Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Writer's Indecision

Recently, I struggled with a piece that was meant to be a short story. My normal practice is to journal ideas before I write a new story. This time I dived in with an ending and no other plan in mind. About 3,000 words in I realized the story had to do something different, cut out most of what I'd written, started again. 2,500 words later, I still couldn't get my characters to the end within a reasonable short-story-sized story. I fretted, picked at the ms, then escaped into the last disc of Mad Men season 2 to get away from the battle.

Better planning would have told me this wasn't a short story, it was the opening of a novel. It had too much back story; too many plots wanted telling; too many characters inserted themselves in the first 3,000 words . Dealing with this issue reminded me of a problem I have on and off with my writing.

For a long time I'd wanted to write the kind of stories I enjoyed reading. It got to the point I wanted to publish those stories so others could read them, too. In order to learn how to do that I read a lot of books on writing, as you do. Add to that my tendency to be a literal student when I undertake something new or deal with something I don't do often. I blame being Virgo for this fault. That's less embarrassing than saying I'm naive.

Writers spoke of their characters talking to them. They described stories taking wild detours from carefully prepared outlines. I thought I had to wait for my characters to speak to me, for the story to tell me what it wanted to do. After a childhood and young adulthood of prolific writing I spent fruitless hours staring at a blank page, waiting like a needy girl who hopes that ringing phone means a Friday night date. I'd half-heartedly journal about my writer's block and lack of creativity. I did a lot of whining. It wasn't attractive.

I wasn't suffering from writer's block. I was suffering from writer's indecision.

I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring. I started journaling story ideas in earnest. That's when I got it. I had to ask 'what happens next' then explore the possibilities. I had to poke at characters to see how they reacted. I had to look at what I'd written then extrapolate the logical sequence of events. I could decide what kind of obstacles to toss in a character's way. With the piece mentioned above, I failed to plan then fell into the bad old habit of waiting for the work to speak rather than telling the work what to do.

When I first figured out my issues with writer's indecision I felt at once foolish and liberated. Writing became a pleasure rather than a chore. I could sit down every day at the keyboard and know I had stories to tell rather than waiting for the stories to talk to me. The stories I did tell got easier to write. Not better, necessarily, but easier. The better will come with the practice of daily writing.

For myself I don't believe in writer's block, anymore. I know, worst comes to worst, I can drop a ninja in the room and see what happens. I may have to delete a bunch of stuff but it will spark ideas I can explore. That's a more satisfying than staring at a computer screen.


B.J. West said...

"I know, worst comes to worst, I can drop a ninja in the room and see what happens."

Love it. What fun is it being a Deus if you don't occasionally fire up the machina?

alleahna said...

Tell me about it. Sometimes the ninja can even stay. *grin*