Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Writing through your Achilles heel – How do you keep writing through [whatever it is that prevents/stops your writing]?”
I think I was supposed to fill in my particular [whatever it is that prevents/stops your writing], but I don’t think I have a specific Achilles heel that way. Not that I don’t encounter obstacles to getting my words in every day! There are multitudes of those things, from Stupidly Trivial to Truly Important. When I was a newbie writer, even the Stupidly Trivial stuff won all the time. These days, only the Truly Important stuff gets in the way of writing, and even then I bounce back quickly, all because of my secret weapon.
My secret weapon is: my writing habit. Come on Over to Read More.
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.
Jackson will take treats from my hand like this. He puts his paws on me to steady himself, then plucks the shrimp, or ham, or turkey, or salmon, or beef, or really any kind of meat at all, with his teeth. I’ve never had a cat that would do like this before.
David says I was talking in my sleep a lot last night. That should come as no surprise, since I’m getting heavily back into drafting this novel. The big fantasy novels seem to do it to me much more than the shorter, erotic romance works. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe because it’s more complex storytelling. Maybe because I’m constructing an entire world along with the story itself.
At any rate, it makes me aware of how much my mind works on this kind of thing. I also find I begrudge distractions more. It’s like I already have so many conversations going on in my head that I can’t bear to listen to any new ones. At times like this I understand the writers who lock themselves away in a cabin for a few weeks or a month, to focus only on the book. I try to keep my life as normal as possible, evenly moving along, but sometimes I envy that model.
Quiet is just so crucial.
A few weeks ago, I flew to Ohio to meet up with some CPs and go to a conference. It was a fairly long flight there – about 3 hours – and I happily found a window seat to ensconce myself in. I exchanged hello’s with the gal on the aisle and set about staging my supplies for the flight. I knew the week ahead would be busy enough that I wouldn’t get tons of writing work done and I hoped for some solid writing time during the flight. As the plane filled, another gal took the middle seat. She and the woman on the aisle kept going after the initial greetings. And going. And going.
I even tweeted, before they shut the plane doors, that I really hoped they wouldn’t talk the entire flight.
Some helpful Tweeters predicted this and suggested I go for ear buds early. Fortunately I could. I plugged in the music, opened my laptop and worked away. Every now and again – like when I removed my ear buds to talk to the flight attendant about what lovely drink she could bring me – I became aware that the conversation continued apace.
No, I have no idea what they found to talk about for that long.
But they had gone from total strangers to BFFs within minutes. At the end of the flight, once they stood, they reverted to strangers, as airline passengers do. We all wait, sitting, standing, half-stooped because the overhead bins are in the way, not making eye contact, pretending we aren’t Hugely Impatient to get off the stinking plane already. They went their separate ways without another word.
The new found connection was apparently just to pass the time.
I notice that, the deeper into creating I am, the less I want to talk. It’s like I have energy for the one thing or the other. I think that’s worth exploring. I rarely have good advice when people ask me about solving writer’s block or increasing productivity or enhancing creativity, but there’s something.
Try talking less.
It might feel weird at first. Maybe lonely. Maybe TOO quiet. But I do believe that, once you create that silence in your mind, other things will come to fill it.
Stories and characters and worlds.
Little shameless plug: you can now sign up for my newsletter!! I know – you all are gasping in giddy surprise. I’ve been told (in no uncertain terms and by readers, amazingly enough) that I *need* to have one. If you want to subscribe (and I totally do not blame you if you don’t), there’s a place to do it in the right-hand column of the home page. One of my readers, the lovely Susan Doerr, even volunteered to compose one for me and it’s really just great. (I suspect she worried about what travesty I’d come up with on my own, given my hatred of all things newslettery.) This is very simple, comes to your email In-Box and we’ll only do it quarterly or so. I’m told I’ll have special treats and giveaways, too. Whee!
Okay: Writer’s Block.
So, those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time might be surprised by today’s topic. I’ll be up front: I have never believed that Writer’s Block is a real thing. In fact, I had to create the label for it just now. I’m a big believer that habit and ritual will get words down. I’ve always thought that Writer’s Block was more about angsting over the process – and maybe a bit of resistance towards just doing the work – than anything real.
And then I hit it.
I didn’t even know what it was.
See, what happened was, last Friday I got my developmental edits on Platinum. They’re not bad – Editor Deb Nemeth is excellent at her job: specific, clear, good insights. I even wrote a post last week about how she pushes me to write difficult scenes. She also asked me to layer in more detail about the setting in Charleston, SC, and my heroine’s daily life owning an art gallery.
Several of my friends joked that I clearly needed to take a tax-deductible research trip to Charleston. I laughed.
Now, I’ve been to Charleston a few times, but not since, um, maybe ten years ago? And I’ve shopped in art galleries there. I have friends who own small businesses that sell to the public, but they’re more coffee shops and bookstores. But hey, I’m the queen of networking, right? So I set to finding someone to talk to.
I hit wall after wall after wall. Nobody answered their phones or responded to the messages I left. The one gallery owner I talked to, from Santa Fe, was very weird to me. The Charleston Chamber of Commerce interactive marketing director advised me on how to look up galleries on their website.
It was all very weird.
I tried to work on the edits and got nowhere. The layering thing bothered me. I kept Googling, placing calls, asking my email loops.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
So, at lunch on Wednesday, I was
whining expressing my frustration to David and he said something was clearly in my way. That I was blocked for some reason. “Normally,” he said, “you just do stuff like it’s no problem. You’re doing something wrong here.”
As soon as he said it, it all made sense. It described precisely how I felt: Blocked. Nothing was flowing as it should. Nothing was going my way on this.
“I think you should just go to Charleston,” he said.
And I laughed, like I’d laughed before. I started to tell him how I didn’t have the time or the money for such an extravagant move. Then it occurred to me that I’d just been told I needed to fly to Providence, RI on June 3, for the day job. That’s at least the correct side of the country. I checked into the plane tickets and I could fly to Charleston on Friday, spend the weekend and be in Providence by Monday morning.
So, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ll tell you what – as soon as I bought that ticket, everything started flowing again. People returned my messages, I started revising happily and easily. Bluebirds perched on my desk and sang sweet songs of joy.
I don’t know why I have to go to Charleston, but it’s clear I do.
I don’t recommend this method for resolving all Writer’s Blocks, but I think the lesson here is to listen to yourself. When you feel blocked at every turn, there’s a message in that. Sometimes the answer is to do that thing you think can’t be done.
It might open all the doors.