Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger: Amy Corwin!

HELP: Writer’s Block? Stalled?

Like an airplane with an engine suddenly giving out in mid-flight, I sometimes stall and start a nosedive straight toward the corn fields below. This happens to me at least once a year, usually in the spring and pretty much lasts through the summer. When the days turn cool again in late summer, I get a sudden surge of creative energy that lasts through the holidays.
If I want to get any writing done, that’s when I need to do it, holidays, guests and unroasted turkeys be damned. Some years, I’ve written two complete 400 page manuscripts during the period from September 1st through January 30th.

While exciting, this is not the best way to manage your writing life. Not to mention what it does to your personal life when you’re already juggling another (paying) job, a household, and a 2-acre garden. And let’s not forget family and friends who may feel a little neglected sitting down to the dining room table only to discover that the turkey is still sitting—raw—in its pan on top of the stove. (Just five more minutes—I swear I’ll have this scene done in five more minutes, honestly. Can’t you just shove that pan in the oven for me? I’ll be with you in ten minutes or so, twenty tops. Okay maybe thirty, but then we’ll have the whole evening. Okay, I didn’t realize it’s past nine already, but I swear I’ll be down soon…)

So many writers complain about writer’s block or stalling out. But I know in my own case it’s due to several very specific things. If I can get control over them, I can beat that thing like a bowl of cake batter.

I suspect that many others have similar issues.

Before I go into long-winded, psycho-babble, I will offer the solution right up front. The only answer to writer’s block is to write. That’s right: just write. Write at least five days a week, every day of those five days. Set aside a chunk of time and do it. There is nothing I can say that takes the place of this. It is the only way to beat writer’s block into submissions (yes, that’s submissions—as in something you send to an editor.)

Just write.

Now that you know the answer, you don’t really need to read any further. But I do have some other observations based upon my own, limited experience.

Over-thinking, or Thinking at All

If you stop to think about writing and think about if you feel like writing, you’ll never write. When you’re feeling depressed about your writing not going anywhere, or feel all your good ideas have somehow morphed into useless dross, then of course you’re not going to feel like writing. Nonetheless, you’re a big girl, or boy, now. You’ve got a job to do, so just do it.

Don’t stop to get in touch with your feelings (gag). The last thing you want to do right now is to get in touch with your feelings. Because right now, you’re feelings probably consist of one or more of the following:

* My writing sucks. Why am I torturing myself this way? I should quit now.
* I’ll never be published. Why do I keep trying? I should quit now.
* This manuscript stinks-on-ice. Why continue with this worthless piece of stinky shine-ola? I should quit now.
* I’ve gotta be crazy to think I’m a writer. Who am I kidding? I should quit now.
* I have no idea what I’m doing. What am I doing? I should quit now.

You’ll notice all of these end with: I should quit now.

Not.

Honey, every blessed one of us is convinced her life is one big desperate charade consisting of: trying to make people think she knows what she is doing (she doesn’t); that she is wildly successful (maybe she is, maybe she isn’t, maybe she’s going to fail at any minute if she can’t keep those plates spinning on top their poles); and that people of the opposite sex find her hugely attractive.

Let’s face it, we all feel that way. If we don’t, then we’re probably psychotic sociopaths. Those are the only people I know who are so filled with self-confidence that they think they’re smarter than everyone else and will never get caught. (Not that I have any personal knowledge about that.)

What is the solution? Stop fretting over your feelings. Stop pausing to evaluate how you feel about writing. Just write. That’s all, just write.

The more you write, the better you will feel about your writing, because your writing will get better. It can’t help getting better because it’s an art. Like any other art, the more you practice, the better your performance.

Stuck or Stalled

Sometimes you go on a vacation or take a break of some kind or reach a point in your manuscript where you sort of forget what you were going to do. Unfortunately, the longer you remain in this state, the more stuck you become. You’ve walked right into the quicksand. You’re sinking. Unless you grab a nearby branch and pull yourself out, you’re going to go down.

