February 13, 2015

So You Think You Can’t Write

By K.D. Harp

The next great novel waits within you, and you’ve come down with a case of writer’s block. Join the club. Or cry in your coffee. Wail to the sun. Whatever you do, don’t complain to non-writers, who don’t understand the problem and won’t care. (The phrase ‘writer’s block’ is as meaningful as ‘tennis elbow’ is to a couch potato). Don’t complain to seasoned writers either, because we see writer’s block as a rite of passage. You’re not REALLY a pet owner until you’ve dealt with that first public puppy indiscretion unprepared, and you’re not REALLY a writer until you’ve wrestled with a Muse who is feeding the world’s worst case of PMS and using it as an excuse to give you the Silent Treatment. All the gut-wrenching writer insecurity whirling about in your psyche from writer’s block just makes it all the more authentic to us.

On the up side, it is a malady as common as the cold, and remedies abound. Google the term and find suggestions for everything from changing location, getting a new look, meeting new people, listening to music, indulging in some sort of recreation, and my (sarcasm on) favorite, changing your attitude. I know, the world has become a positive thinking place which can cure anything from world hatred to panty hose runs, but I’m not this sort of person, and when I read suggestions like this for anything, I quickly tend to picture someone curing their writer ailment by plaiting their extensions into gravity defying Wendy’s logo braids, and singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” while hopscotching through a police station holding cell for fun. The image takes all the attitude actions and rolls them into one: new hair, new people, and song styling exercise guaranteed to get you a story of one sort or another…

Most of the useful suggestions involve something encouraging you to write anyway, essentially something that looks like denial of the writer’s block dilemma, but is in actuality, hard truth. You don’t really have writer’s block, dear writer. You’re not focused on the work of writingYou’re in love with the play of it.

You are the gal with the totally planned out wedding who isn’t even dating.

Denial Class suggestions involve working even when you think you can’t, i.e., has writer’s block. Commit to a set number of words per day, or better yet, a given amount of time. I like the time strategies because if your mind is truly blank after word wrestling for X minutes or hours, you’ve proven your dedication to the project. The minimum number of words strategy can work wonders too, though, especially if you set a ridiculously easy number of words, (even as low as ten if necessary), some number that your normal writer self just laughs at, and doesn’t take seriously as a goal. Even on a Writer’s Block Day, that ridiculous number is attainable, and once we’ve met the minimum, most of us are off and running down some writing path, because of the jump start it gives.

Or, READ. Read the text you were writing when the block occurred. Go back deep in the text, to the beginning if necessary. Immerse yourself in the story from a reader’s perspective. What do you want for these fake people, (sorry), characters on the page? What would be the worst thing to happen to them? …What’s that? You don’t have a text? OK, if starting the story is the problem, then read its predecessor, with the same mentality, and make note of what your mind conjures.

Oh c’mon! You’ve got writer’s block on your first book? Some would say read the book that inspires you to want to try writing and take note of the elements you want to emulate. Isn’t that sweet? So encouraging. So academic. While the Positive Penelopes amongst you are trading warm fuzzies whilst admiring a classic or bestseller, before you pragmatists run a finger down your throats at the thought, hang with me. For you folks, read the poorly written drivel that somehow got published which convinced you that you could do better, and this time, take note of all the ways to improve it.

Bingo. There’s your start, the elements you believe a good story requires. …Time to fill in the blanks. Now that you have it, don’t get sidetracked fretting over titles, character names or (some people actually DO this) a pen name. (Priorities people. You need no pen name until sometime AFTER you’ve actually penned something.) As for the story, use whatever character name comes to mind and don’t sweat it. It can be changed later with a simple Replace All, as long as you’re smart enough not to use a name like “Ike” (Guilty. This name will earn you the thrill of correcting a few hundred bizarre words that used to be ‘like’, ‘strike’, ‘pike’, etc.) If your mind’s such a blank you have to write XX and XY instead of a character name, just do it. The names will come later. Don’t slow their story as it trickles out.

The same strategy goes for impressive phraseology, extensive descriptions of people or place, and any other element that is flexible and can change. A story is a tough thing to craft, a line-up description, dismembered body, or resort’s high rollers poker room, not so much.
Bottom line on writer’s block: quit whining about how it’s hard, and write. If it were easy to craft a book, even Amazon couldn’t hold all the new titles. Write drivel if you have to, and edit it later (unless you score a three book deal from your pile of rubbish, in which case, publish and inspire someone else to take up the profession).
Award winning author K.D. Harp writes suspense with romantic elements and strives to create characters of character in stories worth reading again. K.D.’s volunteer work with community emergency response teams (CERT) inspired the latest “Fighting for the Heart of Spencer” release, RESCUE ME, where doing good deeds after a disaster can score a date with a cop (and get ya killed.) Order any of K.D.’s titles worldwide in softcover and multiple e-formats.

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