When the Work Becomes the Block.

So. Writer’s block. It mostly boils down to fear, right? Fear that you’ll ruin a good idea. Fear that your good idea actually sucks. Fear that you’ll never write anything as good as the last thing you wrote. Fear that… well, you can fill in the blanks for yourselves.

Lately, my main fear has been that my characters won’t talk to me. This is usually my most crippling fear, because when my characters are talking, I know a plot will present itself eventually. But if my characters won’t talk, then where am I?

High and dry, that’s where I am.

However, I have been telling myself that, even though I’m afraid, I’m not blocked, because I’ve been doing getting-to-know you exercises with my characters. Literary icebreaker games, if you will. If I’ve been doing all that, I can’t possibly be blocked, right?

Right?

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It’s sheer denial, ladies and gents. It’s just another avoidance mechanism. No matter how “fleshed out” the characters become, they can’t actually create the scenes.  I’m the only one that can do that.

I’ve been allowing the work of writing itself to feed my block.

I realized that at six o’clock this morning, and I’ve been disgusted ever since. Every time I think I’ve got this writing thing sorted, I realize that my brain has figured out a new way to wiggle out of getting any work done. To the point where it is actually using WORK to avoid work.

Have I leveled up? I think I’ve leveled up.

At any rate, it’s something to watch out for. Are we engaging in pointless busy-work in order to avoid doing the scary stuff? If so, there’s no way around it; we simply have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, stop clutching at our character questionnaires, and wade into the scenes. Even if they’re not working right, they’re still on the page, and we can use all that deep knowledge of our characters to fix them up later.

Now it’s time to stop working and get to work.

Inhabit an Otherness.

No, not in a creepy demonic possession/horror movie kind of way.

I recently discovered an article by Colum McCann, stuffed full of tips for new writers. Being that it is a long article, and every paragraph contains worth pondering for hours, and I’m super busy these days, I haven’t even made it to the end yet. Still, there’s something that I need to share. I was shackled for years by the old aphorism, “write what you know.” Well, if we all did that, we’d be writing nothing but autobiographies, wouldn’t we? And I have almost as little interest in writing my autobiography as anyone else would have in reading it. I decided to throw out that rule. Until, however, McCann gave me a new take on it:

“Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.

A writer is an explorer. She knows she wants to get somewhere, but she doesn’t know if the somewhere even exists yet. It is still to be created. Don’t sit around looking inward. That’s boring. In the end your navel contains only lint. You have to propel yourself outward, young writer.

The only true way to expand your world is to inhabit an otherness beyond ourselves… Remember, the world is so much more than one story. We find in others the ongoing of ourselves.

In the end your first-grade teacher was correct: we can, indeed, only write what we know. It is logically and philosophically impossible to do otherwise. But if we write towards what we don’t supposedly know, we will find out what we knew but weren’t yet entirely aware of. We will have made a shotgun leap in our consciousness. We will not be stuck in the permanent backspin of me, me, me.”

Inhabit an otherness. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. The fact is, we all know much more than we realize. It comes down to the idea of human universals. Even if there is a situation we have never experienced, a courage or cowardice we have never felt, we have the imaginative capability to project ourselves into those places.

And why not? Carpe Experientia, y’all.

Fragment of a Story I May Never Write.

Yeah, so… I was too busy celebrating freedom yesterday to share any inspiration with you. To make up for it, here is my contribution to this month’s Words on Wednesday linkup. But first, a little explanation…

It’s a scene from somewhere in the middle of a story I’m contemplating, centered around the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oberon’s habit of becoming concerned with the love lives of random humans has always made me giggle, as does his habit of sending the endlessly mischievous and flighty Puck to do his dirty work. I wondered what would happen if Oberon became interested in bringing together a couple of average American high school students, and sent Puck in to bring them together. Puck (otherwise known as Robin Goodfellow), an ancient, shapeshifting animal spirit (yes, Puck is a pooka) masquerading as a teenager, and befriending a girl in the process, seems to hold certain possibilities.


 

 

“Hey Leah, come watch this movie with me,” her dad called from the living room. “It was one of my favorites growing up, you need to see it.”

“What is it?” Leah shouted back from the kitchen.

“It’s called Harvey. It’s got Jimmy Stuart in it, playing a guy whose best friend is a six-foot high white rabbit that only he can see.”

“What?” Leah came and stood in the doorway.

“I know, but you just have to see it, trust me. Then it will almost make sense. Besides, it’s a classic.”

“Okay…” Leah sat down on the edge of the couch, balancing her plate on her knees. She was more focused on not spilling her food while texting her friend than what was happening on screen, until suddenly Jimmy Stuart’s eerie monotone cut through her thoughts. “Harvey’s a pooka,” he was explaining to another character.

