Can I make a confession? I have never suffered from “writer’s block”. For all the fiction, non-fiction, intelligence reporting, and documentation I have written, I have never been intimidated by the blank page or empty display screen.
However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have struggled with format, with wordsmithing, and trying to impose my will on that of my characters. Over the years, though, I have learned that writing something is better than writing nothing.
In my current effort, a novel I have tentatively named ‘Clarice’, I am struggling with how to proceed. Do I write the story to my other stories, continuing to create a sort of interrelated dystopian universe, or rework the eighty-two pages written so far to be something new? The characters are fighting me on this. They seem to know where they’re going, but they haven’t as of yet condescended to reveal their destination to me. They have hinted that it will be a little town called Cartersville, Florida—but that’s another story entirely.
And while we’re at it, I chose the name ‘Clarice’ as a placeholder until I discovered the heroine’s real name—44,726 words later the name hasn’t changed. The problem is that I can’t hear the name Clarice without immediately thinking of sweetmeats, fava beans, and a nice Chianti (Damn you, Thomas Harris!).
If you have a favorite name for a girl born into poverty in coal country, let me know. I’ll have a talk with Clarice and she might agree to change her name to benefit the story. Who knows?
So, how do I handle it when I’m struggling with my characters? First of all, I don’t discard anything. This way, if I need to, I can easily step back to an earlier version and keep writing. Whenever I’m done writing for the day I save the current file with a unique revision name both to my local drive and to the cloud.
The next day, I save the file with a new name and start working. You can see from the image what I mean. If you aren’t quite this disciplined, that’s fine. I’m pretty anal about it after spending one career as an intelligence analyst and another as a technical writer.
The point is to keep writing. Write every day. Write something. Then fight your way through until you arrive at the story your characters want to tell. Don’t worry about it being clean or being perfect. There will be plenty of time for editing and finessing the mechanics. The story is everything. Without the story, you might as well leave the page blank.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh