Combatting Writer’s Block With Revision

I’ve never been a fan of rewriting in the middle of writing, because the process starts to take over my life, I stop writing writing, and I start obsessing over little nitpicky details and mistakes that I made early on.  That being said, one of the things I’ve been using to combat writer’s block and get myself excited about telling the story again (even though that part I’m on right now is really hard for me to write) is going back and reading some of the earlier chapters.  So I’ve been doing a little bit of revising lately while I’ve been struggling with Chapter 21.

Which is good, because some things that I thought were in the story, I had told instead of shown.  There were some little scenes where I knew what happened, but instead of showing the scene, I said ‘this happened’ and left it for the re-write.  Mostly this happened in parts where I didn’t have a handle on a character that was in the scene, or hadn’t quite researched how X or Y should look and I didn’t want to write an inaccurate description.  Having characters inaccurately interpret things is different than having them inaccurately describe them, but that is a topic for another day.

Anyway, my point is this: I think that reading and adding some of those fun little scenes I sort of glossed over has really helped me combat writer’s block.  And maybe most of these scenes are unnecessary fluff and they’re going to go into a deleted scenes file on the re-write, I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is, I’m excited about writing again, and that’s really what my hangup was.

Writer’s Block

I’m experiencing some “writer’s block” lately, and it’s pretty hard.  The problem isn’t that I don’t know what I’m going to write.  The problem is that I don’t really have the drive to just write it.  The only solution is that I need to just sit down at the keyboard.

A lot of stuff is going on in my life that is distracting me.  My dad is having a scary medical issue, we’re re-framing our windows because the sills were rotted out, my boss is retiring so work is a mess, I’m getting a new job, we’re getting a dog.  When I’m stressed out, I never necessarily feel stressed out.  It manifests itself in different ways.  I’m not really sleeping, I’m definitely not eating properly, and I’ve been spending most of my nights on the couch watching Food Network shows on Netflix.  I haven’t even been writing on my lunch breaks because I simply don’t have lunch breaks.  I’ve been going in early, working through lunch, and just happy if I can get home on time.  Because my writing group changed to a time that I have a scheduling conflict, I haven’t even had a writing group to prompt me along for the last two weeks.

I’ve decided that, today, I’m going to write during my lunch break.  I’m going to remove myself from my office so that I can’t answer the phones, emails, or get sucked into a case.  I’m going to take myself to a break room with my tablet and my lunch box and just write.  I don’t need to write well; I do need to start writing again.

Brainstorming Endings

I’m writing this ahead of time in preparation for being on vacation next week.  And while I’m sitting here, I’m trying to decide how I intend to spend my extra writing time that week.  I can only write as fast as the story unfolds in my head, which means I can typically put out about a chapter a week without starting to hate what I’m writing.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you might be asking yourself what I’m going on about.  Because I’ve said elsewhere that I’m writing to an outline.  And I am!  But the thing about the outline is that it’s very general, and my chapters are very specific.  I can’t write a very good chapter if I’m not seeing it unfold in my head the way I see professional authors’ stories unfold when I’m reading them.

I’ve decided that while I’m out of town I’m going to spend some time trying to brainstorm some other endings.  I’ve talked about this with my husband, and he thinks I’m insane.  He’s definitely more of an outline writer than I am, and the thought that I was tooling along without having a specific ending in mind made him do a double-take.

I do have a specific ending in mind.  It’s right there in my outline.  I’m hopefully foreshadowing away.  The ending I initially thought up three months ago when I started writing this novel is a solid ending.  It makes sense given the characters.  It certainly fits in with the themes that are developing in the book.  And the plot is driving itself in that direction quite nicely without a lot of course-correction from me.

