Getting unstuck

Helga’s Post #51:


Photo credit Novak Rogic

The rains have started here in Vancouver after days of glorious autumn sunshine. It’s amazing how it seems to influence people’s psyche. Facial expressions seem to change ever so slightly, as does body posture, even gait. It must be that gray, wet environment that puts a damper on our general well-being. Speaking for myself, I feel my brain getting a little more sluggish, my creativity mushy and my energy definitely less pronounced.

It’s the creativity part that has the most direct effect on my life. It doesn’t bode well for my writing. Not only the actual quality of it. What bothers me more is that some kind of uncertainty creeps into the process of planning, such as, am I really writing the story I want to tell? Why did I choose to write about ‘these’ characters and not others? Am I writing a book that readers will be interested in? Perhaps I should have chosen a different setting for my novel, perhaps even a totally different plot?

That’s the rub. The plot. Did I choose the right one?

Surely, with thoughts like those I won’t be producing a dozen titles per year, like many bestselling authors do. How do they do it by the way? I’d love to interview some of these famous folks to find out just what makes them so productive.

Where do they get their plot ideas from, novel after bestselling novel? Are there plot categories that seem more successful than others?

Christopher Booker says there are only seven plots: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth.  Others think there are only five plots: man against man, man against himself, man against nature, man against society, and man against God.

One thing is certain: There is no secret place we can go to get bestselling plots:  “Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we?” Stephen King says.  “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestseller.”

Some words of wisdom about the process of plotting from screenwriter Roger Ebert, who notes “The Muse visits during composition, not before.” Orson Scott Card of Ender’s Game fame agrees: “Don’t wait for a muse to strike and force you to your typewriter.  Such events are rare—in my experience, muses tend to strike those who are at the keyboard typing their brains out, not those who are playing video games in the basement.”

Lucky for me, I don’t have video games in the basement. Neither do any thoughts of doubts about my writing bug me 24/7. They are more likely to emerge when other things in my life don’t quite work out the way they should. Like a flooded basement and the insurance company refusing the claim. Or my granddaughter wanting to drop biology and take sewing instead during her last year of high school. Or the cortisone shot in my foot to get rid of a nasty pain that made it worse instead.

We all have days and weeks like that. But every problem has a solution. With time and patience we’ll get through them all. And that goes for our writing too. It’s funny, when I read over my writing I can actually tell when I was in a good mood and things generally went well. My characters seem to have more bounce in their actions and dialogue. The writing flows just a little better.

One of the antidotes when hitting a snag in my writing is to get away from the computer and link up with a friend. And if I am in luck, with a writer friend who lives in my neighborhood, like Paula. Because, as fulfilling a career as writing is, it’s solitary as few other careers are. We live with our characters in our head and ours alone. But it’s a tremendous help to talk about them with our writing buddies. That’s why critique groups are invaluable. I am lucky to be part of one.

Now my characters are calling me to action. They are impatient, which is a good sign. Maybe I can write a great chapter or two in spite of the miserable weather.

4 thoughts on “Getting unstuck

  1. Write away, Helga! Write away! – Only don’t forget that you promised to take a break for a spirited Friday night dinner at Carmelo’s, avec husbands! I promise we can talk about writing, and plotting, as we swirl some chianti in our wine glasses!

  2. “No one ever said this was easy.” “We have to take the bad with the good.” There are so many cliches we could toss out to describe these feelings we writers must deal with, aren’t there? The reality is some days are better for sitting down with the characters than others. And on other days, life will intrude whether we want it to or not. But if we’re serious about writing, we keep at it through thick and thin, good and bad. If you’re like me, impatient characters are a good sign. Gloomy weather and transitions can be hard on the writing. But even if they drive us to a break, sometimes that can be helpful. But if you can stand one more cliche—if those characters are impatient, “Strike while the iron is hot!”

    • Yes, cliches abound. Some are actually pretty good, like your last one. We have to use those special moments when the Muse visits and strikes us. That’s a very special time, a gift in a way. Let’s not squander it. Thanks for your comment JM, thoughtful as always. Where do you find the time?!

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