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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Most Idiotic, Ridiculous, Asinine Reason for Writer’s Block by Carla Damron

 My latest episode of writer’s block lasted, on and off, for six weeks. It felt different. The words flowed, and then they didn’t. Plot strands wound around each other, and then frayed. My cast of characters seemed to look at me with sighs of exasperation as though saying, “Would you just get on with it already?” And I’d try, only to then block myself once again.
Eventually it became evident that the cure for this episode required an accurate diagnosis, so I sat back and studied it. I’m so far along now. This is the easy part—the climax, the resolution. Seriously, once you finish these thirty + pages you have FINISHED the first draft.

What the hell? There it was. Staring me in the face. The most idiotic, ridiculous, asinine reason for writer’s block that had ever happened to any novelist in the history of all novel writing. I didn’t want to finish the novel because I didn’t want to leave it. I’d lived in the world with Baby Doll, Georgia, Elias, Javier, etc., for three years. They had become family to me. And, once I’d typed the final letter of the final word in the final chapter, it would be goodbye.

Of course, we all know that’s not really true. The ending of a first draft means the beginning of the second one, so I’d continue to live in this world for months to come. But rewriting and editing are not the same thing as writing. Writing involves expansive freedom and creativity. It is a series of “what if” exercises undertaken in a judgment-free zone inside my brain. Characters evolve from plot devices to two-dimensional figures to real, breathing people who insert themselves through the story and take it places I never expected. It’s like watching a blank canvas become a still life, then transform into a magical, animated forest, lush with color and movement.

But now, with the final stroke of the paint brush, I am done.

Once the malady had been diagnosed, it resolved. I dove into the final thirty pages. I celebrated the completion of the draft with a toast of my coffee cup. I shared it with my family and a few friends, though I don’t think they got the importance of it. Maybe they didn’t know the best response to “Hey, that project I’ve been obsessing about for a couple of years and told you very little about? I finished it.”

Now, I’ve put on a different hat: merciless editor. I’m slicing, dicing, loving it, loathing it. The second draft is coming along well. I’ve shortened it (I needed to) while adding a few key scenes. There is still one mucky section that needs something—not sure what—but I trust I’ll figure it out. If all else fails, I’ll ask one of my characters for help, because after all, Baby Doll, Georgia, Elias, and Javier live on. They just sleep in a different part of my brain now.

What’s been your experience with “writer’s block?”


Jim Jackson said...

I have it, but there are so many other things I want to write or do, I just push that project to a back corner and pick up something else. Eventually I figure out what I need to write on the piece I have put beside and go after it.

~ Jim (whose head is probably in the sand on writer’s block.)

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Take a long meditative walk, do some intensive gardening, put it away for a week, write a short story using the same characters. It comes.

Warren Bull said...

Sometimes I let a work simmer for a week or two while I work of something else. With the passage of time, I can come back with new enthusiasm.

carla said...

The different solutions are fascinating. And they work! I think accepting it as part of the process and not letting it derail us permanently is the key.

Unknown said...

I had the same thing happen and for the exact same reason! I just couldn't bear to put THE END on the Ms. I finally pushed through it and--while it's not my best writing--it's ready to be sliced and diced. When I usually get writer's block, it's because I had to be away from my routine for a while (kids' vacations, life happenings, etc.). It just takes me a while to convince my muse that I will be sitting down consistently to write again. Once I get back into the routine, I tend to have too many ideas all clamoring for attention.

Gloria Alden said...

I never mind finishing a book because I'm eager to start on the next one. I've been jotting down different ideas for the next one. Of course, most of my characters will be returning, but many only as the occasional walk on. However, there are times in the middle when I bog down not sure quite where to go. Right now as I get closer to the end, I'm stymied about how my murderer is going to be exposed. However, I'm sure my other characters will figure it out.

Like Jim, I have other things I'm working on like short stories, etc. so I do leave my book for short periods of time. Right now I'm really looking forward to finishing so I can start on polishing the book I'm working on now.

Linda Rodriguez said...

I take kind of a hard line with writers block for myself. Plumbers don't stop working because of plumbers block, nor do surgeons because of surgeons block or teachers with teachers block. When I'm experiencing resistance (which is what it really is), it's usually because I've peeled away from the book for a while and now have to get back into it again. The only way that will happen is if I sit there and do it. I may start back in by longhand, but I make myself do my time at the book. Those first days may only result in word counts of 200 or 300, and those will feel as if each one was a drop of blood squeezed out. But if I stick with it, I'll be clicking along again.

The other time I can face real resistance is when I've taken a wrong turn. In that case, I'll take a notebook and pen and write for a long time about the book, about how I feel about it, where I think the problem is, etc. Usually, I can get myself back on track, although it may take several days of hard work to figure out just what the problem is and what to do about it.

E. B. Davis said...

Rough drafts aren't my problem. I think I'm brilliant when I'm done. But then when I revise, I think I must be the stupidest writer on earth.

I become baffled at revision. Part of it is paranoia that I'll change one thing, and I won't change all the other necessary changes throughout the script to match the revision. I haven't learned about mapping yet, which another author tried to teach me and failed.

Then I start questioning my premise, my characters, in short, my faith in the book. It's then that I go to others and try to get validation.

Not the best system in the world, Carla, so I'm not the one to ask! I'm hoping that once I get a novel published my confidence level will go up.

Linda Rodriguez said...


I teach my students in revision workshop to go through their manuscript (after some time away from it, ideally) and list every problem they find, large or small, with its page number but make no changes. Then sit down and write for about an hour about what you think of the book after reading it through that way. Then make a new list from that earlier list and your thoughts on paper of all the big structural problems and begin revising there, one at a time only.

That master list of everything wrong with it means you won't lose track of smaller changes while you do the bigger ones. When you're finished with the big ones, you go back to the list. Lots of things can be marked off then because that chapter's gone or that character's been folded into another, etc. But every problem, even small, that the big changes didn't clear off the boards is still there for you to work on. It hasn't been and won't be lost.

I've found if you work this way on one layer at a time, going through and making all those changes that this big change has caused, you won't lose track of what you've changed because you're trying to juggle all these different changes in your head at once.

E. B. Davis said...

Taking a more systematic approach, as you suggested, Linda, may answer my problems. Do you do this on separate sheets or in Word review?

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine, I always advise folks to print out their manuscript in hard copy to go through for their first revision read-through and write their list in a notebook--cheap spiral is fine. Most good editors prefer to edit in hard copy, although in today's penny-pinching publishing environment, it's often not possible. It gives you more distance and you will see many more problems than you would looking at it onscreen.

carla said...

Great discussion, guys.I'm taking notes. Linda, your system intrigues me. Will give it a shot!

Shari Randall said...

Writer's block. Ugh. I think of it as less of a block to get over than a quicksand I have to pull myself out of. Once I'm out, I'm fine, but it's hard to get going. I'm getting a lot of good help today, especially Carla's comment about accepting it as part of the process and not letting it derail the work.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks for a great look at a common problem!

I often take a little while to write the beginning of another story, often with the same characters, when they tell me they don't want me to finish this one and move on. Sometimes I write the end too. I don't always use them, but it seems to satisfy the "I'm gonna miss these folks" feeling that sometimes makes it hard to wrap up the manuscript.

And, of course, you're really far from done when you finish a rough draft. The bulk of the work is still to come!

mohamed said...

Believe it or not, I once (in fact, several times) had to stop writing, not because I ran out of inspiration, but just because my pen went dry or I was short of paper to write on! Yes, poverty can be a great source of inspiration. I'm not famous yet, but I already have followers from Europe, America and Asia. My best wishes to you.