But here’s the thing: there’s maybe a better ending out there.  And don’t I owe it to myself, my characters, and my (fingers crossed) future readers to try to find it?  I think I do.  So I intend to go looking for it on my vacation, and I’ll let you know how it goes.  Even if I don’t find a better ending, maybe I’ll come up with some fun ideas to throw in my Folder of Random Ideas Waiting For Stories file.  Any which way I don’t think the time will be wasted.

Writing Groups

I’ve seen a lot of benefit from doing a workshopping-style writing group once weekly.  It forces me to actually think about how to improve my writing, and also forces me to produce over the week so that I have something to bring.

But the internet-based writing group that I do over TeamSpeak seems to be dying.  We started with four writers, which was a good amount for workshopping everyone’s things and getting varied feedback without running for 8 hours, but the group has dropped off to where it’s just me and another guy.  I’ve tried to find something local, but the downside of not living in or near a city is that I don’t have a lot of selection in terms of in-person groups.  There is a group at the local university that looks more like a writers’ support group, when what I’m actually looking for is a workshopping group.  The nearest workshopping group is about 1 hour 20 minutes away, which translates to 3 hours of driving on my writing day.  I just can’t justify that.

I’m thinking about attending the support group once to see what sort of writers are there, and if anyone would be interested in forming a workshopping group at a different time and day.  And by ‘thinking about’ I mean that I’m trying to work myself up to it.  One of the downsides of being an introvert is that going new places gives me a mild form of social anxiety.

In Late, Out Early

After several days without power, internet, or both, I’m back!  I didn’t get as much writing done this time as last time.  I did, however, handwrite a blog entry, which I’ve typed up below:

In late, out early has turned into one of my mantras.  It basically translates into “hew your scenes close to the conflict.”  When I start a scene or a chapter and I find myself frustrated with how it is progressing, or failing to progress, it’s usually because I violated this rule.  It never hurts to step back and ask myself, where is the conflict in this chapter?  Where is it really?  If I discover that the start of the chapter is nowhere near the conflict, it’s time to scrap it and start over.

This doesn’t mean that every chapter revolves around a fight scene.  Sometimes the conflict is character versus environment, or character versus self, or character versus circumstance.  It really depends on how the scene is supposed to be moving the story along.

Just yesterday, I was writing a dialogue scene between the two PoV characters.  It was flowing along marvelously, and it pertained to something I had recently researched so I was interested in where the conversation was going.  But when I pulled up what I’d written today at lunch to continue where I left off, I hated it.  It was an interesting conversations, and the characters were great.  But it was two or three pages of text that didn’t do anything.  There was no conflict or conflict resolution.  All it did was establish that I had researched something and knew what I was talking about.

I had to scrap it.  I never really fully delete anything, but I excised it from the manuscript and put it into my wiki instead.  And then I thought about where the conflict was, and I started the chapter over where I should have started it in the first place.  The dialogue would have led me there eventually, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as clean.  The death of that dialogue hurts in some ways, because it was good and I spent time writing it.  But the story’s better without it.

Writing When and Where I Can

One of the hardest things about working full-time and writing part-time is just finding the time to write.  When I was in college, I used to have to spend between half an hour and an hour reviewing what I’d written so that I could get into the mindset of my characters.  If I didn’t have a chunk of a couple of hours free, I just wouldn’t write.  This isn’t a luxury I have any more.  I rarely have hours-long chunks of time just sitting around.

As I may have mentioned before, another thing I used to do was write in a specific notebook.  There were actually two notebooks, one with the character sketches and one with the story.  I would find myself wanting to write but then I would become frustrated because it’s not very easy to transport two notebooks everywhere.  I wouldn’t have them with me at all times.  So I would find myself writing when I had big chunks of time alone in my dorm room.  Again, not something that happens these days.

Now I have a writing tablet.  It’s a tablet with a keyboard attachment that I use solely for writing.  I’ll pull it out when I’m in the doctor’s office waiting room and write a couple sentences.  I’ll put it out when I’m waiting in my car and write a couple sentences.  I definitely take it to work so that I can write at lunch.

