Friday, May 29, 2009

Writer's Block (Excuse The Expression)

My daughter taught me a lot about the theatre, including some of their superstitions. For instance, Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, is never referred to by name, but as "the Scottish play."

As a baseball player, I learned--and practiced--a number of superstitions. Recently, Kay and I were watching a Texas Rangers game on TV and she noticed that, when the pitcher took the field, he hopped over the first-base foul line. When she commented on it, I told her, "Of course. Pitchers don't touch the line. It's bad luck. I used to do that myself." Many players use a different bat in batting practice than in the game, because "there are only so many hits in a bat and you don't want to use them up in batting practice."

Well, that's athletes. Surely writers don't have superstitions. Actually, there's one I've encountered on several occasions. Writer's don't like to talk about writer's block. Because if you don't mention it, maybe it will never happen to them. But it does--and it will. It did to me just recently.

I'd written three chapters--about 10,000 words--in a new novel, number three in the Prescription For Trouble series. I'd pretty much decided what course the novel was going to take, had the characters set in my mind, even had the ending mapped out. But the opening chapter didn't grab my attention. More than that, it didn't grab the attention of Kay, my wife and biggest fan/severest critic/first reader. I tried again, and again it didn't work. We kicked it around several times, and finally I bit the bullet and deleted about two-thirds of what I'd written. But it wasn't wasted, because it was wonderful backstory that I could reveal later, if necessary, while letting the story flow. What I'd initially perceived as writer's block was a message from that part of my brain that had retained some of the lessons I'd learned along this road to writing: "Resist the urge to explain. Trust the reader to figure it out. And if there's not tension on the page, if the scene does nothing to further the plot, hit the delete key."

Each writer has his or her own way of dealing with a situation where they hit a snag. Stephen King talks about just letting things ferment in the mind. He calls this turning loose "the boys in the basement." In this case, the "boys" were hampered by my reluctance to part with some of the words of deathless prose I'd already written. Now that I've gotten past that, we'll see how things go.

Have you encountered a block? Not just in your writing, but in your life? Maybe you need to turn loose your own "boys in the basement." Go back to some of the basics you learned earlier in life. Open your Bible and see if there isn't instruction there for you. Maybe you need to do the hard thing. If it's the right thing, it may get you past that block. And maybe that block was there for a reason. Think about it.

3 comments:

Timothy Fish said...

I don’t recall having ever encountered writer’s block, though I have encountered a few scenes that I just wasn’t passionate about. When that happens, I either delete the scene, or I ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen to this character at this moment?” It’s amazing what it does for a scene when we have a character either push himself away from a terrible situation or claw his way up to the absolute best situation he can achieve.

Elaine said...

Thanks for your last paragraph. I certainly appreciate it. We often encounter road blocks in life. The best way around them is to open our Bibles. Thanks for this reminder.

Elaine

Elaine said...

Thanks for your last paragraph. I certainly appreciate it. We often encounter road blocks in life. The best way around them is to open our Bibles. Thanks for this reminder.

Elaine