Archive for October 7th, 2011

Nanowrimo and Writers’ Block #5

I’d like to start by saying this article may come across to some as anti-Nanowrimo.  It is not.  I am a very firm believer in the event as a spur for creativity and it can get a writer over the hump of what I’ve previously called “micro-editing.”  That said, let’s look into the issues that someone doing Nanowrimo might hit, especially Writers’ Block #5.

What’s #5?  It’s okay if you haven’t heard of numbering types of writers’ block, I hadn’t until today either.  I’m getting the term from an io9 article written by Charlie Jane Anders.  The whole thing is fantastic, worth a read, and peppered with awesome retro pulp covers.  I could probably expand on my own experiences with all 10, but I’d like to just focus on #5:

5. You have a terrible feeling your story took a wrong turn a hundred pages back, and you only just hit a dead end.

That, in a nutshell, is a problem I myself have had several times doing Nanowrimo, and I suspect I’m far from the only one.  It’s a roadblock that largely emerges out of extemporaneous writing, going into a novel without an outline, or perhaps without even a goal in mind.  It happens when your brain shoves a plot point into the novel that feels awesome at the moment, but sets off a string of follow-up events that derail the story.  It doesn’t even have to be a novel.  I’ve had this hit before in a short story and found the need to backtrack a few hundred, or even as many as two thousand words in a short piece to get back to the moment where everything went so horribly wrong.

But in novels?  Oh, it hurts so much in novels.  I know, it’s where I am right now with Capsule.  The moment in question was the moment that the story shifted from being a murder plot into a kidnapping plot, and is the entire crux behind the realization that the one novel is, in fact, two.

Why does it hurt more?  Because it often involves a much bigger fix.  Tracking back the last 20% of a short story usually means deleting triple digit wordcounts.  Tracking back the last 20% of a novel means thousands of words, multiple chapters.  There’s also more likely to be salvageable bits and pieces.  This sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?  To some authors I’m sure it is.  To me, it means I have to more carefully pick out the pieces I want to reuse and save them from the whole sale burnination that I’m launching.

Know what I’ll never say in this blog?  I’ll never say that writing is easy.

And this is one of the ways that writing becomes hard.

But it can also be a moment to glory in.  That first time or two that you hit Writers’ Block #5, it’s going to feel like a brick wall, and it’s going to feel like the entire story has been for naught.  There’s actually a growth moment in being able to say you took a wrong turn 100 pages back.  The first time I got near the end of a story and realized not only that something was going wrong but where it had gone wrong, I was thrilled!  It was a moment that felt like I’d accomplished something, been able to take a step out of a story and seeing it as a whole.  That can be a great moment.

That it precedes a lot of deleting?  Don’t think about that at first.  Enjoy the moment.  Have a drink.  That will also help with the deleting.

How to avoid Writers’ Block #5?  I suspect it’s never entirely avoidable, but it’s less likely when a story is begun with an outline.  Those are tough words for me to write, as for so long I thought I was getting by just fine without outlines, but the more I write, the more I realize that short stories need at least some direction, and novels need full road maps.  They’ll identify those moments where you’re veering off the story as planned.  That’s not to say outlines can’t change, but when they start changing it’s time to work out the implications of that change, and perhaps even redo the outline with the new plot in mind.

So why did I tie this in with Nanowrimo?  Because the rapid nature of the event makes moments of clarity such as “I just went off the road” harder to have.  The event’s push towards completion has frequently left me at a point where I would love to go back and start huge sections over, but the artificial one month, 50,000 word deadline has forced me to move ahead.  I’m sure there are plenty of writers that go into Nano with a very detailed outline, I know for a fact there are many who don’t, so Writers’ Block #5 lies in their path as a very real danger.  Each time has left me either completely stymied, or with a completed manuscript as Writers’ Block #10:

10. You’re revising your work, and you can’t see your way past all those blocks of text you already wrote.

So what’s the lesson?  As shocked as I am to say it, the lesson is outlining.  There’s a small bit of the old David inside of me shouting against that advise, but it’s true.  Just remember, road maps don’t force you to go to a certain destination, or take a certain path, but they will let you know when you’ve gone off your route.

Block photo released into public domain by owner.

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