Can't We Just Make This Shit Up?

Stop me if you've heard this before.

So I'm slaving away on LOSS, which is due May 15 (twomonthsaway!!!!!!!), and I'm thinking that it's going well. Except this obnoxious little voice in the back of my head is telling me that no, it's really not. This isn't the Voice Of Evil Intent, the one that claws at my confidence and whispers that maybe all my writing sucks. Let's face it, the Voice of Evil Intent is just a bully, trying to get me to doubt myself. Screw that schoolyard shit; I can do a LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU nice and loud. No, I'm talking about a much more upsetting voice. I mean the Voice of Something's Wrong.

Now, there are some writers who claim never to suffer from writer's block. I say they're either liars or damned lucky, and I don't believe in that much luck. I do believe, however, that every writer experiences writer's block differently. For me, writer's block happens when I've taken the story in the wrong direction. The back part of my brain realizes it, even when the front of my brain is happily zooming in First Draft Land, breathing toxic road fumes and getting Writer's High. (Sort of like Runner's High, but with significantly less running.) Once the backbrain groks what's happening, it slams on the brakes. Boom: writer's block. Then my forebrain goes through withdrawal (usually in the company of the Voice of Evil Intent), and finally, I pull it together and reread the manuscript to figure out where things went wrong. Sometimes it's easy. Other times, it's worse than getting all my teeth drilled, sans Novocain. But worst of all is the part **before** writer's block sets in. You know what I'm talking about. The hesitation when writing. The itchy feeling at the base of the neck. The tendency to frown as you type. That nagging suspicion that even though the words are great, the story isn't headed in the right direction.

That's the Voice of Something's Wrong. And my God, it's a nightmare to deal with. Because sometimes, it could be the Voice of Evil Intent just fucking with you. But usually, it's not. And when the Voice of Something's Wrong starts whispering, you ignore it at your own peril.

I tried ignoring it. This resulted in me getting all these New Ideas about what should happen with the story I was writing. And that resulted in me having 20 versions of the draft.

Twenty. Fucking. Versions.

Now, it's not as if I've written the whole thing twenty times; God, no. As the Joker would say, I may be insane, but I'm not crazy. Every time I made a change, major or minor, I did a SAVE AS and updated the number. I'm currently on version 20. I dallied with version 21, but I quickly realized that it was wrong, wrong, wrong, so I'm not counting that. Version 20 seems to be the right version, though; after deleting 6,000+ words and ripping out the entire second section, I've now moved past that initial wordcount and have not looked back. So...cautious rah.

In retrospect, the first (and biggest) warning sign that the Voice of Something's Wrong was getting ready to whisper was all the stupid research I found myself doing. Not just immediate research, for what was supposed to take place in one particular point in time (fudged a little for the story, because we novelists have that power!) -- but **other** research, stuff that I found truly fascinating that **sort of tied in, just not in the current form**. When you're researching diseases of 6th century Athens and you're supposed to be focused on 14th century England, well, something's wrong.

Of course, if we could just make this shit up, then there would be no need to do any research, and we wouldn't get pulled out of the current draft so easily. But let's face it: we have to do basic research to make the fantastical stuff we write more believable. The best lies are based in truth, and the best fiction has a foundation of facts. (True facts -- or, in a pinch, truish facts.) Thank God for Google. Man, life before the Internet -- was there ever such a time?

So, my advice to writers: If you find yourself getting sidetracked with fascinating research that doesn't really connect to your story in its current form, but something about it feels right, you may want to take a long, hard look at your story to make sure it's going down the right path.

Now if you excuse me, I have to go do more research. (But for the 20th version! I swear!)

Writers out there: Do you ever get writer's block? How do you get past it? (Acceptable answers include "Eat lots of chocolate" and "Watch Doctor Who.")


Megan Haskell said…
I'm going through revisions right now, but those revisions have meant significant rewrites and changes to the basic plot. Sigh...

But I've found as I've been doing the rewrites, that I sometimes get stuck where I didn't necessarily in the first draft. I'll be writing happily along, and then I'll get it a certain point and everything just...stops. Full brake, no warning, crash into a brick wall. I take it as a sign that there's something wrong, but I usually don't know precisely what it is, or how I'm going to handle it.

My solution? Sleep on it. Sometimes you really do just need a break. And while I'm sleeping (or doing other things, like laundry) my back-brain is working over time, figuring it out for me. Then when I sit down the next day, I'm able to tear apart the wrongness and keep moving.
K.A. Stewart said…
This is exactly what happens to me. When I hit a block, I can rest assured that somewhere, some way, I've screwed it up. The trick is figuring out where and how much spackle it's gonna need to cover it up.
B.E. Sanderson said…
If I so much as think I might be getting writers' block, I can't write, so I avoid even thinking about it. Usually I don't even read blog posts about it for fear it will get me. Lalalalala... I can't hear you. (See you? Read you? doesn't have quite the same ring.) I get past it by ignoring it and refusing to admit that it exists. I call it 'the squirms' or tell myself I'm having a problem with my creativity, or even tell myself I don't really feel like writing right now. But it isn't writers' block. It's never writers' block.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go hide in the closet until this feeling goes away. ;o)
A. J. Larrieu said…
Finally, names for the voices. The Voice of Evil Intent. That bastard. Good luck with draft 20!

Popular posts from this blog

Rangers Lead The Way