Here at magical words there is a lot of talk about BIC (obligatory translation: Butt in Chair). But what do you do when you’ve been sitting in your chair for hours, your fingers poised expectantly over the keyboard, but nothing works? Maybe your main character just won’t get with the program, or maybe it’s bigger. Maybe everything you type is falling flat, your characters have all faded to mere shades of people and you’ve been banging your head against your computer so long that your ready to invoke Armageddon/the Apocalypse/Ragnarok or whatever end of the world scenario you can come up with, let the story implode, and then dump the file in the recycling bin. Some might call it writer’s block, but what it’s really called is frustration (maybe verging on disrepair) because things just aren’t working. While it might give you a cathartic release to write that rocks fall and everyone dies before shutting your computer and walking away, that isn’t actually the best solution. Let’s look at some alternatives:
- Change things up. Have you been writing on the computer? Try writing long hand for a while. Have you been writing in your office? Try the back porch or a 24 hour IHOP. Sometimes changing your environment or the mode in which you write can tempt your muse back where she’s needed.
- Take a walk. Or a nap. Okay, admittedly, these are very different things. Taking a walk or in some other way getting some exercise can get the blood flowing to your brain. It also gives you a bit of a break from the frustration so you don’t start gnawing on the keyboard. When you come back, you’ll have a rush of adrenalin and endorphins and hopefully be ready to tackle the scene. The nap is also an unwinding tool. It doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes stepping away and calming down allows the pieces to fall together.
Now, before I go on, there is a big caveat that goes along with the walk/nap suggestion: this is a procrastination gateway so limit how often you walk away from your manuscript and always, ALWAYS come back. You might take an entire evening off, but make sure you are in front of your computer the next day. If things still aren’t working when you come back from your break, try a different method, don’t leave again.
- Skip the scene. Some people probably cringed when they read those words because they always. have. to. write. in. order. No exceptions (really? you sure?) Others are probably shrugging and thinking that they already skip around. Personally, I prefer writing in order. Always. Scenes build on each other. But once in a blue moon it comes down to having to skip ahead or start working on matching my heartbeat to the blinking cursor. My suggestion when skipping ahead, write what you know has to happen in the scene, even if it is just a sentence or two of narrative summery. Then move to the next scene and write as if you’d finished the previous scene–you can fill it in later.
- The next suggestion I’m reluctant to mention because it is so easy to abuse and end up in a never ending cycle but: Run a diagnostic on your novel. Many times, if a scene just won’t work or a character won’t cooperate it is because I’ve messed up somewhere with motivations or I’m wrong about what I think should happen (vs what the story actually needs to happen.) Once I figure this out, it is easy to move forward.
Now why I’m reluctant to mention this one is because diagnosing and fixing your novel as you write the first draft is full of pot holes. I know some here edit as they go along, but for me, I finish books only by maintaining a forward momentum–as in, editing is for the second draft, my goal in the first draft is to get the entire story down on paper. Editing as I go along is dangerous for me because I can get into a loop where I can’t move forward until the first part of what I’ve written is ‘correct’. So what do I do if I realize I’ve got something seriously wrong and I can’t move forward until I figure it out? I diagnose the problem, and if it’s a quick fix or costs me only a scene or two, I fix it immediately. If it’s a correction that will take a lot of work to weave into the story, I make myself really good notes about the problem and what needs to be done to fix it. Then I move forward as if I’d already fixed it. Forward momentum.
- Write through the frustration. This is the most annoying solution, but sometimes it’s the only thing that works. Every word might be agony for a while, but eventually you’ll pick up stride and while the words might not exactly flow from your fingers, at least they won’t cost quite so much blood.
These are just my suggestions and some tips that have worked for me in the past–your mileage may vary.
So what do you do when you want to strangle your characters and decimate their world? How do you move through the frustration so that you are once more productive? Any tips and tricks to share?