Thursday’s Thoughts On #Writing : Writer’s Block

See the source imageI’m a firm believer that if you have writer’s block, then you’re writing the wrong thing.

I know that doesn’t help when you have a deadline you have to meet, or when you come to a paralyzing halt at a crucial point of your latest manuscript, but sometimes it’s the pressure you put on yourself that builds that brick wall between you and your creative process. But sometimes it’s not.

If you find yourself staring at the screen, the blinking cursor mocking you with words you just can’t write, shake it up. Skip ahead and write a later scene. If that doesn’t help, work on something else. It’s a perfect time to explore that short story idea you’ve been contemplating, or to try your hand at a piece of flash fiction. A different genre. A children’s book. Poetry, anyone? (Limericks? 😉 )Even jotting down notes and a loose framework for a new manuscript can help shake the words loose.

bLike many people, I was struggling to write with the whole quarantine thing. And even though I know I have to shift gears when I hit the wall between me and my words, I didn’t want to. I LOVED what I was working on. But I couldn’t get much work done. I was wasting time and energy. So, I jotted down a few ideas, and one caught fire.

I wrote a brief synopsis to remind myself of the idea, and everything fell into place. The words flowed like water. I was fixed. So, I returned to my WIP. Made some progress, but it was stilted. It felt forced. I still loved it, but it was a struggle. The piece deserved better than that. Even though it broke my heart, I set it aside. I’ll return to it one day. It’s definitely a tale I need to finish, but now’s not the time. And that’s okay.

See the source imageJust like when your body tells you something’s wrong, your creative process can, too. Maybe I’ve yet to live the experience that will allow me to bring an added layer of depth to the story. Maybe, as the idea stews on the back burner of my brain, I’ll think of a great twist that I hadn’t planned and wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Or maybe, the delay isn’t even about me – maybe it’s waiting so it can become the story a reader needs to find, when they need to find it. Maybe they don’t need it yet. Who knows how these things work?

Whatever the reason, it’s not the story I’m meant to write right now. Life is short, and writing, with all it’s associated stress and pain, headache  and heartache, should still make your heart sing. Don’t force what isn’t working. If you’re struggling to get the words on the page, find a different page. The important thing is to find something – anything – that gets you writing again. May the force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and just do it!

 

Fieldwork For Fiction

Write what you know. It’s common advice for writers. But how does it apply to you and your writing?

I recently overheard a fantasy writer remark that they couldn’t “write what they know” because they “create worlds and make things up”. I get what they’re saying, but I don’t really agree with it, because all fiction writers make stuff up, right? And beyond that, all people, writers or not, know and recognize certain things.

I walk hundreds of miles a year. I’ve walked over mountains, through swamps, across beaches and scrubland and pine forests and oak woods and grassy plains . . . and plenty of habitats inbetween.

I’ve had wild boars run across the trail ten feet in front of me, seen a snake mating ball writhing in the grass, and wandered upon a ginormous alligator sunning across the path. I can describe the difference between sweat from stifling heat from that of frigid cold and that of fear. I can tell you that pines just below the timberline on a summer day in the mountains smell like Christmas. Or that the sulfuric stench of a river has briny undertones, while that of a swamp has a ‘meatier’ rotten egg odor.

While walking, I love taking photographs of interesting trees, but I can also use those different trees to help set the mood of a scene. A palm trees with spear-like projections stabbing into the air from it’s trunk, (the kind you can imagine mangled bodies impaled upon), is very different than a majestic oak with sun limned ferns growing atop a sweeping bow. I’ve seen trees with actual thorns, mangroves with spindly witch hands, and trees with gnarled limbs like knotted arthritic fingers.

 
Pay attention to all of your senses. What sounds do you hear when you go outside? Birds, insects, frogs? Traffic, sirens, jackhammers? What would you feel if those sounds suddenly stop and all you hear in the silence is your own heartbeat and the slosh of your spit as you swallow?

I guess my point is this – writing what you know isn’t just subjects you know about. It’s including sensory descriptions and emotions you can invoke, and for that, you have to get out and actively experience your life. Next time you’re at the mall, pay attention to how the smells change as you go from store to store. If you’re at a restaurant, pay attention to how the noise level varies throughout – is it louder at the bar, when you walk past the table with three kids under five, or near a group of rowdy friends?

I think most of us observe more than we realize during the course of our daily lives, and I know that, as a reader, when a writer includes something – no matter how mundane – that makes me remember an experience of my own, it draws me that much deeper into the story.

Only a small percentage of my fiction is set outdoors, but I do a lot of fieldwork to bring those scenes to life, and what I observe on the trail can apply to other fictional settings as well. (But don’t go seeking out a giant alligator so you can catalogue your body’s fear response 😬. Safety first!)

Writers – what fieldwork do you do for your fiction? And readers – what has an author done to really make you connect with a story?

(All pictures my own, most featured on my Instagram account

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