Lots of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night. I keep a notebook beside the bed just for occasions like this, and it’s always fun in the morning to see what I scribbled by the light of my cell phone at 3 am. Sometimes, the ideas are brilliant–the solution to a problem I’d been having comes to me in a flash as I try to fall asleep, or I wake up with an idea for a great new scene.
Sometimes, though, the idea seemed a lot better while I was half asleep, or worse, it’s nothing more than a bunch of words strung together that mean absolutely nothing.
The other day, I had one that I’m not sure about. It’s either the stupidest thought I’ve ever had, or the most brilliant.
I woke up in the middle of the night sure that I’d solved any problem I’d ever had with my writing. My book was now going to be so much better. All I had to do?
Make the awesome parts of the book awesomer, and get rid of all the parts that aren’t awesome.
On one hand, um, DUH. But on the other hand, this is such good advice. That chapter where my MC is in the library looking at family history books–the chapter I never want to work on because I find it kind of boring? Stop working on it. Just get rid of it. It’s not awesome, and not getting that much awesomer. And if I combine the chapter with the pretty-awesome relationship-building with the pretty-awesome action in the next chapter? Way MORE awesome.
So actually, I think that sleep-idea was brilliant after all.
I swear, there is a point to this picture. Kind of.
The other day I cut my thumb while I was making dinner. It wasn’t anything serious, but I still probably should have put on a band-aid so I didn’t bleed all over our salad. Instead, the first thing I did was grab my notebook and make extensive notes about how the blood ran down my thumb, how it stung when I rinsed off the cut, how long it took to stop bleeding…
Writing is weird.
I noticed this when I was starting to learn to paint, too. Suddenly, trees weren’t green. They were a million different colors. It makes you see the world just a little differently.
The whole world is like that when you’re a writer. The sound of the wind isn’t necessarily “howling,” like you automatically think. It’s a whisper one day, and it might be a scream the next. There are so many nuances that you just…hadn’t noticed before.
And besides this, doesn’t writing just make you do strange things? Like I realized that my last two Google searches were “Paris to Istanbul flight time” and “Paul Wesley shirtless.” (Research, people. Research. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.)
And then there’s when I’m writing at Starbucks and the person at the table next to me gives me a funny look. I realize that I have my notebook open to a page entitled, “Possible ways to kill people.” In the context of my book, makes sense. In real life, not so much.
Or sometimes I’ll find myself having conversations with my husband that start off like, “So, Jack needs to have his shirt off in this scene. What logical way can I get him to take his shirt off?” Or to do some research of my own, I have to put on a miniskirt and try to climb on some furniture to determine just how difficult Avery’s escape is going to be in this scene.
Or my favorite: out at happy hour with some friends the other night, I realized that I had “hung out” with my characters far, far more than I had hung out with these real people recently.
Writer’s block sucks. But I think—I think!—it’s curable, with a little hard work. (And yes, it’s absolutely easier said than done.)
For me, the good news is that writer’s block seems to always have a cause, even if it’s hard to pinpoint at first. For me, it’s usually one of two things: either I’m just overwhelmed, or there is something seriously wrong with my story.
The latter can be especially bad if I don’t know exactly what is wrong, just that something is. This is what happened to me with a recent bad round of writer’s block. The story. Just. Wasn’t. Right. But I didn’t know why.
My solution this time around? Actually allow myself to see what was there. Finally, I realized that I kind of did know what was wrong—I just didn’t want to admit it, because it required a lot of changes [eh hem, less time spent trying to find excuses to have the boys be shirtless, more time solving the main story goal. Easy mistake to make]. Admitting it, though, was the first step. (No, there are not necessarily twelve steps here.) :) Once I admitted to myself that the story really did need that much work, I was able to go forward. And you know what? It didn’t turn out to be as much work as I’d built it up in my head to be.
When I’m just feeling overwhelmed is a different—but similar—story. Like with the big changes I mentioned above, sometimes there’s just SO much to do that it seems insurmountable. And that sucks, and it’s easy to get bogged down in feeling sorry for yourself and feeling like the story will never be finished. This tends to be where I fall into the “this is the worst story ever written” pit of despair.
