Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Unsticking

Since today is open, I wanted to pop in with a general "wondering Wednesday" question that I think affects us all at some point or another:

What do you do when you're stuck in your writing? Or stuck in your thinking about your writing? It could be writer's block, but also, in between books, when you take time off, and it's just hard to start anything new or get back into a regular routine? Or when you keep starting a book, and nothing sounds "right"?

I was watchingNumb3rs on DVD last night, and one of the mathematicians said that when you were overwhelmed or stuck on a problem, it was usually because you're trying to solve too many problems at once, so the best way to solve the bigger problem is to focus on one small part and just solve that. I thought that was really interesting -- so while your book or idea might not be working on several points, maybe the best idea is to just pick one area, one character, one plot point, etc and work the devil out of it.

So that's my contribution to how we might solve "stalls." What other bits of advice and wisdom are out there?

Sam

11 comments:

loralee said...

I don't have any bits of wisdom to share, but since I've been wallowing in the blocked, stalled and stuck rut for way too long now, I'm taking this Wednesday's Wisdom and picking a single character or one plot point or one area to see where it takes me. Hopefully, I'll climb out of the rut soon. Thanks, Sam.

Sally MacKenzie said...

This hit home for me, too, as I'm starting a new book. I'm still figuring out how my creative brain/muse works, actually. I had intended to start right into this book after I handed the last one in, but I was still too much in love with that book to disengage. And then I had to do promotion for the April release--since the book I'm starting is one removed from that book, I figured I'd best wait--I was getting confused. But now it is time.

I'm trying not to "yell at" myself for not hitting the ground running here and just let my muse muse for a little while.

Writing is so odd. I'm supposed to be the author, right? But I find at this point in the writing, I'm waiting around to have the characters--or something that inhabits my body but isn't quite me--tell me who, what, and why. Hmm. Does that sound a little nutsy?

Samantha Hunter said...

Sally, I don't think it sounds nutsy at all. Sort of that moment of waiting for inspiration to strike -- or something that we can visualize or grab on to that feels right. I've had the same problem with restarting my paranormal. I've been working on it slowly, trying not to psyche myself out, but I think I have a certain level of doubt of my ideas, or how I'm coming at them at this point and I'm trying not to get bogged down in that. I keep finding reasons it's not right -- maybe I have to find what is right and go with that.

Loralee, let us know how it goes. I am focusing on my heroine today. I've already started writing, and haven't been blocked in that sense, but I don't trust what I have, and I think I might benefit as well by going back and really just thinking more about her and letting the rest fall by the wayside for the moment...

I'm always interested to hear more bits of wisdom and tips on this, and if nothing else, I think it's helpful to know we all go through it in one way or another.

Sam

Nancy Herkness said...

I can never jump right into a book; the characters have to roll around in my brain for awhile until I know them well enough to figure out what to do with them.

When I get stuck, I take a walk. It works every time. Something about physical movement in the outdoors gets my mind moving forward too.

I just wrote 50 pages of my new novel only to realize that it absolutely wasn't working. I could't figure out why and then I took a walk and the problem was solved. Of course, now I have to throw out 50 pages. Argh, ack, and a lot of curse words!

JoAnn said...

I think this is where category writers have an advantage. When you're writing 3-8 (or in my case, one year 10) books a year, there's no time not to be writing, so you just get in a groove and go with it, writing to The End and you don't tend to get lost because you don't know any better. *g*

Given that one of her many talents is speed, I'm firmly convinced that Nora would still be writing as many books as fast as she does if she hadn't come out of category, but all those Silhouettes definitely created a writing pattern she continues today.

Also, and this is going to sound contrary to conventional wisdom, but I've often found that if I let myself wander around the house trying to solve a problem, all I'll get done is a lot of wandering. If I dive in and write, yes, sometimes I'll get off on a wrong path, but more often than not, I'll eventually find my way back to where I should be, and even figure things out by writing, which is when the characters reveal themselves. Our subconscious minds know a LOT more about our stories than we do; they'll carry a lot of the burden if we just stay out of their way.

As for picking one thing, I never look beyond the idea that all I have to write is one scene at a time. Otherwise, the entire idea of writing an entire book would be too overwhelming to contemplate. But that's gotten me to nearing 100 books, so it's worked for me.

It's also why I firmly believe there are three books that every writer should keep nearby for times like this: Bird by Bird, Walking on Alligators, and The War of Art. Bird by Bird is good for the overall concept of just tackling one thing at a time, so you really only need to read it once, or maybe twice; The War of Art and Walking on Alligators never fail to jumpstart my writing on those occasions it's threatening to stall.

