Thursday, March 27, 2008

Giving Yourself Permission Not to Write

Maven Jacqueline BarbourI was chatting with a writer friend of mine a few weeks ago. She'd plotted out her next book to the tune of 20,000 words of outline, yet found herself stymied when the time came to actually write the book. She didn't know what was stopping her from starting, only that the story just didn't seem to be "there."

A few weeks later, however, she was writing great gangbusters. And what she was writing was great.

What was the difference? She said she'd given herself permission not to write. Taken the pressure off herself to produce or sit at the keyboard for a certain number of hours "writing." And as soon as she stopped forcing it, the story came.

I've been struggling with my current novella, which is "due" on Monday. After writing a little over 13,000 words, I had an epiphany. A not very encouraging one.

The story wasn't working. The hero's actions didn't match his motivations. The heroine's motivation was weak. And there was way too much plot and way too much emphasis on secondary characters for a 22,500 word romance.

I love the opening of the story. I think the first 5,000 words are fabulous. It's everything that comes after that's the problem. So today, I bit the bullet. I deleted the 8,000 words that weren't taking me anywhere. But I reallly don't know what to replace them with. Oh, I have the plot, the GMCs, the arcs. What I don't have is a writable story.

It's frustrating because the first novella in the series fell out of my head over the course of two weeks. I don't know what's making this one so much harder. What I do know is that I can't force it. So even though I have what promises to be a good writing weekend ahead of me, I've determined to give myself permission not to write.

Too bad I don't live close enough to Lacey to go out and do a little "research" with her!

YOUR TURN: What do you do when you're struggling with a story? Any techniques you use to shake the muse loose? Or do you figure writer's block is your muse's way of telling you she needs some time off?


Beverley Kendall said...

Boy I know this tale well. And I've been doing a lot of deleting and adding brand new scenes. Here's my thought, if it's taking me too long to write the scene, the scene must not be what's needed there. And then when I do ADD a different scene or do an EXTENSIVE revision, I have to give myself permission to act like it's the first draft (which in fact to some degree it is, because it's the first time I'm writing that particular scene), which means it doesn't have to be perfect, I just need to get the scene down. I'll polish it up after I've gotten it down.

So to sum it up, I give myself permission to act like some parts of my revision is the first draft. If I don't, I get bogged down with these added scenes because I'm writing them for the first time and expecting perfection.

Jennifer Linforth said...

I often take a scene and rewrite it in another character's POV. I am amazed at what plot elements pop up by doing that. Sometimes even all new stories!

Carrie Ryan said...

I couldn't agree with you more! Last year when I was stressing out about my book a CP told me to chill out and enjoy it. She reminded me that if the book sold, this would be the last chance I had to just write when I wanted, how I wanted. That there was a freedom to that. I really took that advice to heart!!

Bill Clark said...

I've been struggling with my current novella, which is "due" on Monday

I think you've got the right idea, if I read your quotation marks correctly. Due dates and deadlines are usually flexible, especially if the quality of the result is at stake. Who wants a half-baked job (of any kind) if they can get a masterpiece a few days or even weeks later?

Kelly Krysten said...

I just give myself permission to write really really badly , knowing I'll come back and fix it later.

Gillian Layne said...

I get the heck away from the computer and break out the pen and notebook. Something about the computer often makes me feel like it needs to be "perfect", and since there's no chance of that, I can't work at all.

But if I can just get something started on paper, then the rest will (often) come.

Marnee Bailey said...

I think it's important to cut ourselves some slack. Too much pressure isn't good for the creative spirit. Not that we should allow ourselves to be totally lazy, but if I keep sitting at my computer and feel like I wanna put my head through the monitor, it's probably too much pressure.

I also think that sometimes if I can't write, it's because I need to check my direction.

Great blog Jackie.

lacey kaye said...

I wish you lived close, too! This post speaks to me. Thanks.

Darcy Burke said...

This is so true, Jackie. As I was writing Her Wicked Ways, I had a lot of spurts of multi-thousand word days followed by a few days of struggling. I think my brain needed a couple of days to regenerate after the massive outpouring. The key is letting those few days come and go without beating myself up about not continuing the proliferation.

Brynn Paulin said...

LOL. I go and sit in my car. In silence. The quiet seems to free up my thoughts. Locked in the bathroom, taking a hot shower seems to help too.

I guess my key is "silence and solitude".

I focus on GMC. As long as I have that in place, the rest of the story falls in line.

Jackie Barbosa said...

I love hearing everyone's take on recalcitrant muses/inspiration.

The problem I've been having isn't so much the need to write "perfectly," per se--although I admit to having a wicked, bitchy internal editor--as it was a need to write a story that made sense. The one I had was definitely NOT holding water! I really had to reenvision/reinvent it, almost from scratch. Fortunately, I think I've sorted it out with a little help from my pal, Amie Stuart, but I still have to write it to see if it works.

Jennifer, I've totally used the "write another POV" trick and found it often works like a charm. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option for this novella, which is first person narrative!

Marnie Jo, I laughed at your comment. Yeah, I was sitting there feeling like putting my head through the monitor. Probably time to find something else to do! And checking direction was definitely part of the equation.

Lacey, I'm with you in spirit if not in body. Let's paint the town!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Sorry I'm late to the party. It's been a busy weekend.

My writing hits me in fits and spurts depending on the time of year. Every year around the end of February, I hit a dry patch and it usually lasts for 3-6 weeks. I kept writing through the beginning of this year's, but the work felt lame, so I stopped. Just today I got back to writing, and only because a weird bit of inspiration hit me last night. The old WIP got relegated to the holding area, and the new WIP was born. I don't really know what causes these spurts, but I try to ride them for all their worth.

Sometimes, though, the writing needs a break, because even when I'm not sitting at the keyboard, I'm still writing in my head. And after a while, I burn out. Refueling time seems to be a necessity for me.

Hang in there, Jackie. :hugs:

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