I sometimes get stuck while writing a story or a novel, and it feels like writer’s block. But what’s really happening is that I’ve moved the story in the wrong direction, and some part of my brain is aware of this.
It’s spooky to admit that the conscious portion of our brain isn’t aware of what’s happening elsewhere in our noggins, but some really freaky experiments back this up. This is why, when the writing is going well, it feels more like reading or discovery than it does writing or creation. It feels as though the story could go no other way than the way we’re writing it. Like it existed before us.
When we get stuck, one way to “find” the right path for the story is to try a few paths. And if they don’t feel right, try something else. Set the last few chapters aside (paste them into a blank document). Resume writing from the last place you felt engaged with the story.Try something else this time.
Ever had the feeling you were forgetting something as you left the house? You walk around, wracking your brain, trying to figure out what it is. Exhausting every option, you decide your intuition is wrong. It isn’t until you’re half an hour away from the house that the missing thing percolates up to the conscious level. This is writing.You know what happens next. The challenge is remembering.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: Your work may be terrible at first. The early drafts of a painting, or a story, aren’t supposed to be great. That’s why we call them underpainting and drafts. Just get something on the canvas or the page. In painting, you make careful outlines and sketches about what you’re going to paint. You start painting. All is going well. But eventually you hit the ugly stage. The paintings is beyond hideous. In order to continue, you must block out the aberration in front of you, imagine the final result, and trudge on. Or you must make changes and head down another path.
We must learn to survive the ugly stage without destroying the painting (or faith in our own ability to paint). Don’t be too hard on yourself at this point. Almost every creative endeavor goes through an ugly stage. The magic hasn’t happened–yet. And sometimes it never does, as with my doomed bison calf. When you reach that point, take Hugh Howey’s advice and move in a different direction.
Enough animal fur for me! I’ve switched to flowers for a few days until I feel more confident.
For writing, a chapter in my new book Dialogue for Writers discusses how dialogue can jump start your work when you hit the proverbial brick wall.
Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.
She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.
A new review of Dialogue for Writers
This book delivers. If you are a writer, you’ll find a wealth of information and insight that will allow you to assess your style and discover practical ways to make good writing better.
Even popular published authors can benefit from this book. For instance, I am a Stephenie Meyer fan. She is a master of her genre, but if she had read Sammie Justesen’s book, Edward would not have”snickered” and “chuckled” so much that these particular dialogue tags became annoying and distracting. Sammie Justesen’s book offers great advice from a number of perspectives including the all-important publisher’s perspective. I have no hesitation in rating it a five-star book.