Please do a quick re-read of the previous entry, “Failure Spawns Discipline”. Ill-discipline was the problem with my first novel. The manuscript would go untouched for weeks, even months, from my own neglect. I thought I could go in and out of the process and still accomplish the project. Yes, I was wrong, so go ahead and laugh. Detritus and refuse congealed in the vehicle’s avenues, the lubricant ran out of the joints and the bearings, and I allowed my focus on the driving and the direction to be splintered by a dozen or 100 other “duties.” It took me a long time to understand why completing this never seemed to enter my reality. If this went on, was the journey from here to there ever going to be completed? Well, it’s a self-answered question: If I didn’t work, nothing got done. Especially with writing. In the end, it got completed, after a fashion, but it’s ragtag and unsatisfying.
In more concrete and specific terms, if you don’t pick up the story and characters every day and ask, “Okay, what’s happening today, fellows?”, then listen to their answers and write them down, nothing gets done AND your creative brain loses touch, wanders out—or gets jerked out—of the groove of that story and those people. They stop occupying your life, and fade away. Getting them back to life, back into your vision, and back to work as dynamic factors in moving that novel down the road is a big struggle. In addition, the more times you let it happen, the worst your chances of ever “getting it done.” You can only bring back a neglected, dehydrated tomato plant so many times before the fruit dries up and falls off.
The lessons I’ve tried to learn and bring to my writing pop into my head at all kinds of angles and opportunities. This one just did. It’s from Robert McKee’s “craft-book” Story, written for screenwriters, but a true beauty for creative fiction writers. He talks about the purpose of a scene. At the end of each scene, the audience must be better informed and more motivated to carry on reading (or watching)—otherwise that scene is a waste of time and space. So, when I’ve been “unavoidably detained” from my writing, and I have now returned to it, one way to re-start my writing “flow” is to ask myself, “How am I going to advance the story or reveal its character(s) to the reader in this scene/chapter?” I can say I’ve pulled myself out a few holes doing this.
It’s all very well to say to myself, “Okay, get busy! Write!”, but on that day, at that moment, if “writer’s block” is in my way, how do I start? I set myself a concrete task. I go back into the work far enough to say, “Okay, coming up to this point, I have (I hope!) advanced the story in the reader’s vision. But from here on I haven’t given the reader anything new or concrete to absorb.” Then I ask, “Where do I see the story (or plot) going from here?”, or “Where can Mr./Ms. X take this (or their) story from here?” Then I pick up the pen and do that bit. That usually gets me going again.
BTW, another bit I read (McKee?) said that, in fiction, “writer’s block” is fiction. If you are in it, it’s because you haven’t done enough research. For me, that’s true, and I laugh now at the earlier me who thought that writing was just comprised of having the time (no, making the time) and picking up pen and paper. It’s not. Writing is somewhere between Vonnegut’s psychic crucifixion and his creation of Tralfamadore.