“A what?” Leah yelped, dropping her fork.

“A pooka,” Jimmy Stuart answered.

“Pookas are animal spirits from Celtic folklore,” Leah’s dad explained. “You okay there?”

“Yeah,” Leah muttered, retrieving her fork. “Yeah, I know what a pooka is. I’m going to get a new fork.”

She sat through the rest of the movie without seeing it, trying to keep from bursting into semi-hysterical laughter every five seconds. This was too unreal.

“So, what did you think?” her dad asked as the credits rolled.

“Oh, it was… cute. I liked it,” Leah managed to say. “Like, that whole pooka thing… that was funny.” She stood up. “Hey, I think I’m going to go to bed now. I didn’t really get much sleep last night.”

“Okay, hon.” Her dad looked at her closely. “Sure you’re all right? Not coming down with something, are you?”

“No, I’m fine. Night, Dad.” Finally, she escaped to her room.

 

###

 

The next morning, when Leah left the house, a tall white rabbit was leaning against the street light, arms folded and legs crossed casually. Leah pursed her lips and walked past him as if he wasn’t there, but he fell silently into step beside her.

“So, you’re spying on me now?” Leah asked him after a while.

The rabbit shrugged. “Why not? You spied on me first.”

Leah’s mouth opened, then shut. “I googled you,” she protested. “That’s different. Would you please stop already with this rabbit thing?”

“Why? You’re the only one who can see me, you know. To anybody else who might be watching you’re just a pretty young girl talking to her imaginary friend.”

“Well, whatever. It’s creeping me out. I just want you to go back to looking like yourself.”

The rabbit laughed. “I doubt if you would find that any less ‘creepy,’ as you put it.”

“I mean your normal, teenage-looking self. Your school self.”

“Normal,” the rabbit snorted. But as Leah watched, he began to melt and fold in on himself until Robin was walking beside her. The whole process couldn’t have taken more than three seconds.

“Well that was disturbing,” Leah observed after she recovered from her shock.

Robin clicked his tongue. “First you tell me to change because I’m ‘creepy.’ Then when I do change, I’m ‘disturbing.’ There’s no pleasing you, is there?”

Tips from Other People, Part 5.

We’re getting ready for Camp NaNoWriMo this July! This month, we’re talking to Wrimos who are using the Camp format to work on non-novel projects. Today, participant Sofie Riis Endahl shares some of her tips for diving into editing work when your manuscript seems like such a mess that you’re not even sure where to…

via 4 Steps to Start Editing a Mess — National Novel Writing Month

Massive shout-out to young writers with wayyyy more experience than me! This post on the NaNoWriMo blog was written by a sixteen-year-old girl who has written 9 (yes, you read that right) YA novels.

Now, there wasn’t really anything new in this blog post… it’s all good, basic advice on what to do with that floppy mass that you WERE calling a novel a couple of months ago while you wrote it. The reason I’m sharing it is more because of how the tips are presented. Sophie writes very calmly and logically about how to look at your work before you plunge into the editing process. It’s a sort of literary equivalent to being told to take ten deep breaths when you can feel panic starting to set in.

Which is good, because I tend to panic a lot when I look at my first drafts.

A Mere Doughnut.

So. I follow this Tumblr blog called Yesterday’s Print. According to their bio, they are “A collection of photographs, newspaper clippings and assorted excerpts highlighting the parallels of past and present.” Some of them are charming, some of them are weird, and some of them are… Well, some of them are like this:

donut

 

I mean, it’s true, right? We all have those random triggers. If you’re stuck somewhere in your writing, why not give your character a trigger like this, and see what happens?

I’d love to hear about it if you do.

That Sonnet I Mentioned.

So in my last post I was telling you lovely folks about a sonnet my character wrote. Well, almost a sonnet. Three quatrains, anyway. The couplet still hasn’t come to me, but I reckon I’ll share it with you anyway. Mainly because I’m in a huge rush today and don’t have time for a longer post.

When came this orphan feeling to my soul
That permeates me to the very bone?
I, who have every reason to be whole,
Shatter with the desire to be unknown.
Yet not desire, not that, for then I’d be
No orphan, but a hermit. Far removed
From any who might peer to close and see
My weakness. I’d wait no more to be approved.
No. I wait here, lonely and bereft,
Hoping for just a single heart to reach
Out, and with a touch to seal the cleft
Whose draining power I cannot frame in speech.

Anyway, there you have it. He’s kind of a lonely boy.

My Character Wrote a Sonnet.

I swear you guys, I’m going to start calling this “The Year of the Bolognese.”

