Plot your way out of writer’s block?

Unbeknownst to me at the time, a fellow NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) member (and good online friend) had previously written a blog about getting out of writer’s blog by plotting.   You can read Amie’s position here:

Writer’s Life Wednesday – Plot Your Way Out Of Writer’s Block.

It would never work for me, but maybe it will work for you!

Good luck!

Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it.

“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”  Stephen King

I have two works in progress, one is a murder mystery and the other is a literary fiction novel. The latter is entitled “Emergency Landings” and it is the one that continues to grip my imagination. Unfortunately, due to my long working hours, I have not had time to work on either. But as I mentioned in my first blog, I have renewed my commitment to my craft, even if that means adding to my novel 50 words at a time. Any progress is better than no progress.

Last weekend, a girlfriend of mine read the synopsis and an excerpt of Emergency Landings. She did not read it as a fellow writer, as she neither writes nor aspires to write; instead, she read it as a reader. Funnily enough, she did not even know I wrote it because it was under a username that she did not know was mine.

After reading the pieces, she asked to know who the author was and how she could get the book. I thought she was joking, but she was entirely serious. When I said that I wrote it, she was excited and asked if she could read what I had written so far.

Wednesday, inspired by her genuine interest, I opened the first chapter and read it with the intention of cleaning it up a bit. Imagine my horror when I realized that what was supposed to a compelling introduction, the death notification, was actually quite boring.

Yikes.

Maybe this was not the story that needed to be told—at least not by me, anyway.

The next day, however, I decided that I could still tell this story as it was, in fact, my story. And more importantly, it was the story that I still loved and felt compelled to write. I was just going to have to scrap the opening chapter and try to come up with another beginning!

Or not.  Despite my optimism, I ended up frustrated because the death notification was the right place to start and I could find no suitable alternative. Why do I do this to myself?

Finally, I found the above Stephen King quote in a pile of papers. I had come across it before and was so inspired that I printed it in large font with the intention of putting it on my wall. Reading the advice that sometimes we have to keep going even when it feels like all we are doing is shovel shit from one page to the next, I knew that I would keep the first chapter. If for no other reason than to get to the next one.

I pinned the quote to the wall, opened up Scrivener and set about editing the first chapter from a purely grammatical and structural point of view. In the process, I unexpectedly ended up rewriting a large portion of it. The scene came to life and as I put myself in Claire’s (the protagonist) heart and mind, I actually cried.

I am hoping that the next time I read this chapter, I won’t find it boring (which I seriously doubt I will). If, however, I do still think it is boring, I will persevere, because I love my concept too much to give up on it. And because “stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea.”

Stuck? Try pantsing it.

“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all of our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”  Stephen King

Generally, writers fall within a spectrum of styles.  On one end is the “plotter” and on the other end is the “pantser.”  The plotter is a meticulous planner, from plot points and twists to comprehensive character creation to world building.  For the plotter, it is easier to write a scene that has already been decided upon for purposes of moving the story in the direction in which the writer intends it to go.

A pantser “flies by the seat” of his or her pants.  A pantser may decide to write a story with as little to go on as a character and a goal or challenge.  Ray Bradbury suggested “find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.”  I can’t imagine a more apt description of the pantsing process.

Many writers, however, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  For example, a writer may need to establish major plot points and some major characters before writing but once they begin, they pants the trajectory between points A and B, B and C, C and D.

Personally, I am 100% a pantser.  If I take the time to write out plot points, my inner critic will destroy every idea, and all possible permutations, with an efficiency that is (almost) as admirable as it is tragic.  Every attempt at plotting leaves me shaken and sad. I will have decided that my ideas are trite, my plot twists are contrived, and my characters are wooden and/or unbelievable.  The overall conclusion is that I suck and it is soul crushing.  I know this sounds hyperbolic but it’s completely true.  In fact, it was my attempts to plot over the years that prevented me from every actually writing.

If, however, I decide on a character who has a problem to resolve or life changing event to survive, and nothing more, I can pretty much run wild in the story telling department.  I silence the inner critic by saying, “shut up, I’ll fix it in the next draft.”  And it actually works.

As a pantser, I enjoy being surprised every time I sit down to write.  I, like the potential reader, have no idea what is going to happen next.  I’ll start a scene with my main character answering the telephone and I’ll end the scene (completely unplanned) with her sister agreeing to come see her.  For me, this makes writing fun, which is what it is supposed to be in the first place, right?

Of course, I am not suggesting that one method is better than the other.  I am just sharing that one method is better for me.  If, however, you are a person who has wanted to write a novel or short story and has tried to plot it out and in so doing, killed your motivation, then try pantsing.  Decide what your hero wants and follow him or her.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Humble Beginnings

On a lark, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month in 2014. Prior to Nano, I had never written anything creatively longer than a thousand words. I was convinced I lacked the imagination to be a fiction writer. To my surprise, and with a little help from my sons, I wrote 65 thousand words in November. On December 11, I completed the first draft with a total of 90 thousand words. It was life-changing. What was previously impossible was now completely possible. Maybe, just maybe, I could be a writer after all.

Since Nano, I have started three different projects. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to devote on them. I’ve decided to change that. Part of my new writing pledge will be updating this blog and part will be working on one of my works-in-progress.

“If you wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read — if you wait for the time, you will never do it.” Harry Crews

We make time for things that are important to us. If writing is as important to me as I think it is, then I will find the time to do it. *she says with more confidence than she feels*

My blogs will be about life as an amateur writer. I do not profess to know anything that no one else knows. Nor do I claim to be an expert when it comes to writing. All I can do is discuss the process, document the struggle, and encourage others to join me.

Let’s start a dialogue. Writing is a solitary passion. In my experience, non-writers are bored to tears by the nuts and bolts of writing. None of us, however, is truly alone as long as we seek each other out. I’m looking for my compatriots. I hope you find me.