I didn’t want to write. In fact, the mere thought of writing caused my brain to become violent in its objections. An iron wall was slammed across the realm of creativity, and I stared at it, perplexed.
As I clearly am now an expert on the matter *cough* I thought I’d better share my discoveries with you.
Put It Down, Step Away From the Bomb
Sometimes you can push through a block, other times you can’t. DON’T DESPAIR. Leave your desk and writing implements and do something else.
If your pen is plastered to your finger, then write someone a letter. If it isn’t, go for a walk, wash up, put your books in alphabetical order, go for a trip, or save the world from murderous pandas.
Don’t Read Your Genre
Seriously. Don’t. Pick up a completely different genre and read that. Your objective is to distract your brain; to fool it into relaxing. Because then … then we spring, my brothers. Then we fall upon these pitiful blocks with our battle cries and war pens and- ahem. Sorry.
Recall This Truth:
A first draft is allowed to be messy. A first draft is not a finished novel.
Vanquish Stage Fright
If you’ve built up your story in your mind as the story to end all stories, don’t. Push all pressure, awe and aspirations away. Cast ’em into the sea, chuck ’em in the dust bin or burn ’em with dragon fire.
These things can freeze your pen and hinder your creativity under the crushing weight of certain future greatness.
… and lastly
Don’t panic, for this too shall pass.
I managed to conquer my block the next day, the short story is now complete and is awaiting my butchering pen. Huzzah!
In which Ness takes a past tale and tells its story.
Feel up to a story of improvement and facial seizures? Grab a cup of tea (or a beverage of your choice) and settle in as I tell you the tale of a young girl who had no idea that a single paragraph shouldn’t cover an entire A4 sheet of paper …
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was seized by a desire to write a story based around my childhood hero – Robin Hood.
So I began one.
It was appalling.
The main character was, well, she was – and here I must put it quite frankly – a bit of a brat; a pallid shadow of the Maid Marian of Legend. Of course I didn’t intend to write her as such – I was writing a story and accidentally conjured up a proud and arrogant girl with my words.
These things do happen, you know.
The plot itself was rather, well, it had wonderful coincidences. Robin Hood – whose eyes were perpetually twinkling – was easily rescued from the dungeon. It was a strong alcoholic liquid that helped him, you see; administered to the guards, constantly diluted yet always very potent, it was originally owned by our heroine. Why she possessed such a liquid in the first place, I never explained.
Another marvelous coincidence was when poor Little John was imprisoned in the dungeon. He was soon to die. Hanging, I believe. But no fear! Lady Mary Adeney was informed by her beloved maid that there was a secret tunnel:
“It leads to the dungeon, the deepest one at that, no one knows of this tunnel for Sir Guy killed the original owner off it…..and with him, the secret tunnel.”
[How one kills off a secret tunnel is not explained].
By amazing chance, Little John is rescued. By even more amazing chance, Little John – the biggest, tallest and strongest ironically named outlaw about – fits through the tunnel opening. Which is two foot wide.
Lady Mary Adeney – after a showdown with the Sheriff (the dialogue of which contained a perfect storm of exclamation marks) – decided to become a commoner, shunning both the life of a noblewoman and living with the outlaws in Sherwood Forest.
“Minstrel’s songs and heroic tales were one thing, but how could I know what his band were like?”
[Quite right, m’dear. They might be heavy metal or – even worse! – a folk band]
A quick Bible verse was inserted as she released her horse (Bravebrow was his name, if you are wondering) and left her companions in a not at all melodramatic way. Off to the Fletcher’s in Nottingham she was going, with a new name …
[Drum roll please]
… and then the plot dribbled off like water in a cracked jug. Like my spirit when faced with a pile of procrastinated work. Like my strength when accosted with a much too long walk in England’s countryside. (Did you know, I once accidentally stepped on a dead sheep? It was rather an experience). Like- well, I’m sure you understand.
In my story folder that story stayed – gathering metaphorical dust between ‘A Father Tells’ (a father telling a story about his smuggler days. It won me a price for the most gore. I was eight) and ‘Mountain Air’ (in which the heroine was awesome, witty and in no way shape or form resembled me. Cough).
But then I returned to it. I blame Robin Hood and my love for his tales.
Lady Mary was obviously spoiled. Hmm … how to rescue her? A light bulb dawned in my fogged brain. It consisted of two words: character development.
What if she … grew? I could keep the beginning of her story and skip forward two years and show how her character grew.
What an excellent idea!
Well, the thing is … I overdid it.
She was suddenly perfect. She was mature. She was delicate and sweet. She could show remorse with the best of ‘em. She could swoon like a pro, cry (but delicately) and was an all-round paragon of maddening perfection.
It was going off to Bristol to be a maid, you see. That was the making of her; the Forming of the Paragon. (Note to self: go to Bristol as a maid, will come back perfect. Probably).
Again the story trailed off, gathering dust particles as I turned away to different tales, different projects.