This happens to me for the reasons I mentioned above: I take a break and forget what I was doing. Or, I’ve hit page 150. You see, around page 150, my characters have taken on a life of their own and now control things. My plot, sketchy at the best of times, now no longer bears any resemblance to anything these people want to do.

At this point, I need to sit down and sketch out what I now think could happen. I need to review what those characters have done. After I renew my acquaintance with my characters, I have to get their take on where they think things are going to go. In other words, I re-plot it or I review my characters to make sure I still understand them.

Lest you think this takes a long time, I rarely spend more than an hour or two re-plotting. I just want to get a few more scenes and twists in my brain to carry me through the next 150 pages or so, bringing me to 300. At around page 300, I need to develop the final chapters, which are admittedly the hardest for me. (Others say the endings are easy, but I find the end to be absolute torture to write). So when I hit 300, unless I’m on a roll, I sit down again for another hour or two and plot out the rest.

Lately, I’ve taken to writing the last chapter or two after I’ve written the first 150 pages because it eases my “end-of-the-book” dread.

Now, when I say “plot” I’m being very loose with that term. My plotting consists of writing three brief sentences, summarizing what I want to get done in a chapter. Each sentence equates to a scene. This is my formula. You will need to work out what feels natural for you.

Stubborn characters

Kill them off. The death of a stubborn character will often have a jarring effect upon the remaining characters and make them cooperate with you. The prospect of an early and grisly death will frequently make difficult characters very helpful and perhaps bring them groveling to your feet. If the characters continue to resist, you can let lose a serial killer. There’s nothing like a few timely murders to improve the tension in a manuscript and get the action back on track.

Seriously, maybe that’s why I write stories that contain a mystery element. I find that a dead body will absolutely make the middle of the book come alive.

For everyone else, do the twist. You have to bring in some unexpected event that feels inevitable once it happens, but completely surprises the reader. This is not easy, but is has to be done. Just escalating the same old action, for example expanding the murders to threaten the whole village instead of one family, is not a twist and will not escalate the tension.

For those who don’t like murders or mysteries, sit down and have a serious discussion with your characters. This might help you come up with that inevitable, but surprising, twist.

But if you have plenty of twists and your characters just won’t cooperate, perhaps you just don’t understand them any longer. They’ve developed (unexpectedly) into real people. This is a good thing, but it may be a problem for many writer, who no longer has control over the story.

Conversely, characters who have not “come alive” can be even more problematic. The hero and heroine may be flat cutouts from a glamour magazine without any real personality or motivation. This issue will develop into a lack of interest for both the writer and the reader.

If you have this issue, go back through and create a grid of what your characters want, what their goals are, why they are in trouble now, and what they think they’re going to do next. This puts you into their heads and should help you bring the plot back in line with your characters’ conflicts. Ultimately, it may give you the impetus to write again.

Above all else, it is the characters and emotion that will sell the manuscript and drive the plot. You must make sure the characters’ emotions are real.

Finally

To cure writer’s block, you need to write. You also need to read and watch entertainments such as television or movies, because those may also spark the creative spirit. The old, “Heck, I can do better than that” scenario. You want that. You need that.

You need to get back to work and write.

Amy Corwin,

Author of:

Christmas Mishaps, coming Dec 3 from Cerridwen Press

“ What can go wrong, will go wrong--especially with love.”


Outrageous Behavior, coming soon from The Wild Rose Press


“ When love ignores the bait, Outrageous Behavior may just hook the right man!”


I Bid One American, from The Wild Rose Press


“ An American heiress no one wants; a duke every woman desires; and a murder no one expects…” Rated Outstanding by Long and Short Reviews…


Smuggled Rose, from Cerridwen Press
4-star rating from The Romantic Times!


web site: http://www.amycorwin.com

3 comments:

MomJane said...

What a great write. I enjoyed reading every bit of it. I look forward to reading some of your stories.

keri mikulski :) said...

Great tips.. I'm the queen of stalling. Thanks.. Okay, now I'll get back to work. :)

Brandy said...

I wish I were a writer! You've given such good tips.