by aprilswanson

Steady Now

OKAY. I was wrong. About being blocked. I don’t have a shortage of ideas; I have a shortage of good ideas.

http://www.poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/an-idea/

I realised this after reading an interview with Philip Roth (well, half an interview, because I’m too cheap to subscribe), and a bunch of other quotes about writer’s block. Ideas take time. Ideas sputter and fail. You can spin your wheels for months. This is all part of the process. 

I’ve been trying to write my way out, going through idea after idea after idea, which seems to be recommended practice. And after my two-week holiday, I’ll get back to the keyboard, hacking away until something catches. 

I’ve decided to believe that all this toil is a good sign. It shows that my standards are rising, that I’m not willing to settle for a mediocre idea. I mean, this might be a load of rubbish, but it’s what I’m choosing to believe. So there 🙂

Obviously, I have a new idea! It popped up late Tuesday night, and I spent all yesterday mulling it over, scribbling in my notebook. I know I’m on a writing holiday, but I honestly couldn’t help myself! The urge to start Chapter One is strong, but I’m going to resist until Monday. I need this break. My plan for the next few days is to keep reading, keep mulling, and with any luck, this latest idea will still be calling to me come Monday morning. If not, then…I’ll keep plugging away regardless. 

Wait For It

Well, I took a week off from everything (and binged on the Olympics). I read The Earthsea Quartet, Beauty, The Last Unicorn, and The Darkest Part of the Forest.  And at the back of my head I thought I could feel a flicker of excitement, not for Beauty and the Beast, but for an older project of mine – The Forest King. I started that book in Spring 2017, had a few false starts, and eventually got to 30k before abandoning. Despite that, I’ve always thought it was a book I’d eventually dust down and rewrite, and I thought its time was now. 

I listened to its playlist; I pictured scenes in my head; I brainstormed (without writing anything down); I even reread the old manuscript (which is nothing more than a rough, scrappy draft – not even a first draft because it’s so incomplete). 

I thought I was ready. 

But then… I don’t know what happened. The flame died. I knew the story I’d written wasn’t right. Trouble was, I couldn’t find the right one. And then I realised I was back to my bad habit of searching hard for the spark of a story, chasing down the Muse. And I realised The Forest King would have to keep waiting.

So, battling the disappointment (and panic), my mind automatically returned to Beauty and the Beast, playing around with the characters, sitting them around tables, chatting, and occasionally making them do interesting things. BUT the story isn’t there either. And I’m worried I haven’t settled on the right tone yet. I’m also worried about starting a series – my attention span is limited – and B&B was always intended as the first in a series of related fairy tale retellings. 

UGH. That sums me up right now. Cos now the Olympics are over and my holiday is over and I’m left with the dark wall of writer’s block and the challenge of filling up my day. Yes, I have a list of things to be getting on with, but I’m finding it soooooo difficult to block out the voice in my head that says you know you really should be writing a book by now

I’ve never, ever, had such a shortage of ideas. My brain used to be filled with them, and now it’s dry and dusty. For a creator, that is…terrifying. 

TL:DR – I am very scared. Please send wine and inspiration.

The Spark

Okay okay okay – there’s a twitch. A wee twitch. I think I do have the right characters, the right world… It’s the right story I need to find. 

The past couple of days I’ve glimpsed glimmers of theme, scenes, a story half-formed. I’ve accepted this project isn’t going to be like any other. I’ve accepted that I can’t scare the Muse. Even though I can sense the spark of inspiration, I’m refusing to write. It’s like approaching a frightened doe – if I move too quick the bugger will run off. I had to stop myself today from sketching too many ideas. I have to let it simmer away in my brain, like sushi rice. If you lift the lid too soon on your sushi rice, you get rubbish sushi rice. I love sushi rice. And I love not having writer’s block. It is very important I treat myself like rice. 

(I’m having sushi for tea tonight.)

Um, yeah. So maybe the fog is lifting. Maybe not. Maybe there’s still a story in me about beasts and beautiful things. Or maybe not.

The Void

Everyone warns you that being a writer is lonely, but nothing can fully prepare you. It’s tough to switch from being with people all day (even people you’d quite like to punch in the face) to just you and your thoughts. The loneliness isn’t so bad when I’m working hard on a project, but right now, with my lack of ideas, the isolation is hurting more than usual. 

It’s rubbish. And I’m not sure there’s a proper solution. I know that working in coffee shops can help a bit, and so can staying busy in the evenings and weekends. I know that exercise can help, as can arranging meet-ups with friends. I’ve done all these things – many times. But nothing changes the fact that most days, for most of the time, I’m on my own. 

It’s the curse of being a writer. 

On a slightly more positive note, I finished my ‘strange photo’ short story, and did a few character studies. I now want to work on a 2000 word freestyle story – about what, I have no idea. (I also want to learn to ski, thanks to my Winter Olympics binge, but know it will never happen because it is a) cold, b) scary, c) expensive, d) full of douche-bags.)

