Sunday, February 21, 2010

Breaking Through the Wall

"I have a love-hate relationship with the writing life. I wouldn't wish to have any other kind of life…and on the other hand, I wish it were easier. And it never is. The reward comes sentence by sentence. The reward comes in the unexpected inspiration. The reward comes from creating a character who lives and breathes and is perfectly real. But such effort it takes to attain the reward! I would never have believed it would take such effort."-Journal of a Novel, December 15, 1997, Elizabeth George, Write Away

"I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done." --Steven Wright

The idea of being a writer would appear to be a glorious, magical journey, akin to traipsing through a field of daisies on a spring day. Blowing bubbles, twirling under the clouds and then… inspiration strikes and with a wave of our hands, the novel appears before us like a rainbow in the sky.

Or… we spend hours, days, months, years, pounding away at the keyboard, pounding away at the wall lodged in our thick skull as we struggle in vain to reach that novel tucked deep within our souls.

The writer's life ain't easy. Moving past the proverbial Writer's Block is as much fun as a root canal. And at least that has a time limit!

"We conquer, not in any brilliant fashion, we conquer by continuing." --George Matheson

When writers hit a wall, the greatest idea in the world won't help. We need more. We need to break through and we're not sure how to do it. This is our personal Dark Night of the Soul—when we need to push onward down that rocky path despite the lack of light.

And how exactly do we do that? First thing we need is to examine exactly what writer's block is.

To my mind it's a two-parter. The outer symptom is that we're feeling stuck. We're stumped because we've reached an impasse and don't *see* what comes next. The inner cause for this symptom though is often simply fear. Fear that the next sentence will be mediocre. Fear that as we type, the words will turn to gibberish. Fear that unless we are struck with a brilliant spark of inspiration we can't write.

Inspiration is lovely but it's perspiration that counts. Many writers will admit that their most inspired moments turn out after reflection to be just so-so. While the prose that seemed humdrum while slogging through a slow day actually turned out pretty darn good.

A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

“James, what’s wrong?” the friend asked. “Is it the work?”

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

“How many words did you get today?” the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): “Seven.”

“Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.”

“Yes,” Joyce said, finally looking up. “I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

From On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

There are two things one can do with writer's block. One is step away. Take a breather. Live life for a while and take the pressure off.

Many people hear voices when no-one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. --Meg Chittenden

Sitting cooped up with nothing but our imagination and our writing tools can be crazy-making after all. We may just need something to jar us out of our slump, to give us fresh perspective, to help us reawaken the delight within our souls.

I have learned as much about writing about my people by listening to blues and jazz and spirituals as I have by reading novels.Ernest Gaines

For me, it's music. When I pull away and listen to a favorite tune, I feel transported and rejuvenated. For my friend Cathy, a stroll through the fragrant redwoods gives her a lift and brings her a sense of joy and comfort. Maybe for you it's repotting a plant or hitting a garage sale, repainting the living room or getting a massage. Hmmm… sign me up for that last one!

That's step one. But it doesn't get us writing again. What can we do to actually GET back to the process of writing once more?

The answer is simple, frustrating, annoying and obvious.


The Pulitzer Prize winning poet Stephen Spender said, "The best thing is to write anything, anything at all that comes into your mind, until gradually there is a calm and creative day."

We're training our mind to respond to our hand movements. Whether it's typing or scribbling long-hand on legal pad, our brain is geared up to associate the mental process of writing with the physical process. Now, sometimes the block is resolved by the foray away from writing. We come back and just *know*. And sometimes money does magically appear on the front lawn (I joke but once I looked out my kitchen window andactudally did see a twenty dollar bill fluttering down to the ground!).

The real test though is in the writing. Which is rather a pisser. *heh-heh* To think the problem and the solution might just be the same!

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it." ---Harlan Ellison

So you sit down and write. If you're stuck with a scene, you tell yourself that you will come up with six possible ways the scene could go. The choices can be totally wacky, unbelievable and implausible.

Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." --
Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland.

This is where we need to realize that writing is both a linear and creative process. When we're stuck and we keep trying to approach the scene with a linear perspective, we find our self pushing against the wall.

"You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." --Albert Einstein

The above quote applies to writer's block as well. Which is why a change of scenery often unblocks the mind. By letting go of the linear, logical, rational perspective and just writing those six implausible scenes, you are freeing your mind from the constraints. You're giving your creative self permission to color outside the lines. You know what this can do?

How about… Free You As A Writer. Or… Awaken the spontaneous brilliance that leaves your jaw gaping and your skin tingling. *wink*

While Writer's Block is often simply fear dressed up as procrastination, it's also an amazing opportunity. It's almost as if our soul is whispering, "This particular path is okay but there's another close by that's so incredible you'll feel transported." You may be "stuck" but in truth there could be a touch of intuition that *knows* there's an alternate idea that's so freaking cool it'll blow your mind.


So… Go for it. Take those breaks and then get back to work. Listen to the music within your soul, take a deep breath and Play. Dream up impossible scenarios and tell yourself that anything goes. Give yourself permission to color outside the lines and you might just find yourself dancing in Wonderland.

"If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow." --- Louis L’Amour

Let's make this a spectacular week, everyone! We're approaching spring and all its glory. Let's give the stories that dance in our heart freedom to spill out on the pages. We can do it. Why? Because we're writers, that's why!

So tell me, how have you 'broken through the wall'? What methods do you use to move past writer's block?

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas!


Kathy Holmes said...

Amazing as always, Chiron. You make the writing life much more sane. All so true, so very true and wonderful to be reminded. Like I say on my redesigned web site - "writing is like life... it's all about the journey." We can't focus on the publishing end - it'll drive us crazy for sure. We must focus on the act of writing and trust that it'll lead us to publishing in its time.

Linda LaRoque said...

Hi Chiron,
Sometimes just letting my story perk in my head will help me get past a stumbling block in a story.

Chiron said...

Write On, Kathy! As always, you sum it up nicely. Love the new site!!


Chiron said...

Hi there, Linda!

I do that too. Sometimes when I'm in the shower it seems the ideas flow faster than the water! A little break from the keyboard can work wonders. Thanks for stopping by!


Kathy Otten said...

Great blog today. Loved the quote about hearing voices. Your thoughts hit home because I'm currently sort of stuck, oddly not because of fear, which is usually the case, but because like having a name stuck on the tip of your tongue, my scene is there, but it's missing something I can't quite define. I'm going to try your suggestion of writing down six different ways it could go, no matter how outrageous.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Ola, what's up amigos? :)
I will be glad to receive any assistance at the beginning.
Thanks and good luck everyone! ;)

Miss Mae said...

My blocks don't come from fear, either, it's simply because I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE!!!!!

I loved the seven words and not sure what order they go in...LOL...Oh, my. Been there, done that!

Sandy said...

Often getting out and living life helps writer's block, Chiron. It doesn't help to write the right words down though. lol

Chiron said...

Boy, oh boy, Miss Mae, I sure do relate!! *laughs* Even after all this time I'm still in awe of the process. 'Pansters' astonish me. *bows*


Thanks for dropping by, my dear!


Chiron said...

Hi Sandy!

So true! It often can be really useful to step away and take a break. A good friend of mine swears by her nature walks as a creative booster. The important thing seems to be to find what works for us.

Thanks for your comment!