A week ago, I compared my showdown with “writer’s block” with Gary Cooper (aka Will Kane) facing down the bad guys in the movie “High Noon”. Just as he looked throughout the town for help in his battle with the “black hats”, so I also tried to find a way to reclaim my lost muse. I read various articles I had saved on the subject. I tried a number of suggestions. I went shopping, I drank hot chocolate, I ran through a dozen writing exercises, I cleaned house, I did laundry. However, it was all seemingly to no avail.
Now, I need to clarify a point here regarding my particular case of writer’s block. The blank mind facing a blank computer screen was very selective. The characters standing around waiting for me to give them direction rather than going about their story with me following behind as scribe were a select group. This specific bout of writer’s block affected only my novels in progress.
During the weeks that I wrestled with this, I had no problem in coming up with inspiration and words for this blog. I drafted several new short stories. I edited and revised others to a point of completion where I was willing to submit them to contests and/or editors for publication. I’ve even gotten a rejection back already on one story submitted for publication. Ah well, it will go back out this week to a different market! 😉
So my muse hasn’t completely deserted me. She simply refused to sprinkle her magic dust and provide inspiration for my novel-length work.
My primary novel in progress is a contemporary romance. Not a “bodice-ripper”, panting passion, Harlequin-type of romance. It is rather a quiet consideration of how two people find each other and come together. No one will need to take a cold shower to get to the end of the story. I’ve got something in excess of twenty thousand words of beginning for this story and maybe five thousand salvageable words in ending the story. But I’ve been quite stuck developing the middle of the story.
A second novel in progress is an attempt in the private detective mystery genre – something of a cross between a hard-boiled, Mike Hammer type and Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells”. Here I’ve got some ten thousand words or so opening the story and starting to introduce the main character. I haven’t worked much on an ending here as it seems this might have series potential and, as such, it would end very differently than a stand-alone work like my romance.
And for the past some months, I have been absolutely stuck in trying to advance either story.
In terms of writing style, from day one I have been strictly “seat of the pants”. A bit of inspiration will strike a chord with me – usually a character – and I will sit down and start typing. I generally have only a vague idea of where the story is going and how it is going to end. I just follow along behind the characters and take notes. From the moment of “inspiration” to sitting in front of the computer, the character will have spent sufficient time in my head that I will pretty well understand who the character is and how the character will act and react in given circumstances. And that particular approach to writing had seemed to be working for me. And then came the moment of blank mind in front of blank screen.
Through various classes, writers’ conferences, books, and articles, I have been thoroughly exposed to the concept of outlining a story before sitting down to actually write said story. I had mostly dismissed this information. After all, several of my favorite authors have loudly proclaimed that they never used outlines and, since they were the impetus for my trying to write in the first place, I would attempt to follow in their footsteps. Besides, my characters know where they are going and trying to outline a novel before writing it would stifle my creativity, wouldn’t it?
As I said above, the more frustrated I became with my inability to advance my novels, the more desperate the measures I became willing to take to break through the block. I even went so far as to pull down a book I hadn’t looked at in several years. I originally purchased the book when I thought I might take a crack at NaNoWriMo a few years back. I didn’t follow up on the novel writing challenge at that time, and after reading the book, I put it on the shelf having decided there was nothing in the book for me. The author of the book laid out an outlining process so detailed that the completed outline could reasonably be considered a first draft of a complete novel. Definitely not for me!
But desperation will drive us to extraordinary lengths. I pulled the book out a couple of weeks ago and took another look at it. This time, I tried very hard to keep an open mind and see if I could find something to help me get past that frustrating blank screen. I worried less about losing my “creativity” and more about how to get through to the end of the story I wanted to tell.
In re-reading the book, I didn’t consider it a step-by-step “how-to” manual, though the book certainly will lend itself to that approach. Rather, I looked at some of the techniques, considered some of the templates provided, tested some of processes laid out in the book.
The jury is still out as to whether or not I have completely resolved my block problems. However, it looks very promising. It appears that in opening my mind to at least considering some admittedly fuzzy form of outlining, I also opened my mind to ways around the blank screen I have been staring at when it came to novel writing. I tried the “brain-storming” techniques suggested in the book. I have made some “scene notes”. I have worked on the “Story Evolution” worksheet and begun building some “Formatted Outline Capsules”. And the upshot of all this is that the romance novel is underway again. Moreover, I am eagerly looking forward to applying some of these techniques and others presented in the book to my detective novel.
This post is not intended to be a book review, by any stretch of the imagination. However, if you find yourself in a similar situation and unable to move forward, I might suggest you find this very interesting, and very helpful to me, little book. The title of the book is “First Draft in 30 Days” by Karen S. Wiesner. I encountered the book at the Writers’ Digest Shop some years back. When I checked on it today, it was still available there, both in hard copy and as an e-book. I also found it available on Amazon.
It is my impression the book is geared more to writing novels that lean toward action – mystery, thriller, or any story wherein the movement of characters through a series of actions is more important than a story like my romance novel wherein the internal, personal development of the characters is the crux of the story. Ms. Wiesner’s own works cover a wide range of genres as mystery/police procedurals, suspense, paranormal, thriller, and action/adventure, and some romance titles. She also writes children’s books and poetry.
From my second go-round with her book, I have little doubt that one could follow the program she lays out in the book, and in so doing, arrive at an outline so detailed that it could indeed be considered a first draft of a novel. I haven’t (yet!) attempted to do so, therefore, I cannot report on whether one could build that outline/first draft in thirty days. I will say that I have moved her book from the bookshelf across the room and it is now one of the several books in the hutch of my desk where it is available for review without my even having to leave my chair and keyboard. Once I have gotten quite a bit further down the road on my primary work in progress, I will be trying out more of the techniques she lays out in the book.
I can say from my reading, and sampling her techniques to date, that the program has some strong virtues. The book contains an amazing number of templates for use with the program, several of which I am now using. The text lays out clearly how these templates can be used and provides filled-in examples of all of them, using popular literary works that are likely to be familiar to most readers who might be interested in using these techniques and templates. Tom Clancy, Stephen King, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Phillip K. Dick are just a few of the authors from whose work extracts have been lifted to demonstrate how the templates might be used.
If outlining a novel is your thing, you might find this book very useful. If, like me, you know that outlining is something you would never consider, you might find some very good ideas in this little book. And, once again, this “old dog” is learning some new tricks!
At this point, I don’t know which I am anymore. My short works are still very much “seat of the pants”, but I’m learning some new things. One of these days I just may be one of those who outlines a novel before setting down to write it.
And what about you, Gentle Reader? Do you outline? A little bit? A lot? Or are you as I was, a “seat of the pantser”?