Kat's Blog

Kat's Blog

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Bash - Day 26!

Today my guest is Janis Susan May. I'm so thrilled to have her and now I'm going to turn the stage over to her.

I have a writer’s block.
It’s square and about as tall as a soup can, made of pale, unfinished but smoothly sanded (I hate splinters!) wood. It has a largish hole drilled down from the top so it can hold my pens and pencils.
It’s the only kind of writer’s block I allow in my life.
Popular misconception has the writer being held subject to the whims of a writer’s block, to be paralyzed creatively until a generous Muse comes and frees him with the magic touch of An Idea. Unless you are subject to the agonies of creation, goes this canard, or prisoner to the whims and demands of High Art, you aren’t a real writer.
Such thinking is pure self-indulgence, along with the demands for either absolute silence or a certain kind of music, the perfect temperature, a chair that is exactly the right height and a breakfast of two bagels and mango jam… or whatever your preferred formula is.
While we do have our preferences for our environment, writers write whether they are there or not. Professional writers, those who are being paid for their product, write no matter what. Writing/publishing is as much commerce as creation, and does not allow for fancies and megrims. You have to deliver so many words by such-and-such a date, and you had better deliver them if you want to keep a decent reputation in the industry.
That does not mean words flow unimpeded from my fingertips or that I never have problems. Sometimes the well dries up. My plotline will fall apart. I am utterly convinced I will never write a coherent sentence again, let alone follow a convoluted story line or character arc with anything approximating competency. Unfortunately, such bleak moments are part of a writer’s life, but they don’t mean you or I can let our problems stop us until some beneficent Muse gives us a ‘get out of jail free’ card or its artistic equivalent. I have a deadline, and to professional writers, deadlines are sacrosanct. My father, an advertising executive and a writer himself, said there was only one acceptable excuse for missing a deadline – your own death.
First of all, you have to determine how serious this ‘block’ is. Maybe it’s just a manifestation of something physical – we writers tend to block out everything but the immediate needs of the story, often to the detriment of the immediate needs of our body. Get up. Take some deep breaths. Walk around, maybe do a few exercises to get your blood flowing again. Look outside. Have a cup of coffee. Anything that takes no more than 15 to 20 minutes and breaks the stranglehold of your concentration. If you have a garden, the controlled destruction of weeding is excellent for this. Then go back to work.
If that doesn’t work, maybe your story is trying to tell you something is wrong. Maybe you took a wrong turn. Go back to where the words were flowing easily and everything was solid. Read forward with an open mind, and hopefully you’ll see where the story turned off its course and went sour. Start writing – or perhaps re-writing – from there. In other words, go back to work.
If that doesn’t work, there are two options, both of which work, depending on your deadline and your temperament. First, put the current story aside and work for a while on something else, preferably as different from the first as possible. That very differentness should refresh your creative juices.
The second is perhaps the most efficient and the most difficult of all, but it works. Keep writing. Finish your coffee, do the last few motions of physical activity, then sit down again in front of the computer. Write a word. Then write another one after it. And another. And another. And so forth, until the pump is primed and the words are flowing again.
In either case, you are back at work.
Yes, what you write like this might be pure gibberish. Probably it will be gibberish. If it is, it can be rewritten or even trashed later. What is important is to get you writing again, and that’s what writers do. Writers write, and if you’re ‘blocked’ you’re not writing.
No ability ever got stronger by not using it.

Thank you for being here Janis. It's been fun. Only 5 more days and 5 more guests to go. We're almost at the end of the Summer Bash.


Lin said...

I don't know if what I have is writer's block or just advoidance. Right now I am recovering from two surgeries in the last two weeks and one I am still waiting for the biopsy results. Before going under the butcher's knife, I was happily immersed in my WIP, but since, I haven't been able to touch that...not that I haven't been writing, just not any of my own fictions. Instead I have been placing a daily cover art blog for my fellow authors that requires research and for me to write a script around THEIR novels. Why do I write fot that but not for my own work? I have wondered about that and I think it is because the research makes me think about something other than the pain and fear of my surgeries...my own work would remind me of what my world was before surgery. Is this writer's block? Probably not...though I AM blocked...for whatever reason...from my own novel.

I applaud the many methods you employ to move past the glitches, and your kindness in sharing them with the rest of us too. And Kat thanks for opening your blog to so many talented and knowledgeable people this past month.

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

Hey, Susan, I'm glad to hear you don't go for that temperamental, 'got to have everything just so' belief. I know for me if the story's going, I can write anywhere on anything from notebooks to a brown paper bag. I agree with that going back to where it started going sour. Reading it, I realized that's what I've done many times.

Janis Susan May said...

Lin, bless you! Your problems are far beyond plain old writer's block! Remember, your health comes first. You can't write anything ever if you don't take care of your health.

I say this in a whisper, because not everyone agrees with me, but there are some things more important than writing. Legitimate health concerns, such as you have, are one of the biggest.

As to why you can write for others and not for yourself, I hesitate to answer. I'm not an expert or a medical person (and I've never played one on TV!) but may I suggest that you can do it because it is so far removed from you? Perhaps it's because there's no emotional investment, no act of true creation.

Work requires energy, of course, but creation requires something more, something you pull out of yourself, a part of your soul if you will, and right now it seems you don't have that to give. All that particular energy should be going to getting you well again.

Please take care of yourself, and let us know how you are doing.

Janis Susan May said...

Hey, Larriane! That's how you manage to write so many good books so quickly! I stand in awe of you. Thanks for the kind words.

Lin said...

Thank you Janis. I hear so many conflicting thoughts on this. I ahve had some tell me even when you are not well, you bite down and write...that anything less means that writing is nothing mroe than a hobby. Since i am nearing old...really old age, I'm not all that certain that's such a bad thing. Many my age don't have hobbies, so having eight contracts for the upcoming year at my age isn't too shabby for a hobby, but I still feel like a slug for not buckling down and getting the job done.

However, having someone with your track record tell me I should not feel like I am failing...well thanks. That means a lot.