Nancy Morse said...

I never dive right into a book until the characters and the plot have been simmering in my mind for a while and I feel I have enough of a handle on them to begin. And then I just sit there and do it. Facing a blank page (screen) can be daunting, but facing the prospect of no book is even worse. When I get stuck, which I often do, I just sit there and type out various scenarios until something gels. At that point, much of it winds up in the trash basket, but if I keep going, I usually get to where I want to go. Often, for me, it's piecing the book together. Only when I have enough pieces does the writing begin to flow, and that's when I love being a writer.

JoAnn said...

As a p.s. to my earlier comment, while (finally!!) cleaning out my office, which didn't get shoveled out between the last two books, I came across Nora's interview in the RWR. Since a couple things she said fit this discussion, although I suspect you've all read them, they bear repeating:

"I have plenty of days when the words don't want to come. I push until they do. That's my process. It's not the right way, just my way. . . Writing is a habit -- don't break the habit. If you stop exercising physically, your muscles get lazy and lax. Same with your writing muscles. . . I don't throw out pages so much as wrestle them to the ground and find the way to make them work. . . inspiration's bullshit -- in my opinion. Writing's my job, my wonderful job. If I waited to be inspired to do my job, I'd be unemployed. . . The muse is fickle and pretty much a wimp. . . Sister Mary Responsibility would kick the muse's but every time. . . .

So, we're really good at making up excuses. . . good enough that much of the time we believe it ourselves. If you need to believe in the muse, let's say, fine and dandy. Whatever works for you. But don't tell me you can't work today because the muse has left you. Go track down that fickle slut, drag her back, chain her to your keyboard and get to work. . . I demand respect for the work from myself, so I have to stop doing on-line jigsaw puzzles or playing Spider Solitaire and get the job done. I'm not twelve. No excuses. Do the work. . . whine some to your pals -- or your family if you need it. Then stop feeling sorry for yourself and sit down and do the job. Wear your pajamas and think about those poor bastards on the interstate sitting in traffic. I know that sounds a little harsh, but it's so easy, and so silly, really, for writers to complain as often as they do about how they suffer, how they can't get inspired, how they can't this or can't that. A waste of energy, I think. Sit down, spend that energy writing, even if it's crap. Eventually it won't be crap."

That is, as I said, Nora speaking. Not me. And granted, we all have our own process. But I sure can't disagree with a thing the said. :)

Samantha Hunter said...

I agree with having a work ethic and knowing when you are sincerely stuck or making excuse, but we all need to share -- I suspect even Nora has friends she shares tough times with, and I hope they support her and don't just say "get over it."

We all need to talk about when things aren't going well, or when we hit a tough spot, etc and sometimes just sharing that with someone can help jostle you out of a stall or help you solve a problem.

I can agree that the writing life is wonderful and a privilege, but that doesn't mean we don't have hard times and should say so, if only to our friends. And generally I think people go farther with support and sharing.

Sam

JoAnn said...

Actually, I can recall when Nora was a little uneasy because her publisher was going to change the title of a book she'd turned in from her oxymoron titles to something different. She was a bit concerned it would sound sort of flat.

The little email group of us -- a handful of writers who'd all known one another since the early 80s -- she told this to assured her that any book she wrote would sell whatever the title. Which, btw, turned out to be Montana Sky. LOL

But as long as I've known her, I've never heard her say a single negative word about the work itself. Maybe at home to Bruce. But not to other writers. She really is not only gifted with talent and work ethic, but the ability to see the shiny, bright bits about this job.

I agree sharing can be good. For some people. (Have to admit that I've seen it backfire on people way too many times to feel comfortable doing it myself.) But I've also seen environments -- and writers' groups -- where too much sharing of problems can drag a person down and make things worse when the conversations keep getting stuck in negativity grooves .

Samantha Hunter said...

That's fair enough -- negativity does have a way of spreading, though I guess the trick is that whole sort of whine about it for a day if you need to, but then let it go and move on. Or I think there's a huge difference between people who just whine for the sake of whining, and people who whine but then do something about it.

I have no patience with whining that doesn't lead to some kind of solution, though when I am in a bad mood or going through a bad time I can be a championship whiner. Thing is, I can't stand myself then, so I am very motivated to do something about it! LOL

Sam

Nancy Morse said...

I have to agree with everything Nora said, although it sounds like she might have said it before her morning coffee. As for the muse thing, I agree. The muse is not some little fairy-winged thing sitting on your shoulder. The muse is you.