Thursday, June 17, 2010

Overactive Muse

So, apparently, I've figured out the form in which my writer's block manifests.  It's not that I can't write.  It's that I can't write the thing I'm supposed to be writing.  You would think a request from a publisher for a full of the manuscript would be enough to motivate me.  And it is.  I am motivated.  I want to write what I'm supposed to be writing.  But it's not coming.  The story's there, I know what it is, but there seems to be a brain-to-finger misfire going on.

Instead, stories that are on the back burner, and that should be there for a while to come, are percolating over.  Demanding attention.  Keeping me awake at night.  That can be good--as in the completion of my novella In the Service of the King, which is almost ready to be sent to Harlequin.  Or it can be less useful, as when the first of my fallen angels kept me awake until two in the morning the other night and I ended up spending the next day and a half writing the opening scene of that book, Merrick's Chance.  Problem is, I don't even know that story yet.  So while the opening scene is cemented in my head, and I know some of the major plot points, I have no idea yet what the connective tissue is for that story.  I'm not ready to write you, Merrick!  Leave me alone!  Merrick's not the only misbehaving creature in my stable.  In an ideal world, Harlequin will like my novella enough to want the other six kings to take life on the page as well, which has Aleksei, my next vampire warrior king, already knocking on my brain case seeking attention.

I suppose new ideas are better than no ideas as a form of writer's block, but it sure would be nice if my muse would settle her bad self down and cooperate on the book that needs to be written.

What form does your writer's block take?  And what do you do to break it?

Thanks for reading,


jeff7salter said...

Laura, my fiction is not yet published, but I've had similar experiences to yours. Frantically trying to finish Ms. # 4 when I have to stop and type up 19k words on a prequel. I did finally finish # 4 and # 5, but still have the beginnings of that prequel (on which I am stumped).
Also other plot or dialog 'starts' enter the brain and I have to write them out lest I lose them.
I guess this is pretty common.

Nicole said...

It's always good to know that I am not the only one focused on doing what I should not be doing. My writers block is more the perfectionism curse. I know I can wip out a great crappy first draft, but polishing it, that scares me to death and I can't seem to push past it. I just stare at the pages and look for other things to do. Things I know I can succed at. Like baking brownies.

susanhatler said...

When I get that avoidance feeling, I remind myself to just type out whatever wants to come's a draft and doesn't have to be perfect (that's what editing is for). Hope it helps!

jeff7salter said...

Susan's right: type what's trying to 'come out' ... there'll be time later to sort out where it goes (or even what it is).
However, right now, I'm distracted by the notion of Nicole's brownies.
[See, another example of how easily de-railed a writer can be. Ha.]

Laura Kaye said...


Wait. What were we talking about?

Oh, right! Yes, I agree you just have to write what wants to come out. And, Jeff, I'm like you, when a scene comes to mind, even for something I'm not really working on, I have to write it or A) it'll bug me to death, or B) I'll forget the specifics of it and then I'll kick myself for losing what was *clearly* the perfect iteration of that scene! LOL

Great thoughts everybody!

jeff7salter said...

I'll be out of pocket for a few hours but I have two more 'cents' to add ... if the blog is still running at that point.
Enjoying the thread so far.

Laura Kaye said...

We'll be here, Jeff!

Mary Ricksen said...

When I get that way. There is nothing that can spur my muse. But then suddenly it happens and it goes like crazy!!

jeff7salter said...

I'm back, but I don't see comments here from Barbara and Melissa. [They showed up in my e-mail inbox]. Well, both had some interesting insights.
Melissa's approach was quite scholarly, I thought. I've studied classic literature in that fashion (English major in college) but never my own work. Great idea.
Barbara mentioned returning to the outline. That also makes good sense to me. However, sometimes my writing has veered off the 'map' so to speak and I find myself in territory I had no idea I'd be in. Ha.
Guess there's lots of ways to skin a cat. [apologies to the ASPCA, of course].
Wonder where those posts went?

Shelley said...

Hi Laura,

One of the best writing exercises I remember was to purposely write a bad story. Start if off with "it was a dark and stormy night" or pack it full of cliches. I'll write a whole page of that and then read it out loud. Not only is it kind of funny to read, but it gets you warmed up, lets you identify what's overused in writing and generally allows you to get it out of your system a little so you're not nervous.

Also, if you pause in the middle of action, I find it's easier to start back up again when you sit back down. That helps me to never "leave on a lull" in the writing and so it staves off writers block.

Shelley :0)

jeff7salter said...

Shelley, different strokes. I can hardly stand to leave an action scene ... and only do so if I absolutely have to stop (for whatever reason). I find it takes me a good bit of time to get back into the flow of that action. [I'm picturing a complicated, long scene -- with numerous characters -- in my 3rd ms. which was, actually, a battle scene of sorts.]
As to writing a BAD scene --- I know I've done that unintentionally, but don't think I would do deliberately. Ha.
Different strokes.

