Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Sticky Parts

By Beth Terrell

Writer's block. Some writers believe in it; others don't. Some say it's a manifestation of fear of success. Some say it's the Muse's way of telling you, "Hold on. Pietro and Penelope don't need to fall into each other's arms yet. That's too easy. They need to miss each other at the marketplace. And Umberto's jeep needs to have a flat tire on the way to his assignation with Clementine. STOP! YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!"

Some say writer's block is an excuse not to produce, that there is no such thing as plumber's block or widget-maker's block, so you should just get off your duff (or on it, in front of your computer), and write something. Some say there are many different types of writer's block, some more serious than others, and all with different underlying causes. Sometimes it's not writer's block at all, they say. The block is just a symptom of the real problem. For example, a person battling severe depression isn't blocked; he's depressed. Treat the depression, and the block will take care of itself.

I don't claim to be an expert on writer's block and whether or not it exists, but I do know that, if I go a few days without writing, it gets easier to go a few more days and harder to sit back down at the computer and crank out words. Sometimes when that happens, it's because life has gotten in the way, but often it's because I've come to what I call a sticky part--a place in the book where the writing gets tough, the emotion gets too intense, or I'm not sure which way to go next. I put off writing one scene for weeks, because I knew it was going to break Jared's heart--and mine. Whatever the reason, cranking out words is exactly what I need to do.

So I pick up an empty spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen, imagine calling Jared (my protagonist) over to sit beside me, and ask him, "And then what happened?" From there, it's like taking dictation. He talks, and I scribble down what he says. When he stops talking, I ask him a question to start the ball rolling again. "What did that look like? How did you feel when that happened? And then what did she do?"

I know that what comes out will be rough and raw and in no shape to be shown to anyone. I know that parts of the story will change, sometimes dramatically. But the exercise gets me moving again. It adds to the block of metaphorical clay from which the real story will be shaped, and it gets me past the sticky parts so that writing can be a joy again.

How about you? What helps you get past the sticky parts?


Mark W. Danielson said...

You're right, Beth -- the key to writing is to keep writing, but it doesn't necessarily have to concern your current project. Writing for the joy of writing inspires all kinds of stories. Perhaps by writing about anything of interest may add to the story you were working on, or it may even defer your original project in favor of a new one. One thing's for sure -- if you don't sit down to write, nothing will ever get done.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I don't outline so I sometimes write myself into a corner. That happened this week and I backtracked 10,000 words and took off in a completely different direction and it's working out well. I usually read the previous day's chapter before I start writing and it carries me into the next, which prevents writer's block.

Nikki Nelson-Hicks said...

Usually when I become blocked it is one of two things: 1) like you mentioned, I am going the wrong way and the Muse is pulling my reins or 2) I am attempting a voice that I am afraid I will screw up.

For #1, you have to obey the Muse; She is the one in charge here.

For #2, much like said, I just sit down and let myself play with different views and write in the margins and in the corners until I figure out what is the best voice for the bit.

And a dash of Uncle Jack Daniels helps a bit too...

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I dry up completely when the negatives close in. I walk away from writing and leave it alone. It might be days, weeks or even months, but I can't write a thing until that little flame of creativy flickers into life again.