How I beat writer's block (at least this time around)

It doesn’t matter exactly how I got to writer’s block. I’ll just say I had a great beginning and was no longer happy with the course I had planned from there on. But I still have a deadline. Everybody talks about perseverance, and that’s good, but there can come a point at which perseverance becomes banging your head against the same four paragraphs because something just isn’t right about the next scene. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.

Your mileage may vary, but here’s what I’m doing. At least for now, on this part of this story.

As I said to one of my writing buddies tonight, I am going to jump off a cliff and, like Arthur Dent, hope to miss the ground. I’m going to, metaphorically speaking, jump in mud puddles, talk to strangers and accept all the candy they want to give me, and follow footsteps I haven’t made yet to see if they take me someplace I like. The worst possible outcome is that I will, to borrow a line from Edison, discover a lot of ways that don’t work and eliminate those from my inevitable, “I wonder if I should haves.”

Or as Aaron Rosenburg, a friend of mine who writes a lot of franchise novels, often under “house names” said to me years ago when I was blocked, “Write a story about purple aliens who love rutabaga. Give in to all your worst impulses. Narrate too much, go purple prose on it, get bogged down in exposition. Do Tom Swifties. Just get stupid with it and decide in advance that it’s going to be trash. Never show it to anybody, but stick it away in a drawer someplace and know that everything you ever write from that day forward will be better.”

I’ve gotten some other good advice from others on keeping writing even when all that’s coming our is crap–'cause let’s face it, while sometimes we really do sit there overdrawn at the idea bank, what we usually mean when we say we’re blocked is that we can’t think of anything GOOD to write.

As Kij Johnson has told me more than once, and as other members of my writing group repeat to each other (especially to me), “Once it’s on the page, it can be fixed.” And there’s Lane Robin’s (aka Lyn Benedict)'s corollory to that, which is, “until it’s on the page, there’s nothing TO fix. And sometimes you have to write those 30,000 crappy words to get to the good ones.” (And yes, I’ve seen her get 30,000 words into a novel and start over, so she’s not just pulling an arbitrary number out of thin air.) She just rewrote three chapters of the upcoming book four of her urban fantasy series, but said if she hadn’t written the chapters she’s trashing, she wouldn’t have known how to write the chapters she needs.

I don’t drop these names to be cool–Hell, if you’re not into speculative fiction you probably don’t know those names anyway–but to emphasize that all this comes from people who are out there doing it, and either making a living, or at least a good portion of their living at it. So yeah, I think their words carry a little more weight than mine would.

So that’s how I’m getting over it right now, and posting publicly about it for two reasons. 1) it makes me accountable for actually doing it, and 2) I figure hey, maybe somebody else could benefit from a pep talk, too. I sure needed one. Which is why I wrote one.