But most importantly, even if I don’t have the tablet with me, I can write things down on whatever scrap of paper I have handy and put it into the tablet later.  I used to think that writing the same scene twice was a waste of time.  But I’ve long since gotten over the idea that every sentence, paragraph, and scene I write has to be perfect the first time.  And when I realized that I can push perfectionism off to the second (or third, or fifth, or tenth) draft, and that there will be second, third, and tenth drafts, I realized that typing up a scene that I’ve already handwritten isn’t a waste of time.  Anything that allows me to convert more of my ‘wasted’ time into writing time is a very useful.

Slogging Through

There comes a time in everything that I’m writing where I hit the middle and I have to make myself keep slogging forward.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a short story or something longer.  It usually hits about 1/3 of the way in.

I’ve tried to analyze what it is.  I’ve heard writers, usually on panels or podcasts, explain that it’s because the newness has worn off and the ending is very far away.  I don’t think that’s my problem.  The middle isn’t a boredom problem for me.  The middle is where the meat of the story happens, and even though I write from an outline, the characters still do things that surprise me.  And it’s not a shiny new thing problem.  Shiny new things crop up, and I either modify the idea and throw it in my outline, or I write it down and save it for later.

My wall usually arrives in the form of self doubt.  I catch myself thinking, what if this actually isn’t as cool as I think it is?  What if I’m wasting my time when I could be writing something better?  What if the ending sucks?  What if I hate it?  So I think my problem is a self-consciousness problem.

I’m not going to lie, there are a couple things that I’ve written that are completely cringeworthy.  I hold on to them in the hopes that, some day, I’ll be reading through my collection of works in progress, lightning will strike, and I’ll have the answer that solves all of the story’s problems.  For some of my things, especially my earliest things, I think they are probably just too bad to be saved.  But I can’t bring myself to throw them out.

Even considering the cringeworthy stories, that’s only some of my writing.  So when the story has stopped dragging me along, and it’s my turn to drag it along, I have to remind myself that the rest of my writing is actually pretty cool and enjoyable to read and why do I even care anyway because I’m writing this for myself.  It usually works.  Besides, if I stopped 1/3 of the way through every time I felt that way, I wouldn’t finish anything.

Punctuation

I’ve decided to make my third post on punctuation.  I must really want to turn off anyone stumbling on this site by accident.

I’m not always perfect at grammar, but it’s definitely something I notice.  When I’m workshopping or alpha reading someone else’s work, improperly used punctuation really jumps out at me.  I’ve heard several other authors who are just getting started say that they just don’t care about grammar.

I don’t understand it.  Maybe it’s because one of the most helpful classes I took as an undergrad was Grammar of Modern English, where we basically just diagrammed sentences for a semester.  Maybe it’s because my day job requires me to write pretty technical stuff, and my boss is a real stickler about grammar, punctuation, and word choice.  Or maybe it’s because I don’t want to look foolish by improperly using dashes, now that I know there are people that are going to judge me if I just randomly pick between en-dashes and em-dashes or some dashing style totally of my own invention.

When I pick up a new book and the first chapter is so full of semicolons that I imagine the author had a bag of the things and just dumped it out on the page?  I have to put the book down.  Even when the semicolons are used properly, it’s such a strong punctuation signal that I start to feel like I’m being punched in the face with “these sentences are really, really related!” over and over again.

And if the punctuation is not used properly?  Forget about it.  There comes a point when bad punctuation distracts me so much that there is really no point in even trying to finish the story.  If this is how I feel, I can only imagine how an editor is going to feel.  Do you really want anyone who is going to maybe hopefully pretty-please going to want to buy this story to be so distracted by randomly sprinkled semicolons that they put the story down?

Punctuation is a very important tool to impart a message.  And as a writer, language is my most important tool.  It affects a message almost as much as word choice does.  And I really don’t understand authors who don’t want to learn more about how to use language.