When Writers Block Means to Dig Deeper

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: “The most difficult scene you ever wrote and why.”

I’m guessing that’s why was it difficult, not why we wrote it. Though I do think the why we wrote the scene in the first place is relevant.

There’s a school of thought among writers and writerly-advice givers that if a story becomes difficult – if the writer hits a block and grinds to a stop – then that’s an indicator of Something Gone Wrong. I see this advice a lot. Writers will say – often in response to questions about how they handle Writer’s Block – “When I hit a block, I know I’ve done something wrong, taken a wrong turn somewhere, so I go back and rework the plot.”

You all have heard a version of this, right?

Makes me cringe every time. I’ll tell you why. But you have to go to the SFF Seven to find out. 

Writing Beginnings, Again and Again

We’re to have a hard freeze Thursday night – our first freezing temps of the autumn – so I’ve started bringing in the house plants from the patio. It’s always a glut of blooms, fallen leaves, and much shuffling of saucers and ideal locations. This, more than anything else, is the first sign of fall for me.

I’ve been working on THE FATE OF THE TALA, and talking a lot about that process on my podcast, First Cup of Coffee. If you want an (almost) daily insight into my process, that’s the place to listen in. As an overview, however, I’ve been talking about beginnings and how to decide where to start a story. This isn’t an easy decision or process. For example, I’m on my fourth opening in FATE – and I think this one will stick. It takes a lot of trial and error to find where the story truly begins, and what counts as preceding events that will be woven in as backstory.

The thing is, newer writers don’t always realize how much effort goes into finding this sweet spot, because we mostly see only the finished product.

I realized this truth (yet again) the other day when I was helping a friend – a not-yet-published writer – with her book. The beginning simply wasn’t working, for a number of reasons. I gave her some specific advice to improve beginnings in general. (In particular, I pointed her to this Twitter thread by Mary Robinette Kowal that really lit me up – all stuff I knew, but framed in a way that I found super helpful.) I also pointed her to a book opening in the same genre by another author friend, pointing out how that person set up the character, world and genre.

The aspiring author came back with a mix of admiration, envy, and despair – agreeing that the (very accomplished) author’s opening was amazing. And I realized that I need to clarify that this amazing and gorgeously executed beginning was the result of easily six months of effort on the professional author’s part. Not only has she published many novels in the genre, but I happened to know she’d torn apart this beginning multiple times. Eventually she started with an entirely different POV character, which is when the story began to sing.

So, it’s important to remember, when looking at examples to follow, that published work has been through countless rounds of revision, editing, and more revisions. Finding the best place to start a story, and writing it well, is possible – but it also takes time, effort, and patient revision.

 

First Cup of Coffee – May 28, 2019

Talking about my towering TBR pile today. I pose a quiz question for my listeners, too. What should I do??? I’m talking about revisions, how I’ve changed my view of them, along with my progress on THE FIERY CITADEL. Also thoughts on Mary Robinette Kowal’s THE CALCULATING STARS and THE FATED SKY.

First Cup of Coffee – August 23, 2018

About the Book

Not all desires are shiny and sweet—and the dark ones might change you forever…

It’s not the kind of obsession a tough Army guy can admit to—a jones for Ava, the pretty-princess pop star. Not just her body, the perfect product that sells all those magazines. Her music.

The critics call her human lip gloss, all style and no substance. To Joe Ivanchan, Ava is the exact blend of reality and fantasy that he can tolerate, the closest he’s willing to get to giving his heart after the injury and breakdown that got him out of the service.

But Ava is real. She’s a flesh and blood woman with a publicity machine and an album deadline, along with a whole team of handlers paid to shellac a pristine sheen over a damaged, desperate soul. A woman with fears, with secrets, with desires.

When Joe finds himself in an interview to join her security team as her driver, his instinct is to get away. But the woman behind Ava’s carefully focus-grouped image is even harder to walk away from. The angry needs tormenting her speak to something within Joe. Something empathetic, protective—and primal…

Besides, even a falling star can light up the darkest night.

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