Listen to Those Blocks

Creative blocks in rearrangement mode

Creative blocks in rearrangement mode

Ever notice how most of the stuff you learn about writing is stuff you already know?

I’m not talking primarily about grammar, punctuation, spelling, and all the nuts-and-bolts basics. I’m talking about the “how to keep going” part.

Last winter the novel I was working on, The Squatters’ Speakeasy, wasn’t coalescing or developing any momentum. I wouldn’t say I was blocked exactly, but the writing sure got sludgy. I procrastinated a lot before I sat down to write, and fidgeted a lot when I got there.

I also started this blog, and wrote an essay about a controversial statue that was in the news at the time. As I blogged back in April, in “Course Correction”:

 When I got up in the morning, I couldn’t wait to sit down in my chair and start writing. I finished the essay. I kept going with the blog. Whenever I thought about waking Squatters from its winter snooze, I was overcome by an irresistible urge to play endless games of Spider solitaire.

Procrastination was trying to tell me something. Finally I got the message. I put Squatters aside. About a year before I’d written a scene about a dog named Wolfie, a kid named Glory, and Shannon, a character from my first novel, The Mud of the Place. It didn’t fit in Squatters, so I put it aside. Now I pulled it back onto my lap and had another look. My imagination woke up.

Long story short: This blog now has more than a thousand followers. The novel, working title: Wolfie, passed the 50,000-word mark three days ago.

Here comes the bit about how writers keep learning what we already know.

Or, to put it in a slightly less flattering light: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” However, for some strange reason, it’s always easier to catch your friends doing the same thing over and over again than it is to realize that you’re up to your old tricks again.

Who, me?

Short version: My other blog, From the Seasonally Occupied Territories, was wilting. Running out of steam. I was thinking of wrapping it up, or at least putting it in the indefinite deep freeze. At the same time, there were so many things I wanted to write about that I was thinking of starting another blog.

Sheesh. When I type that, it looks so obvious. I really must have been nuts or in denial or just plain dense not to see that I could do the writing I wanted to do in From the Seasonally Occupied Territories.

If you’re curious about the longer version, you can read it here.

Writers talk about writer’s blocks and procrastination all the time. Most of us have at least a passing acquaintance with both. Many of us have had long-term relationships with one or the other. We dread them, we hate them, we do endless rituals to keep them at bay.

I’m here to remind you — because I know you know this already — that often the blocks and the procrastination are trying to tell you something. Sometimes the back-seat driver is right: Either you’ve missed a turn or you’ve taken one you didn’t want.

The road you want is the one that keeps your pen moving across the paper or your fingers on the keyboard.

Creative blocks, rearranged

Creative blocks, rearranged

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4 thoughts on “Listen to Those Blocks

  1. I don’t know about procrastination being a sign I should quit. I am a lifelong procrastinator and I most often use it to avoid doing something or writing something about which I am uncertain. I don’t want to mess it up, so I avoid doing it at all until I can avoid it no longer. This happens a lot with my writing. I come to a crucial point where a character is about to deal with something and I am unsure of how I want them to deal with it or what I want the outcome to be. Usually I follow the possibilities through in my mind and I end up with so many that I become paralyzed as to which one to use because it means leaving the others behind. So I put off writing any further.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, I know that kind of procrastination. I’m in first-draft mode and the material is, well, challenging. That’s what keeps it interesting, but it also makes it scary: I dread going down that road, but I’m afraid I have to. The solution is always “sit down and get the hand moving across the page.” Or get the words flowing across the computer screen if you’re using a keyboard.

      I started writing in longhand because it got me through stalls and blocks when nothing else did. Now I do nearly all my first-drafting in longhand. Where I balk is at sitting in the chair, picking up a pen, and getting the hand moving.

      What Procrastination is almost always trying to tell me is that what I’m doing isn’t working, so try something else. In the case of Squatters’ Speakeasy, it was “Put this project aside for a while. Wake Wolfie up.” In the case of my other blog, it was “You’re hemmed in by your own rules. Why not change them?” If you really, really don’t want to work on the novel this morning, OK, work on one of the blogs. As long as you’re sitting in the goddamn chair with words coming through your fingers, you’re good.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Here’s another handy trick: When Procrastination or the Internal Editor starts chattering away in your head, sit down and transcribe everything they say. (1) It gets the words flowing out of your fingers, which is exactly what you’ve been avoiding, and (2) once you see Procrastination’s and Internal Editor’s chatter on the page, it looks pretty stupid. 🙂

      This is a variation of my most reliable way of getting through snags, stalls, and blocks: At the top of the page I write “I can’t write this scene because . . .” and then go, for at least 10 minutes, but I usually keep going a lot longer than that.

      Liked by 2 people

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