Ever since I wrote about my culinary adventure/life lesson, the truth and functionality of it has been becoming more and more stunningly clear. Take the past few days, for example. I’ve had a story idea bumping around in my head for a couple of weeks, with the first scene and the rudiments of the main characters already in place, but the theme just wasn’t wanting to show up. I decided to let it stew for a while, and try not to obsess over getting anything figured out.

It worked again, people.

On Tuesday night, completely randomly, I found myself with the phrase “this orphan feeling” chasing itself around one of the tracks of my brain. I have no idea where it came from. Once I started paying attention to it, I realized that it was attempting to be iambic pentameter, so I started forming it into a sonnet.* (Side note: This is not as impressive as it sounds. When you know the formula, sonnets practically write themselves. All you need is a good rhyming dictionary.) About halfway through the second quatrain, I stopped and said to myself, “What the heck? Where did this even come from? It’s not about me…”

After staring blankly out the window for a minute or two, I realized that one of my new MCs was hovering in the background, waiting for me to notice him. “Oh, hi there. This sonnet is you, isn’t it?”

Yep.

“Wanna tell me a bit more about yourself?”

Just keep writing it.

“Okay… There, I’ve gotten the quatrains all finished. Now what do I do about the couplet?”

Um… I don’t really want to tell you that yet.

“Alrighty then, you little turkey. Don’t tell me.”**

I decided to let the couplet wait until I have more of the story figured out. Still puzzled by how this had come to me, I started thinking back over the things I already knew about the story, and I eventually realized that the struggle this sonnet had given him was the perfect flipside of the one my other MC was working through. How wonderful.

Anyway, I don’t really know what usefulness anybody out there might find in all of this… except to once again be reminded that letting things stew is important, as well as giving yourself permission to work on unrelated projects. They just might link up somewhere.

And maybe write a sonnet or two.

 


 

*I might end up sharing the sonnet next week, although I haven’t yet made up my mind. Watch this space, I guess.

**No, I don’t actually have conversations like this with my characters.

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A Brief Introduction to Elisabeth Bridges.

I now interrupt your regularly scheduled Tuesday-and-Thursday blog schedule with these messages:

The lovely Lynn over at Written Reflections has started a “Words on Wednesday” linkup for writers which I’m hoping to be able to participate in whenever I can. It’s basically just a way for writers to share what they’re up to, along with spewing words out on a suggested topic. But I’ll leave the details up to her, as it’s explained nicely on her blog, and I want you to check it out anyway.

All that to say that you may be seeing the occasional Wednesday post from me from now on, starting with this one:

A Brief Introduction to Elisabeth Bridges.

Ugh. Introductions have never been my strong point. In fact, this whole post/possibly self-indulgent journal entry will most likely find its natural habitat on the “Growing Up Shy” social media hashtag. I’ve never been one of those people who could talk comfortably about themselves. I end up forgetting my entire life history, apart from little things that I cannot imagine anyone wanting to hear about.

That confession out of the way, I will do my best to explain how I got here. At five years old, I decided to write a Curious George book, complete with illustrations. I stapled together some sheets of paper, drew what might, with a bit of imagination, be construed as a monkey-like figure, and wrote: “onc there was a monky called curius Georg.” After that effort, my mind went blank, and I set the project aside for “some other time.” So much for that.

In a way, that experience could well sum up my writing life ever since. I’ve never once lost the desire to write, but the motivation and moxie have ebbed and flowed unpredictably. I went through times when “to be an author” was my main goal in life, and other times when it seemed more like a pipe dream. The times of discouragement reached their height during (predictably) my adolescence, at which point, due no doubt partly to the usual litany of teen anxt and self-loathing, as well as what I now know was a major trough of depression, I gave up on any serious writing beyond academic requirements. Yet even when I was most convinced of my inability to write, my lowest points were always accompanied by a frenzied bout of word-spewing. There was, and still is, no better way for me to express myself than through the medium of pen and paper.

This state continued until October 30, 2013, when I decided to give NaNoWriMo a try. At the time, I thought it wouldn’t amount to anything more than a casual fling, a sort of literary one-night stand.

Well, I was wrong. On Thanksgiving that year, I emerged triumphant, with 50,000 words that were all my own. Terrible, sloppy things they may have been, but I had breathed them into being, and I realized that no matter how I might “feel” from one day to the next, this was something I had to do. Ever since then, while my output still ebbs and flows almost as erratically as it did when I was five, my resolution has only strengthened. I am a writer, and I will drown myself in ink, bury myself in paper, until I arise newly born on the wings of my own words.

 

Opinion Shows Character.

People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Interestingly, I feel like it’s much easier to see this as a truth when we look at other people. When we encounter a doom-preaching nay-sayer, it’s easy to sum them up as a fusty old pessimist, but we often fail to see our own opinions as a result of our character.

Anyway, just something to think about.