular heartbeat: my diagnosis is WRITER'S BLOCK!

Hope Chastain said...

Oh, SO right! In my case, the writer's block came not from the wrong path, but the wrong time on the right path. I knew where I had to send the protagonists, and it was flowing nicely, but it was all too early in the story, so I've had to go back and write in some scenes that should have been there, if only I'd thought of them sooner!

Thanks, Brenda! You've reminded me I need to stop waffling and finish that book! :)

brenda minton said...

Definitely finish that book!

And say HI to your mom for me. Enjoy this nice week of weather we have ahead of us (after tomorrow)

Jessica Nelson said...

Ahhh, delete. Such a beautiful word. lol

brenda minton said...

Delete, is any other word as sweet? :)