But there is a way out. My steps?
1. Stop panicking.
2. Break down the work into small bits. For instance, “I need to revise and make my main character better” is a really huge goal. “I need to change my MC’s reactions in scenes 4, 7, and 13 to make her more likable” feels much more do-able.
And if all else fails? Drink a lot of wine and just write. :)
It feels silly calling strong characters a trend, but making your female MC “strong” is one of those things that everyone says they’re looking for in YA these days. Of course—who wants to read about a weak character?—but on further inspection, it’s not as obvious as you’d think. What does it really mean? What is a strong character? And how does it change in YA?
These are all questions I’ve been asking myself recently as I’ve been revising. My MC is by far the hardest character for me to write. She’s killing me, and what’s killing me more is making her come across as lovely as she is in my head.
In my experience with her, and with quite a few of the YA heroines I’ve read recently, I’ve found that many (though of course not all!) YA girls tend to fall on one of two sides: the blank slate, who’s not much more than a wish fulfillment vehicle that any teen girl could insert herself into because she has so little of her own personality (understandable in some cases, I suppose, but oh-so-boring to read about) OR the uber-tough “Strong” girl. And sometimes it seems like there has been a Guide to Strong YA Heroines distributed, so now, these “strong” girls fall mostly into two categories:
1. The sarcastic girl. She always has a witty comeback, and she’ll never show weakness. Her snark can be a lot of fun, but can border on annoying or even bitchy, depending on how far she takes it.
2. The kickass girl. This chick is so good at everything it’s scary. If someone annoys her, she’ll probably just punch them, because she’s a Strong Woman and Strong Women don’t put up with that crap. Though she is probably gorgeous, she likely won’t lower herself to the level of liking girly things like dresses and makeup. As capable as she is, her flaw tends to be that she’s emotionally unavailable. In short, if overdone, she is essentially a stereotypical alpha-male character in a girl’s body.
Notice how these two are kind of the same girl, except one fends people off with words, and one with her fists? These are both very defensive characters, like the only way to be strong is to be angry. Is it possible for a YA girl to be open, vulnerable, still trying to figure herself out, adventurous but still nervous—and even (dare I say it) kind of girlie—and still be considered strong because of how she goes through life?
I hope so, or I’m screwed. :)
What do you think? Who are some great YA heroines who are relatable and admirable for more than their left hook or their sharp tongue?
I thought I’d experienced writer’s block, but after a recent experience, I realize that I had never really felt it until now. You know in caper movies, when the criminals are about to escape with the art/money/priceless antiquities, but then the alarm sounds and WHOMP! the impenetrable metal gate falls across the room and they’re trapped?
Recently, this is what happened in my brain every time I tried to think about my book.
I’d be going about my business, and think that it might be okay to try to work on a scene, and WHOMP. Metal gate slams closed on the brain. Trapped with nowhere to go.
And then, to add insult to injury, for some time after that the mental block would spread to everything else I tried to do, even if it had nothing to do with my MS. It’s like (to completely mix metaphors) the beach ball of death had come to my brain. It was still technically ON, but nothin’ was happenin’.
[BBoD, the bane of every Mac user's existence]
Some people say that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Why do writers get a special excuse to not do their work? Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block!
But here’s the thing. I’m sure plumbers do have times when they feel less than good about their jobs. Doesn’t everyone? Like when you would rather poke your eyes out than go to work? When it seems like your brain has run off with your motivation and they’re vacationing in Tahiti without you? But when plumbers go to work feeling crappy about it and not on their A-game, they still weld pipe A to fitting B and the sink still stops leaking, just as it would on their best day.
Not so for creative pursuits. Even on my worst day, I could force words down on the page, but they are going to be awful. Horribly crap-tastic. When writers, or anyone in a creative job, isn’t feeling it, the work truly suffers.
Luckily, I figured out the cause of my writer’s block. This is the key. I do firmly believe that it’s not an incurable disease. Once you figure out the cause, you can figure out the cure. And next time: what that cure turned out to be.
What do you think? Does writer’s block really exist?