Sunday, May 6, 2012

What is your writer's block?

Status: In revision.   That's become a bit of a catch-all phrase for me that covers everything after the first draft to final edits.  It also feels like I'm:  In renovation.   And we all know if you tear down one wall in a renovation, the dust will settle on the rest of the house.  Even if you've covered everything with drop cloths, somehow the dust will invade the nooks and crannies far from the destruction zone.  By the amount of fallout, you'd think the demolition crew had used explosives to tear down that wall.

After the explosion, even if the "all clear" hasn't been given for further demolition, I really can't resist the temptation to do some feather dusting of a scene I just blew up.  Then I wander through the building's structure looking for signs of fallout from this change.  When I find it, I hesitate with my feather duster in hand.  How severe is the damage?  Can I clean it up?  Should I?  Or do I wave my feather duster like a magic wand and undo the explosion?  I can do that.  Yet another choice is a further explosion.

The further along I get in the renovation, the more cautious I am with my explosions.  I'm aware of the potential for fallout.  I'm aware of my choices.  What to do?  What to do?  I think I'll...umm...

I think I'll take a break.  Yeah.  *backs out carefully*  I'll be rrrriiigggghhhhtttt back.

A while later...

Status:  In Renovation...still

I've done lots of things while my renovation project waited. I started a story with new construction materials and I checked in on a few other renovations. I shrieked at the fallout and ran out the door. My son had a birthday...or is that a few birthdays? How did my baby turn 10? And in recent news, I finished another semester of college. I'm riding on a high of wondering how in the world I got an A in a chemistry class! 

I have to confess, when I wasn't writing I wasn't entirely miserable all of the time.  Not quite like this anyway:

“Writing is hard. Not as hard as not writing.
Not writing is torturous, bloody, chaotic and a gruesome winless battle.
A writer who writes, knows peace, lives connected to truth.
Not writing is ache, betrayal, death of the soul and imagination.” ―
Coco J. Ginger

Oh, boy.  That's some serious withdrawal.  No, I don't feel quite that bad...but I do feel frustrated with the loose ends and I've missed my characters.  Maybe my withdrawal hasn't been as bad because I never really stopped writing...I just haven't finished my stories.  *sigh*

So about that story.  I think I've figured out I have a phobia for the fallout from choices in my writing and I really would like to fix that. 

Of course, that's not the only obstacle.  There are other variables that keep writers from writing.  Every time we write we're on a "break" from something else. Work, school, family, home, health, etc. etc.  These are not little things we can sweep under the rug.  Along the way we gain the material and skills for writing the story, but even successes in other areas can make us think, "I should do this, instead of write.  I'm better at this."

Yes, there are a lot of reasons not to write.  But still we do.  We can't stop.  I know I can't.  Can I stop turning everything into a metaphor?  Yes, I know nothing makes sense about a home renovation with explosives and feather dusters.  If these were my tools, I think my problems would be obvious!  But, well, that's kind of my point.

I don't think my form of writer's block, if I presume to call it that, means I stop thinking like a writer.  I can find lots of writers to identify with:

"I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living."-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I agree Ms. Lindbergh.  I'm also tempted to say, "I think too much."  Maybe I do when the story gets muddled with too many untried possibilities.  I'm going to waste so much time!

It takes an awful lot of time for me to write anything. I have endless drafts, one after another; and I try out 50, 75, or a hundred variations on a single line sometimes. I work on the process of refining low-grade ore. I get maybe a couple of nuggets of gold out of 50 tons of dirt. It is tough for me. No, I am not inspired. — James Dickey

Now that's my kind of pep talk.  Anyone else?

I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. — Philip Roth

Thanks, guys.

Armed with my feather duster, I gave myself an easy assignment for polishing up one of my early scenes.  My character is backed into a corner, but I know the exit for this scene, so I just needed to clear away some cobwebs.  No further explosives required. 

Wouldn't you know it, even when you think the all clear has been given, feather dusting can still stir up a lot of dust.  After the feather dusting it's much worse in the character's corner.  I made my character sneeze.  Or put another way, her reaction to her no way out situation had been missing a sneeze.  Okay, not literally a sneeze, but a comparable reflex or gut reaction instead of the more passive acceptance route I'd gone with.

This is actually a good thing, but her new reactions gave me a bit of writer panic that I'd lit the fuse for another explosion.  What else will change? 

The writer is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do. — Donald Barthelme

But I did know what to do! It's a sinking ship scene -- without the ship, that is.  But she's acting like she wants to change the next few chapters...

 Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ... Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. — EL Doctorow

Ohhhh, I get it.  It's not so much having to know what to do because of what is coming up later, but getting down what is happening now.  I'd jumped ahead with my knowledge of the inevitable and didn't let the scene play out.  I don't suppose the passengers really accept that the ship is sinking, so their reactions can show that.  Okay, I can fix that.

Well, EL Doctorow, thanks, but why didn't you just say so?  Writers and their metaphors!

This is my writer's block.  I sometimes take longer breaks than I should, but I think I'll get there.  Only writing it out will get the story done, but there's always a little help (or shove) to be found from other writers have struggled through. 

Easy reading is damn hard writing. — Nathaniel Hawthorne

I have lots of questions!  What is your writer's block?  Does it lead to a break from the story or from all writing...and for how long?  What kind of writing withdrawal symptoms do you have, and what draws you back?  Any favorite quotes from writers you'd like to share?


  1. I had to laugh at the explosion analogy, because you're right -- after a few in the beginning, sometimes it feels like I've knocked out some of the retaining walls or foundation, and I'm afraid I'll just end up with a big ole pile of dust!

    At the same time, it's hard to NOT keep poking at the WIP, and trying to revise, knowing it can be made better. But then I wish I could concentrate on all the other explosions going on around me. LOL Like the stuff that needs doing around the house that always gets put off because I'm writing, or tired from writing. :)

    It never ends, does it? LOL

    1. Donna, that's what I'm afraid of...that it never ends! LOL Do I dare start? I guess I feel that way about my house and yard projects too. And then I try to do everything at once! But it's so wonderful to have some nice weather now and that's a big motivator. :) Not so much for the writing though...sigh.


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