Sunday 26 January 2014

How do you get past writer's block?

Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Sometimes writing, editing and rewriting (let's call them all 'writing') can become a drag. Confidence can be knocked by rejection or by showing work to the wrong person when it isn’t ready. Sometimes life gets in the way, meaning there's less time or a reduced ability to focus. In the run up to Christmas last year, I stopped writing.

In September 2013, an agent requested my full manuscript, and the comments they made on my first three chapters were the most complimentary I’ve received. Bowled over, I was swept into an adrenalin-fuelled edit. A few chapters in, I received a rejection from an independent publisher and the adrenalin-fuelled edit became a rejection-induced plod. I plodded on until a writing course in November (described in post: Do writers need friends who write?). Shortly after that, I stopped writing for a few days. The few days became a week and so on, my irritation accumulating each day because I wasn’t writing.

On top of this, pre-Christmas nights out and present-buying etc ate time and made it difficult to prioritise writing. So I decided to stop beating myself up, to take a break until after Christmas, and To just be (the subject of my previous post).

On 2nd January, I opened my manuscript and came up with a plan.
1. Rewrite Act Three, which needed more ooomph.
2. I asked myself: How can I make it seem as though I’m achieving something every day?

I split my manuscript into two parts, saving two documents in Word:
The Grandson done and The Grandson to do.

Each day I work on The Grandson to do file and when I complete a chapter, I cut and paste it into The Grandson done. This works well as I can see word count and number of pages moving daily. The Grandson to do is now down to forty pages. I’m working fairly slowly because Act Three has become a case of rewriting rather than editing.
So I have forty pages to rewrite and three scenes to write from scratch. I’ve given myself a deadline of 9th February (and now I've told you, I'll have to stick to it!). Then I’ll put the manuscript away for
two weeks before doing a final edit.

Stephen King says in ‘On Writing’:
‘I had come to a place where the straight way was lost. I wasn’t the first writer to discover this awful place, and I’m a long way from being the last; this is the land of writer’s block.’

Later he says:
‘So instead of moving to another project, I started taking long walks……I took a book or magazine on these walks but rarely opened it, no matter how bored I felt looking at the same old chattering, ill-natured jays and squirrels. Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam. I spent these walks being bored and thinking about my gigantic boondoggle of a manuscript.’

And then:

‘For weeks I got exactly nowhere in my thinking…..and then one day when I was thinking of nothing much at all, the answer came to me. It arrived whole and gift-wrapped, you could say – in a single bright flash.’
Isn't boondoggle a brilliant word? says boondoggle means 'an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity'.

In ‘How to Write a Novel’, 47 rules for writing a stupendously awesome novel that you will love forever, Nathan Bransford starts Rule #34 with:
‘The most important thing you need to know about writer’s block is this: it doesn’t exist.’

He goes on to say:
‘But when people encounter the phenomenon otherwise known as “writer’s block,” what they are really describing is one thing and one thing only: writing stopped being fun.’

Later he says:

‘The first step to getting unstuck is understanding the problem you need to solve. Once you’ve identified the main issue, the solution is just around the corner.’

He suggests going outside to ‘get fresh air and sunshine’, exercise and staring at a blank screen. I read Nathan Bransford's 'How to Write a Novel' over Christmas and I think it's well worth a read.

So I have a deadline. After that, then what?
I’m lucky to be on the Romantic Novelists’Association New Writers’ Scheme again this year. When I’ve completed the rewrite of Book 1, I’ll be returning to Book 2, The Painting so I can send in a manuscript by the end of August.

Wishing you a very happy 2014 and best of luck with your writing! I usually post an uplifting seaside photo at this time of year, so here you go: