Sunday, September 16

When a story goes silent...


          I love the book I’m working on. I love its characters—ones I hated to leave behind when I left ONE MORE SUMMER. I love its setting—Peacock, Tennessee is small-town America at its bucolic best. The first half of the book went smoothly in spite of the fact that I had no idea where it was going. Research has been as much fun as it always is. (D’Ann and I are polar opposites on this—she hates research and I want her to write a Western historical. Join me in trying to convince her. She’ll listen to you!)
          Well, anyway, I wrote most of Chapter 12. It took the plot in a new direction, gave the protagonists a little more character development, and…it was okay. But wait, it took me two weeks to write 10 pages and they were okay? So I cut the whole chapter. And I haven’t written a viable word since.
I open the file and stare broodingly at it and wonder why I can’t be a plotter and a planner and an outliner and, well, anything except what I am. I get a lot done as far as doing promotional tweets and posting on Facebook and other not-writing things. Yesterday morning I mopped the bathrooms and the kitchen. Last night I made cookies. I said I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I did know. I did.
          I’m stuck. My WIP is at a “blue screen of death” place and I’m not sure where to go. Is there a “ctrl, alt, delete” for the “oh my God, what makes me think I’m a writer? I’m terrible. I’m worse than terrible.” train of thought?
          It’s not like writer’s block—I can write. I’ve done a couple of blog posts. I even got out an unfinished story and worked on it a little bit to make sure I was “in voice.” I was. It was all right and it’s a book I’ll finish one day. But it’s not the story I want to tell right now. The story I want to tell has, for whatever reason, gone silent.
          I’ve developed a habit of ending my posts with a question. This time is no different, except you might sense a hint of desperation in today’s question. That’s no accident—I feel a little desperate. What do you do when you invite your story people out to play and they close the door in your face?

44 comments:

  1. Wow, Liz, you didn't say, "Nan" in this post, but you may as well have. This has been my issue most of the summer. My answer was to take on more editing work, so at least I'd have an excuse, "Well, I'm simply overwhelmed with work right now." As if I've let that stop me before. Now, I have a big bunch of work and the story is back in my head and pounding at the door of my mind to be let out. I'm hoping I can finish these three projects and take a month off to focus. My prayer is that the muse will still be there and I be staring at that wicked blue screen all through October...

    I think the answer is to step away, literally and figuratively. Just stop and do something else. Sew or clean or bake or whatever...give your mind and heart time to come 'round again. They will and soon you'll be at the computer doing what you love best. Hold tight! It'll be back!

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  2. Of course, I meant "I won't be staring at the blue screen..." Sheesh! Mind moving faster than fingers...

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    1. I'm thinking I'll not work on it tomorrow and see if anything clears. This isn't the first time this has happened, but it worries me every time!

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  3. I think you're already doing what you need to do...let those characters percolate a little bit and see what happens.

    When I get to this point, I change *my* scene first - put the writing away, working something else creative. If after a day or so I'm still in the same place, I try to just push through. Even if it's crap.

    Hope you get your rhythm back (soon), Liz, because I LOVE these characters, too, and I need a fix. :)

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  4. I work on something else. I got stuck on Austin and Jamie and went back to Kelly and Claire. The way to get around the OMG I'm working on a new thing and it's so much fun is to make sure and have another WIP that's somewhere past the opening. Good luck!

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    1. I've never mastered working on two at once. Even when I'm in edits, the WIP stalls until I'm done. Sigh. Thanks for coming by, D.

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  5. Hi Liz, you're not alone. I've had this happen to me before too. I think most of us face the "blue screen of death" at some point...whether we want to admit it or not. ;) I'm not a plotter either, so if the characters aren't talking, then I'm not writing. I normally try to work on a different project like D'Ann mentioned, or I'll listen to music and daydream. I also try to stop thinking about the last scene I was just in and focus on either the characters' romance or I ask them questions about themselves. Good luck! Chin up. The story will come in its own time :) *hugs*

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    1. Thanks, Karen. I'm so invested in these people that it's hard to work with something else--I almost feel disloyal to them! Being a writer is certainly...strange, isn't it? :-) Thanks for coming by!

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  6. I've read where some authors say that they write anyway, even if it's crap and they delete it, but to me that is a waste of time. I normally put the story away. I might think of it off and on but I know that the problem I'm having with the story I can't identify will eventually work itself out. I've had it take a few months before but I'll have an "AHA" moment and figure out what in the story bothered me. During that time I normally start a new project, which is why I normally have 2 to 3 stories going at a time! lol

    Wish I had some secret to share, but I don't. I enjoyed reading everyone's advice on the subject. Great post Liz!

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    1. Thanks, Christine. I'm doing the "write anyway" thing because at least then I feel productive. I guess I'm worried because, like I said before, I'm so invested in this story. Thanks for coming over!

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  7. I take a break. Even if I'm on deadline, I can spare at least twelve hours to let it percolate a bit. Then I thik about where I want the book to end. What needs to happen to each character. Where do I want them to be, how do I want them to change? Then I try to think of the different circumstances that can happen to make it so. I just went through this on Friday and after writing 250 words, I knew I was going to have to take a break, even if I have a book due in two weeks. And it worked. I'm now writing toward the end of the story. I'm close enough that I'm not even worry much about target word count because I know that when I go back and layer I will have more than enough:)

    Good Luck!
    Teri

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    1. I'm going to do that, too, Teri--take the day off from it, I mean--and good for you getting back into it so quickly! Thanks for stopping.

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  8. Liz - Teri has something there. Not so much about taking the time out, which you obviously find difficult, but about the ending. You must know exactly how you want the story to finish. Why don't you write the ending? You mightn't even have to think about how it happens. Just hit that blank page and you'll find you're working toward "The End".

    Which is great advice coming from me, a current sufferer, not so much of writer's block but of laziness and can't-be-bothered. But, aha, the external circumstances dumped me into that low frame of mind are showing signs of change. Enthusiasm begins to return! And that's saying something for a great grandma of 71 whose physical decrepitude gets in the way of work!

    You'll get it done, girl. Go!

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  9. Hi, Monica. Even though I think you might have a good idea there, it's one I can't do. The end of the book--bittersweet though it always is--is also my "reward" for having written it. Add to that the fact that I am linear to the extent of being anal, and you'll know it's something I just can't do. :-)

    Hope you get your glee back soon, and thanks for coming by!

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    1. Hi again Liz - sorry couldn't help. Hope you glean enough ideas from all this advice. Ah yes, the dreaded "sag in the middle" syndrome. We all know it. Actually it looks like you'll be best served by putting it away for a while!

      Hope your muse jumps into your head and the computer too.

      By the way, the name's MONYA, not Monica, but don't worry, I've been called different MONIKERS all my life.

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  10. Here's something you could try. Envision the perfect ending and write it down. That way you have your direction. Then go back and reread from the beginning and hopefully the spot where the story went wrong will become clear. Normally, if I can't write, it means the story went wrong somewhere and I cannot pinpoint it but deep down I know it's not headed in the right direction.

    Oh, I see Monya and I have the same advice. I agree with her :) Best of luck!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. I know the ending--it's the middle where I seem to be in really dire trouble.

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  11. I have a whole workshop on this issue!

    Remind yourself what it was about this story that excited you.

    Go back to the beginning ONE TIME and read through.

    Recognize you don't have to get it perfect the first time.

    Jump ahead.

    Write a scene where you character receives something--a gift, a letter, a punch in the nose, a lab report. Show how they react to it.

    Trust your intuition.

    Don't talk about writing the story.

    Add a complication.

    Keep the outcome in doubt, but give flashes of hope.

    Change POV

    Question whether or not your character's opponent, be it person or situation, is strong enough.

    Create a time dilemma.

    Compare and contrast.

    Remind yourself of your strengths and play to them.

    Leave your desk for the afternoon and do something fun.

    Ask yourself what your favorite author would do.

    Think small.

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    1. Thank you, Cheryl! I think we just got benefit of your workshop. :-) I will try this.

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  12. Just saw this: "Perfectionism creates procrastination, which leads to paralysis." -- Marjorie Liu

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  13. I'm going through this with three of my wips. I tried working on other stories, but now they've all stalled. So I'm concentrating on other projects (cleaning out the basement, catching up on my reading) and hoping the muse returns SOON!

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    1. I'm sure it will, Molly, though I panic every time this happens. Good luck and thanks for coming over.

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  14. I take a break and watch TV or read someone else's book. Two weeks of silence, though? I'd be near frantic! I'm sorry. I don't know what advice to give. But I can sure feel your pain. If you're still obsessing about it, that's a good sign. When they open up again, it'll probably all flow out of you at once and leave you exhausted.

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    1. I almost wish I wasn't so in love with this story, but that at least lets me know I won't give up on it. Thanks, Patty. And you said one thing that made me wonder--I'm reading a book by an auto-buy-favorite, Carla Kelly, and I'm struggling with it. Maybe it's not the stories at all, but something internal I'm going to have to dig out. Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. I like Cheryl's responses, especially the ones about adding a complication or a scene where the character receives something. I'm wondering if a new minor character could appear to upset the show, maybe a long lost friend/past lover, perhaps? Then again, I'm off to do cleaning, too!:)
    Good Luck!
    Arsoleen

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    1. Thanks, Arsoleen. We're a cleaning bunch this week, aren't we? :-)

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  16. You've got plenty of great ideas to work with here. My favorites that I use:
    * do something else creative
    * jump ahead a scene or two and write the scene that excites me (p.s. often I find that the scene that I get stuck on (I'm a panster too) usually has no clear scene goal and often times can be cut.)
    * work on a short piece of some kind
    * I'd like to say I exercise, but alas when I'm stuck usually my body is too. LOL
    Good luck.

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    1. I've tried some of that, too, Suzanne. And today I wrote a few lines (yeah, seriously, lines) that I just love. I hope that's a step back through the creativity door. Thanks for coming!

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  17. Wow, lots of great answers and suggestions here. Sorry I'm late to the post. Since you are an organic writer (I prefer that label to pantser) the element of surprise is probably what keeps you invested in your story. When did you stop being surprised by your characters?

    One thing that I'm aware of when my story comes to a halt, I've weakened the conflict somehow. Internal conflict has to be set from the very beginning. External conflict may need to be ratcheted up. Where's the conflict in your story right now at Chapter 12. Have your characters said or done something they swore they'd never say or do? (yet?) (That's a Donal Maas trick)

    OR - take a long walk or shower. One or the other (or both) ususally get my brain synapses jumping around.

    Good luck. You've gotten some terrific advice from your blog friends! Please keep us posted.

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  18. I'm at that unhappy place right now and I waste a lot of time doing research that is fascinating, but just not quite what I need to get me going again. I like Cheryl's idea of changing POV so I'm off to do esactly that! Best wishes with restarting, Liz.

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    1. You, too, Nancy, and thanks for coming by!

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  19. They're still surprising me, Lynne--especially by clamming up! But I think you have a point about the conflict. Mine is forever weak, and beefing it up might be a fix.

    Thanks!

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  20. Don't cut, don't stop. Finishe your first draft. There are several ways of saying this, from Nora Roberts, "I can fix crap, I can't fix nothing. From Hemmingway. "The first draft is always crap." Just keep writing.

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    1. Good reminder, and since I've advised enough people to do that myself, I should have thought of it myself. Still think I'm going to give it a day off, though. Thanks, Ella.

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  21. Liz, I'm going through something similar to this right now. The only difference is, I do have the story completely outlined, so know where it's going. But I just can't bring myself to sit down and write it. For now, I'm trying to make myself sit down at the same time every day and write 1000 words. The hard part is sitting down to do it. But it's just not flowing as I thought it would. What works for me when I just can't bring myself to work on a project is to work on something else for a while, or if that fails, I read. Reading other stories always reinspires me to work on mine.

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  22. I am finding today that music helps, too. What a journey this book is shaping up to be! Thanks, Susan.

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  23. Seems like you're dong all you can. Give yourswelf permission to not think about it. But remember to go back and try again

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    1. Thanks, Shawn. I think I'm seeing a little light...

      I appreciate everyone's help!

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  24. Wow, this sure seems like a common problem and it's nice knowing we're not alone in this struggle. This too has happened to me. My ending became so entangled, spinning off into multiple directions, I really had to sit down and focus. I asked my self who had the most to lose in the scene and write it in that character's POV. Then I had to go back and examine the story and character arcs. Once I'd reminded myself of that I wrote toward those goals and eventually wrote my way out of the mess.

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    1. Hi, Kathy. Good thoughts! Thanks for coming.

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  25. Liz, I'm a day late and a dollar short, but here's my advice, now that you let it rest for a complete day ;)

    Sit down with scratch paper and different colored pens. And brainstorm. Return to the place where the story was last working and think of different possibilities and then consider where these would go. Do they have an absolute ending or do they lead into something new and then branch out into something new again?

    I've had to do that several times with Bix. And sometimes it's my favorite part of writing. The randomness of brainstorming. Sometimes it's useless, but I think even then it opens my brain up to possibility.

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    1. PS--I used different colored pens and graph paper because it's not a commitment. And I write at different angles, up the page, down the page--wherever the ideas lead me.

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    2. Good thinking, Margie, and I may go there. Thanks for coming by.

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