Laura Kaye said...

Jeff--I think a few people responded directly to the discussion list to which I'd posted info about the blog, and that's why their comments aren't here too...

I also have a very hard time stopping writing mid-scene. And, no matter where I stop, it takes me some time to get back into the writing, even if I'm not having writer's block. I always re-read/edit the previous 5-10 pages to get back in the flow and then start writing anew from there.

With all these good ideas, it's pretty obvious it's a problem we all share at one time or another!

Great comments!

jeff7salter said...

Laura, I never got back to my intended comment about writer's block.
My 3rd novel ms. featured a major character who was based on my father-in-law and I'd gotten the idea for some of the major plot elements from his activity with a veteran's group. He was in the hospital slowly dying during the two months of intense writing activity of my 1st draft and I visited him every day except 2-3 days when they closed down the unit for a staph infection flare-up.
Anyhow, he knew about my ms. because I had discussed it with him. And he had previously read my first two novels, which had the same character (based on him). Shortly before he died, I told him I was very nearly finished with this 3rd ms. and hoped he'd be able to read it. We both knew he wouldn't live that long, but he said he bet it would be a "corker."
He died on 4-2-08, the day after I completed the rough draft.
I had nearly killed myself writing those 132k words in about two months.
It was 14 MONTHS later before I could resume momentum on revising that novel. During that time I did other things, of course, including some different writing. But no work on that novel or any other novel ms. for 14 months! I don't know that I stopped to dwell on it during that long period ... possibly because I may not have recognized it as a 'period' at all. I just knew I wasn't getting anything done on that ms., but perhaps didn't give much conscious thought that it was likely my grief that wouldn't let me proceed. He came alive on those pages and to have revised the 1st complete draft so soon after his death possibly would have been much too painful.
The good news is --- after I finally picked it up again (14 months later), I jumped all over it and spent some dozen weeks re-writing, reorganizing and revising. His character is a big part of the heart of that ms. One day, with the right agent and editor, it may see daylight. It's a tribute to him, to my own father (who died in '03 at age 83) and to the other men and women of the greatest generation.
AND -- hard to imagine, I guess -- it's also a very funny story. With some genuinely touching scenes ... and plenty of action.
Well, that's my "writer's block" story. Sorry it took all day to spit it out.

Laura Kaye said...

Jeff--that is a great story, and so touching. I think it can be both a blessing and a curse to write something so personal to you--a blessing in terms of the authenticity of it, and a curse in terms of working through your own very real emotions while you write and/or revise. Thanks for sharing that.


Monya Clayton said...

My personal experience with writers block is a little different. I'm old, I have two types of arthritis plus osteoporosis, plus a couple of other infirmities.

Mentally, it's laziness. I just can't start. I've been published twice, so it isn't the fear of a new writer. Fear never leaves one, though, in some form or other. I have no shortage of ideas and plots screeching to be written. I have work started, I have work which obviously requires revision. I can't do it. It can only be laziness.

Twice I've had new ideas and one of them I started on. I have literally been unable to return to either. Okay, so I get tired, so I have to type with gloves on (I've snipped the ends off for my fingertips!), and I have an overflowing inbox which needs culling.

And recently there's been the excuse of a distraction. I've been scanning photos of my eldest son (who turned 50 on the 16th June) and my daughter (who turned 40 on the 17th.) But if I'm honest that's just an excuse.

I can go to our local Writers Group and do the exercises straight off the top of my head. I obviously lack discipline, and admit right here I'm a 'mood' writer. Nope, what I need is someone behind me with a whip, to keep my nose to the grindstone!


Caroline Clemmons said...

Laura, you described me. How did you get in my head? LOL

One of my clever friends told me to think about what made my last book so pleasant to write. That worked. I realized I hadn't plotted well enough and had a couple of holes in the plot. Once those were resolved, my mind started cooperating.

jeff7salter said...

Laura, finally getting back to this blog.
I find -- so far (5 novel ms.) -- that I don't 'set out' to write this or that. But 'this & that' swoops in on my consciousness and I think, "Cool, I could use that."
My 5th ms. was like that. I already had characters and setting from my 4th ms. but had not specifically thought of using them again. Then a notion hit me. Wrote the notion. Later a scene hit me. Wrote the scene. Left it to finish revising my 4th ms. Then picked up those notions and scenes and said, "wonder what would happen if ..."
Eight (hard) weeks later, the rough draft was complete.
Where my 'block' occurred in that ms. was in between the drafts. Took forever to revise. Then took forever to proof. Just finished the fourth complete draft, so I had about 6 'forevers' in that sequence.