Thursday, April 14, 2011

Writing when you’re stuck

Here is a blog entry I wrote for Dawn Goldsmith last summer, entitled Writing when you’re stuck:

If you’re not a professional writer, then writing is one of those activities you wedge into your day when you can. My friend Patty used to get up at 4 or 4:30 every morning to work on her novel until her husband and children got up. Then she would get herself ready for a full day’s work as a bank officer, come home to cook supper, then dash off to school committee meetings. Patty’s writing friends admired her, but we never wanted to emulate her.

Others keep saner schedules but set aside specific times for writing and perhaps specific quotas of words. Still others put writing on their to-do list or simply get to it when they can.

If you accomplish everything on your list, you have imposed a sense of order on your world (or your list is too short). Writing is usually one of the items on my list, but often it has no special priority and gets done after the daily errands or not at all.

Email is one of the great interrupters, followed by Twitter. I always marveled at the great advantage of email that we can write each other at any time, and we can read your messages at any time. But if that’s the case, why do I feel the compulsion to check for messages a hundred times a day? Maybe it’s a need for affirmation that there’s a cyber-someone who thinks I’m important.

Yesterday I decided to abandon Twitter and my 750 or so “followers.” It had seemed like a good venue to advertise my books, but in fact it’s a tsunami of trivia with little of value floating by. Simply checking out the invitations to follow others takes up time better spent writing.

This morning I determined to finish my monthly Southwest Senior column about Las Cruces writers before looking at my email once. While it wasn’t difficult, it did require a conscious decision on my part to disturb an ingrained habit. Now it’s finally done.

Now suddenly there is a vacuum in my schedule. It won’t last, of course. A jumble of jobs both worthy and unworthy of my time will try to fill the void, and eventually they will do just that. For now, though, my office is silent but for the hum of the hard drive. Even my neighbor’s dog isn’t barking—is she all right?
This should be the time when my fingers fly, pausing only occasionally to let the keyboard cool down. So why am I staring at the screen, waiting for the thoughts to come? Can it be that literary bête noir, writers’ block? Maybe I should stop for lunch and think about it.

That raises a question, though: What do you do when you’re stuck? One trick that’s worked for me is to open a new file and write about the problem. In a draft of a novel I’d write a note to myself: This is the character and this is the situation, and now I don’t know what to do with him. He can’t just hang around, but has to earn his keep by advancing the story. Think about what the character wants and about possible roadblocks. Maybe your hero is having it too easy, in which case it’s high time for an unwelcome event. What if he wins the lottery? Think about the possibilities: he suddenly has too many friends or loses them all; he hosts a party where someone O.D.’s; he becomes a target for criminals. Meanwhile, all he ever wants is to retire and build houses for Habitat for Humanity.

In other words, if you get stuck that’s a good time to brainstorm. Ask yourself “What if?” and see where the answers take you. The event doesn’t have to be disastrous or even negative, but it should keep the story from moving in a straight line.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a knock at my door.  I’ll be right back…

(note: Twitter and I have since made up.)

1 comment:

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Sometimes Twitter can drive me crazy. Too many conversations.