But then I came back, I still loved Robin Hood and this story I had worked on. I didn’t much like it but it was mine and I had worked on it on and off for more than a couple of years.
Another light bulb – instead of skipping two years I could actually write the transition from spoiled to perfection more, well, human. I gave myself permission to write (on purpose, this time) a thoroughly unlikable character.
Everyone should give themselves permission to write thoroughly unlikable main characters at one time or another.
This Tale of a Tale continues later, in Part Two. Naturally.
I started a story in March. Typical me, rushing in with only the bare bones of an idea and a couple of sentences of plot. It lasted two chapters and a half before my enthusiasm and attention tapered off.
I didn’t pick up the threads of the story until July when I came home from America. ‘Right,’ I thought, ‘I’ll make this into a short Novela and have it finished by August. 30,000 words will do the trick.’
Using three sheets of paper from an A5 notebook, I plotted Acts One, Two and Three, using mind map bubbles. Act One was written with ease, Act Two is now officially done.
And then I was unfortunate enough to take a good look at Act Three and think, ‘Well, this isn’t going to work.’
It was too skeletal, too bare. And also only enough for a handful of chapters, certainly not for a conclusive and satisfactory third act.
Which leaves me with the task of plotting a coherent and interesting Act Three that ties the story together and finishes the tale in a manner that leaves me with a satisfied sigh.
So now I’ve got a fresh sheet of paper, a pen (a beautiful, brand new, amazing pen that is a dream to write with) and the question ‘What If-?’ to throw at every scenario.
I watched the African Queen recently and stumbled upon a marvelous idea (and no, it didn’t involve blowing up a German ship).
Dialogue, descriptions and action all form parts of a story – as I write these they come to life in my head, I don’t see them with the physical eye; they are just black words against a white screen … but, perhaps there is a way to ensure that there are (for example) no completely unrealistic descriptions of people’s expressions included in my tale – descriptions which could otherwise jerk one out of the story and into the world of ‘what on earth? That doesn’t happen in real life.”
What is this Marvelous Idea, you ask?
Simples … watch a movie and write out a single scene.
Now in the clip above there are two scenes (the second begins at 2:44). It doesn’t have to brilliant or even there in its entirety. Just a sentence or two, a few words here or a brief description there … just write it – or (and this is more realistic for me) write it in your head. Describe the scene and the way you would show the expressions flitting across their faces, how the bottles bob in the water or the screech of the monkeys that in no way aids poor Charlie’s hangover. Or perhaps how Rosie is indeed one of the best characters ever.
‘… she was the very dignified picture of righteous indignation …’
This can be taken to life – to everyday living. Watch someone as they are talking, walking or simply just being and think how you would describe them (and if you can do this without getting odd looks you get extra brownie points).
Personally, I don’t think you have to have pen in hand, or fingers to the keyboard to keep that ol’writerly mind ticking – look around you, not with eyes blinded by everything you have to do that day, but with eyes seeing – sunbeams through a window, the fierce sound of the wind in the trees, the clatter of many keyboards in the office, that piece of litter rolling in the road, the cars whizzing by, that person immersed by their mobile or even that beautiful, warm smell of the fish and chip shop.
Take a moment, form a sentence and you just might be surprised with the result.
For me, it helps – I mean, seriously how else would I have thought that when the wind blowing my skirt felt like a soft cushion pressing at the back of my legs? (for some reason that leaves me breathless … oh comma where art thou, dost thou belong in there?)
I recently wrote a post about Ideas. Yeah, well … one knocked me on the head. And now I’m on the third chapter with a board of sixty-nine pins on Pinterest.
Never underestimate the power of inspiration.
Inspiration – would you believe it – comes from …
… the Republic, a Daydreamer, and the Mongols.
I can’t believe it either – yet it makes so much sense.
I read a post yesterday on what writing all boils down to – Perseverance.
Because in the end inspiration can only take you so far.
Writing can be fun, but sometimes it can be murder. It can feel like bashing one’s head against a solid brick wall that just won’t. give. way. It can be frustrating – like holding a thousand different threads that are all tangled up and you have to untangle them all. It can be like a crocheted blanket – with a million plot holes. It can be a ginormous, pounding headache. It can bring about the bright red cheeks of embarrassment.
It’s … hard.
But then … sometimes it isn’t. It can be a truly wonderful thing – when the plot comes together, intertwining with perfection. When a scene brings a tear to the eye or a line of dialogue brings a chuckle. Or when a character feels. Or when a bit of description is just right.
But if I give up when everything is tangled; when it seems like I can’t write well, when everything resembles that blanket … then I will miss out on the good things – the glorious moments; when the words flow and the story unfolds before my very eyes, when I can write ‘the End’ with a flourish, a job well done (until the edits …!).
So I guess the thing I need to remember – above all else – is to persevere, and never give up.
Ness: does this mean that I have to finish that chapter – that really, really difficult-and-devoid-of-inspiration chapter – in The Many Trials?