The new (July/August 2015) issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine arrived just in time. Although it seems to be over a month early, it’s just in time to save me from myself. It’s “The Creativity Issue.” Lots of great articles, but there’s one little section that was meant especially for me. (I imagine lots of other writers feel the same way!) Jessica Strawser compiled a group of excerpts from various sources to help “inspire us, nurture ideas, enhance our brainpower and increased our productivity.” The compilation is called “Creativity Deconstructed.” I’m going to share a short excerpt from one of the nine sections. This one is called “Pushing Past Blocks.” But first, a little background.
I’ve never thought I had “writer’s block,” but maybe it’s just a matter of semantics. I always think of writer’s block as not having anything creative to write. Being stuck with a white page staring back at you. And maybe that’s one kind of block. I would think that applies more to writing a first draft of a book, which is—to me—the easiest part of writing.
But what I more often experience (and I was right in the middle of it when I took a break to browse WD yesterday) is a feeling of inadequacy. And sometimes panic. When I agree with an editor (or in this case an editor and a literary agent and her staff of readers) on what needs to be done to make the book better, but I’m a bit worried about my ability to pull it off. So I just stop working. I watch TV. I eat. I drink. I leave the house and go shopping. Anything to avoid the hard work in front of me. I went shopping Monday, so yesterday’s temptations were more about the food and TV. But when I read these words (from Theo Pauline Nestor’s book, Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice) in the WD compilation, I found strength to keep my butt in the chair and press on.
Start noticing the times when you stop working. Is it when you get stuck on something? When the writing starts to feel “too hard”? …. Is it when you’re on the verge of taking your story to a deeper level? Keep track of your sticking points. You might even want to take a few notes about these stopping patterns…. If you’re a writer who stops when the writing gets tough, keep a timer by your desk and set it for five minutes when you feel like stopping. Tell yourself you only need to write for the five extra minutes (but of course, here’s hoping you keep going past that)…. You might be surprised what you can write in five minutes: a few sentences, maybe a paragraph, and it might be just the paragraph you’ve been waiting for.
I put the magazine down and immediately got back to work on the novel revisions. I had already cut over 6,000 words (and one of the three main characters) from the book since my meeting with the literary agent last Monday. But I discovered that more flashbacks needed to be removed throughout the book and inserted into new chapters at the beginning to help the reader follow the plot. Of course each removal meant creating new segues between the sections before and after the flashbacks. And more opportunities to strengthen the story line and give more rich layers to the characters’ lives. After creating a new chapter outline, I laid all the legal pad pages out on the floor and looked at them to see the big picture. Moving the sections around on the computer (cutting and pasting, changing tenses and sometimes points of view) was quite a challenge. At one point I found myself thinking, “I wrote the damn book. Why can’t someone else do this part? This is so fucking hard!”
I picked back up the WD article and read another section—“Turning Pages Into Books”—an excerpt from Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity:
I think it’s important for us writers to understand it takes a different set of skills to finish a book than it does to produce pages. Finishing a book demands that we think about a score of issues that we needn’t concern ourselves about in the earliest stages of our work…. It requires our willingness, in effect, to rethink what we’ve written as we decide how to shape our work, and to jettison what doesn’t fit, and to write completely new material as required.
That’s exactly what I’m doing, so maybe I’m doing something right. Although knowing this is somewhat comforting, it doesn’t make the work any easier. It just helps me keep my butt in the chair for five more minutes. Or maybe five more hours, days, or weeks….