Thursday, May 11, 2006

On Being a Scaredy-Cat

This was the week I had planned to start a new book. I spent a couple of weeks on character development and plotting, writing the synopsis, and on Monday, it was supposed to be time to actually start writing the book.

But being Monday, it was also laundry day. And the kitchen needed cleaning, and ... I knew what I was doing. I was afraid to start the book. It wasn't Writer's Block. It was fear, plain and simple.

I knew how I wanted to start it, which character to begin with and where to begin. But I was still afraid. Afraid it wouldn't be as cool as I wanted it to be. As cool as it needs to be. As cool as it sounded when I came up with the idea... the thought of turning ideas into actual words on paper had me backing away.

I've always understood Writer's Block to be a sort of paralysis. A state of staring at the blank page because the Words Just Won't Come. I couldn't didn't want to go look at that blank page. I've never really Had Writer's Block. (I know, I know. Knock on wood. I could get it any time.) I've had The Stupids (where the narrative is stupid, the dialogue is stupid, the characters are stupid and everything is just stupid, Stupid, STUPID!!!). I've had The Doubts (where I doubt whether I can actually do it, whatever IT might be). I've even had knock-down-drag-out Fights with my characters, because they refuse to do what I know darn good and well they are going to do. (My characters' cases of the guilts that they get before they've done something can really cause problems.)

Fights with characters can definitely stall things out, but I have learned that they can be resolved with some very strange-looking arguing with one's self. (Me: "Don't tell me you wouldn't make love to your heroine in a dangerous place with a busted-down door! If she jumps into your arms and wraps her legs around you, you cannot tell me you will not forget everything else to make love to her right then and there!" Myself (on behalf of the hero): "Well, okay, you're right. I would...but I'd feel really guilty about it afterward.")

When I make myself go into my lovely office with my lovely new desk (3rd picture down in the link), and actually face that blank page, it's not very long before I start writing Something. Anything. (Which, I believe is where the Stupids come from.) The problem is that fear. It can keep me away from the writing desk altogether. Which is why I make myself write first.

If I go in and sit down and begin, I generally discover before too long that it's not as scary as I thought, and I can do it after all, and, well, there are no monsters under the bed, except for the ones I put there to keep for research purposes. Lots of things are like that, don't you think? (BTW, I got my 6 pages written on Monday, plus a little more.)


Shanna Swendson said...

I tend to procrastinate on starting a book because my absolute favorite part of writing a book is that moment just before I write the first word, when the book is still perfect in my head and before it becomes work. I come up with all kinds of ways to put off actually starting so I can savor the anticipation.

But I learned on the last book I wrote that those things I thought were procrastination were actually part of my writing process. When I chided myself for procrastinating and made myself skip all those time wasters to just get started on the book, it made it much more difficult for me to write the book. The brain is a funny thing.

Nancy Morse said...

I also fear starting a new book for all the same reasons. I keep the following reminder on my bulletin board right above my computer so that it stares me in the face every day: Learn to live with fear and not to let it destroy or stop you. Ha! Easier said than done. As for sitting down and staring at a blank screen, sure it's daunting, but for me my best ideas come when I'm actually sitting there typing, not when I'm washing dishes or doing laundry or walking the dog. So I choke down the fear, bite the bullet and begin. Of course, what usually appears on my screen is too pitiful for even my own eyes, but at least it's a starting point.

Sierra Donovan said...

OH, yeah. That first step onto the pristine, unbroken white snow of a new wip ... that's hard. I usually have some initial wild scribblings from when the inspiration first hit, and that helps. But shaping them into a product that's fit to show someone else ... that's something else again.

More often, my fear isn't the blank page -- it's the page with writing on it! That fear that I'm going to look at what I wrote yesterday and be faced with the Stupids (good term, Gail!).

And I do come up against the same fear, just about every time I start writing. Glad I'm not the only one!

JoAnn Ross said...

No matter how well we write a book, it'll never live up to the misty etheral "perfect" story in our imagination, which is, I believe, partly what drives that fear.

Then sometimes, things just won't work. Like a pitcher who's lost his mechanics, and doesn't know why. All he knows is that he can't get the ball over the plate anymore.

During the last two weeks of writing BLAZE, I couldn't get the words from my head to the keyboard. I knew every scene I had left to write (I usually know about ten scenes ahead of where I'm writing), I could hear the dialogue, but I simply could not get them written.

So, I whined to other NINC members, all of whom had wonderful and varied suggestions. But it was long time pal Kasey Michaels who came up with the one that worked. She said, and I quote, "You've done this tons of times before. So, just sit your butt down and do it again." She was right. BLAZE was somewhere around book #95. (I try not to count.) And somewhere, sometime during a book that usually happens. And there have been a LOT of books where it's at the very beginning.

So, I did what she told me to do. And it worked. So, I think that's the key. Everyone in PASIC has sold at least one book. So, everyone has done this once. If we all keep that in mind, we can do it again. And again. And again.

She said hopefully. :D

Allison Brennan said...

I love starting a new book. I usually can knock out 3-6 chapters fast and easy . . . and then it's the brick wall. I'm stuck. I have no idea what's supposed to happen, what will happen, and I then start procrastinating.

JoAnn, I like Kasey's advice, though I have no where near the number of books done.

SPEAK NO EVIL is the first book I sent to my agent that no one (not one person except me) has read. I was scared to death it was awful. She called me today and LOVES it. There's one scene near the end where she thinks it needs a little more emotional umph. I know exactly what she means because I'd been thinking the same thing. But I wrote the last 120 pages in one week so I kind of rushed through it, though it really gelled together.

I think my walls come in thirds . . . the end of the first third, the second third, and then the last chapter . . .

Anonymous said...


I know that feeling well! Almost anything, including cleaning house - Okay, maybe not that - is preferable to staring at the blank page.

Oh, and my office looks an awful lot like your pre-new desk office. LOL. (And the new desk is awesome, btw.)

JoAnn Ross said...

Allison -- congratulations. As we've discussed before, my agent doesn't read, which means the only person who ever reads my books before my editor reads them is my honey. Who, I suspect, although he probably reads two books a week -- one novel and one non-fiction -- isn't the most objective reader. But at least he usually finds the typos. :)

Speaking of anything being preferable to staring at that blank page, my favorite writing cartoon shows a guy sitting on a tiny one palm tree island out in the middle of the ocean. He's obviously a castaway and he's making a list of things to do before beginning writing. First thing on the list. . .

polish seashells. LOL

Gail Dayton said...

Well, it sounds like it's probably a good thing I'd rather do ANYTHING (even write) than clean off my desk... But it does feel good to know there are other scaredy-cats like me.