Writing stalls for myriad reasons. Sometimes the glass is empty, and when you peer down into the well there’s nothing there either. Maybe the secret of avoiding writer’s block is to catch yourself in a stall before it gets worse?
Last week I stalled. The well wasn’t dry — the words were flowing, but they were breaking around the scene I wanted to write. The scene I wanted to write sat on a little island in the middle of a stream. I kept floating on by, over and over. It was opaque. I couldn’t see inside. The outside told me nothing.
In the scene, an 11-year-old girl bikes home after helping a neighbor save a loose dog from being shot. Her long hair is flying, the helmet she’s supposed to be wearing is swinging from her handlebars. I’m getting to know this kid pretty well. She calls herself Glory. Her mother calls her Gloria. Already I don’t like her mother.
But the scene froze as soon as she turned in to her driveway. I could see her house. I couldn’t see inside it.
Time to do some research. Sometimes, in fiction as well as nonfiction, this means looking things up, or going somewhere in person, or interviewing someone who’s got the information you need. In this case the information was in my imagination. Freewriting is my most reliable tool for tapping into my imagination.
Too reliable. That‘s why I was stalling. I’ve glimpsed enough of where my story is going to not want to know what’s going on in that house.
Time to start getting acquainted with Glory’s mother.
I sat down in my chair with lined paper, an old-fashioned notebook, and a fountain pen loaded with the Tropical Blue ink I hadn’t used for a while.
I met Bruce at a fundraiser for a conservation group — they were raising money for rainforests in Brazil or mustangs in the Wild West, I can’t remember. I’m not into all that — life is overwhelming enough in the here and now, don’t you think?
Hot damn. I hadn’t even known her husband’s name. Then Glory’s mother confirmed what I’d begun to suspect: that this Bruce fellow is her second husband, and not Glory’s biological father. Glory looks so unlike her parents that her best friend asked if she was adopted. I’d been wondering the same thing.
Javier and I were talking about separating, so it’s OK that I went out for a nightcap with Bruce afterward, don’t you think?
Glory’s mother kept talking. We were at a party — or maybe I was her new therapist? She didn’t tell me her name. I didn’t ask, because I thought I was supposed to know it already. Bruce may not be Bruce either, or or Javier, Javier. That doesn’t matter. Some characters come with names firmly attached — Glory did, that’s for sure — but other names take time to settle in.
What matters is that now I knew enough about Glory’s family to see inside the house. The film started rolling again. Glory walked her bike into the garage and leaned it against the wall, noting that her mom’s car was there but her dad’s car wasn’t. She wasn’t surprised: her dad works off-island (my novel is set where I live, on Martha’s Vineyard) and often isn’t home during the week.
None of Glory’s mother’s monologue is likely to end up in the novel. If I were counting words, would these six handwritten pages count toward my quota? No idea. What counts is that I had to write them before I could write Glory’s next scene.