Filling the Void

I woke up this morning and wondered how to keep myself busy today. How can I write when I don’t have a book? How do I force myself to rest, to take a much-needed break from novels? How do I stop working towards the thing that needs to be done?

So I remembered Chuck Wendig has prompts on his site. His latest was ‘strange photos’, which led me to this:

And then, because I needed ideas to ferment in my head, I kept reading more articles and generally mucking around on the internet, and this post struck a chord, and it led to some more interesting facts. And then I had to look up a new word, and I added it to my vocab list and realised I’d forgotten a few other words already (I keep a note in my diary of all the words I have to look up), and then I thought, hey, why don’t I write a couple of sentences using these words to help me remember their meaning? And before I knew it, the day had filled itself.

Right now, I feel like I’m free to follow the rabbit down the hole, to just chill and have some fun with my writing. I pray to the gods this feeling continues.

(I bought the book about glowing elephants.)

Laugh or Cry

LOL. 

No really, I have to laugh. What did I just say, about this version of B&B feeling good? Yup. Good feelings gone. 

This has happened so many times now that I know something’s up. This goes beyond story. There’s something broken in me. (Oh goody.) I’ve got theories.

Possibility Uno: I have nothing to say about Beauty and the Beast. The Night Mage is kinda B&B-esque, and I did complete a novella in the summer that summed up a lot of what I have to say about beauty. I didn’t decide to write B&B because I had a fantastic idea; I decided to write it because I thought it would be commercially viable. (GREAT IDEA NOT.) So, maybe I’m out? 

Possibility Dos: I’ve been chasing the Muse like a rabid hunter for the last couple of years. I’ve been so desperate to write books quickly, I’ve been chasing any half-assed idea until the point of collapse. My fav books, including The Night Mage, all arrived in my head semi-formed when I wasn’t looking for them. It’s like my attention has to be elsewhere for a story (or usually, a couple of characters) to have the courage to poke its wee head out. 

(To be honest, I think my first and second theories are both true, therefore combining to form one MEGA TRUTH, and therefore there’s no need for a third option. I know what’s wrong. In ma bones, I know it.)

A Plan of Action

I can’t sit around and mope, nor can I take a break from writing (I’ve tried – it’s impossible), nor can I continue down this Path of Madness. So I’ve come up with a plan. This is my plan. *drumroll*

  • To treat myself like an Olympic athlete*, where I train and train and train in preparation for the big event. Except the big event is an idea for a book, and unlike the Olympics the timing is unknown, so really I’m more like a firefighter than an Olympian, but I’m sticking with my original analogy. 
  • Training is broken down into two components: creativity and craft. Creativity training involves a lot of fast, free-flowing writing. Nae rules, no editing – just words. Craft, on the other hand, is more like deliberate practice, where I write with intention, edit with precision, and study grammar, story, and writers I admire. 
  • When an idea comes, I trust my gut. If I think it’s got legs, then I go for it. If the legs fall off, then…you win some, lose some. I hope I can still tell when an idea is worth pursuing, and when it has run out of steam. I hope I haven’t broken myself beyond repair. 

So, that’s my plan. I need a way of continuing to work every day without hounding down any whiff of a novel like some foaming, manic mutt. 

No mutts. That is my new motto.

 

 

*I’m watching the Winter Olympics right now. Those figure skaters…damn.

Beauty and the Beast: A History of Bloody Drafts

I’m currently writing a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. When I’m feeling positive, I say that this book has taught me so much because failure is the best teacher. Most of the time I think this book is going to kill me.

An explanation: I started in June 2017 and originally planned to release a trilogy of retellings over the course of summer (LOL). Anyhoo, I spewed out a 30k novella for Beauty and the Beast. My critique partner, a kind lady, said it wasn’t a load of guff, but it was. Oh, it was. Shortly after finishing the novella, I finally snapped and accepted that no, I couldn’t write a book every month. (Kudos to those who can.)

Long story short, I spent August and September mapping out a seven-book series of retellings, digging down into a huge level of detail, writing about 15000 words…then quitting.

October, I barely wrote a thing.

November, I started again. Beauty and the Beast, take three. Ten thousand words in, and it became Beauty and the Beast take four. Fast-forward to February 2018 and I was on, ooo, my ninth, tenth? version of Beauty and the Beast, and had a folder of 80,000 scrapped words in my Scrivener file.

In early February I had another idea, involving a new(ish) world filled with characters that were partial reincarnations from the previous unfinished stories. I’m now two weeks in, and the story has changed three times already, but…the world and characters feel real to me this time. Like, when I’m not in front of my keyboard, I still see and hear them. I’ve decided this is a Good Sign.

And yet…it’s hard to believe I’ll ever get this draft down. Maybe I’m cursed. Or maybe perfectionism has throttled me. Pfft, who knows. But I’m gonna keep trying, because I can’t allow myself to take a break. I will finish this bloody book, and it will be awesome.

Current WIP: 11304