Struggle, fight, but keep the story moving

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

Working through Writer’s Block

Writer’s block.  We all get it.  Writer’s groups on-line are full of posts seeking the magic cure.

There is only one cure for writer’s block ― to write.  Wow, that seems counterintuitive.  How can I write if I’m blocked?  How about this… Let’s say you’re writing a novel and you are suddenly dead-ended.  You just can’t see where it’s going and staring at the computer screen (or paper if you’re so inclined) doesn’t help.  You need to get by that by writing, but that therapy may involve taking an entirely different tack.

Set your novel aside, walk away from it.  Read a book, a magazine, cruise MSNBC or CNN, peruse your favorite blogs (or better yet, find some new ones), take a walk, go to the mall, stake out a spot in Wal-Mart and just watch people.  Okay the last one may sound a little creepy, but observation is key to inspiration.  Here’s what I mean:

Almost every day when I drive home from work on U.S. 1, I see the same woman walking along the side of the road toting two or three bags of something.  She is dressed modestly in a cotton dress, and appears older than what here actual age probably is.  Her back is bent, curved in a way that suggests it is not a natural posture, and her body is thick, but her face gives the impression of thinness, suggesting she is or was a heavy smoker.  I have no idea what she carries in her sacks, her worldly possessions?  Is she homeless?  I don’t know, but in my mind there is the seed of her story.

Add to that observation, perhaps, the recent stories about the impending “Judgment Day”.  Judgment Day, the End of the World, Armageddon has been written about ad nauseam, from every possible angle. Or has it?  What if…

What if the woman is overheard muttering to herself about the Judgment Day, even providing a date and time, and her muttering is overheard by a blogger who posts it to the net.  The “prophecy” goes viral and is picked up by the news channels.  The news channels, always sensitive to being scooped by the blogosphere, find someone to attribute the “prophecy” to and suddenly the story has credability.  This is actually a good theme because the popular perception is, often, that both the blogosphere and news are self-validating and manufactured.  But what of the woman who started it all?  Suppose an intrepid reporter actually locates her with the intent of exposing the Judgment Day as a hoax, only to find out that, as the appointed day and time approach, the woman was right.  She knew, somehow, impossibly, that Judgment Day was coming.  That’s one twist, but the second and most telling twist is how she knew.

Inside of five minutes there’s the précis for a novel or short story.  An observation combined with a reference from the news.  Run with that.  Pick up your original novel in six weeks or six months or a year.  After a cooling off period, you’ll probably find that it reads like someone else wrote major parts of it and you’re just the editor.  If you get to the point where you stopped and don’t feel like the words have, again, come alive, set it aside and move on.  That one may be relegated to the trunk or its time may be yet in the future.

While writing the Any Tomorrow Trilogy, I set it aside several times to work on other things.  Later I realized that some of the stories I had written were, unintentionally, about events in the trilogy.  This realization forced me to totally revise the trilogy to incorporate those stories.  After I did that, the trilogy came alive again for me as something new and vital.

In the end, at least from my experience, the cure for writer’s block is to write.  The act of writing in itself has value and spurs creativity.  Keep your eyes and ears open for inspiration, a story is right there, you just have to recognize it.

If you’ve experienced writer’s block and made your way through it, why not leave a comment and share your experience?  I’d really like to hear from you.  Just click the Leave a comment link (below) to leave a comment.  Thanks.
© Copyright 2011 by Kevin Fraleigh.