Thursday, May 16, 2013

Writers: You Are Blocked for a Reason

I had a bout of writer's block starting at the end of last week.  I'm working on a sequel to my as-yet-unpublished (but under contract, thank you very much), still-unnamed novel, which I call my "England book" and my editor calls my "Ada book."   (Ada is the main character's name.)  I would think the sequel should go along hummingly, since I've done most of the research, already know the characters very well, and have thought long and hard about my opening scene.

Alas.  It proceeded in fits and starts.  I would decide it sucked. (Of course it sucked, it's a first draft.  But there's a difference between ordinary-first-draft suckage and this-will-make-your-editor-rethink-her-whole-opinion-of-you suckage, and I was veering dangerously close to the latter.)  I would go back and think, nah, this is okay.  I'd write a few more pages and decide it sucked again.  I would ponder the existential meaning of this particular novel.  I'd stare at it.

Now, I will tell you now there isn't a true writer in the world who waits for her angel muse to light gently upon her shoulder before sitting down to work.  If I did that, I'd write one day a year, and at the end of the day have five pages of a first draft that sucked.  There's a reason half the world's population feels they'd love to write a book, they've got this great idea, but they never have the time, and it's this:  writing is work.  It's hard.  If you're a writer, it's your work, and you don't expect it to be easy.  You know you've got to put in the time.  I've published 15 books and I understand my work well, and yet, by the end of last week, I clearly had a real case of writer's block.

A long time ago, someone I can't clearly recall told me that writer's block, the real kind that's about not knowing what the heck to do with your story, always happens for a reason.  So I stepped back and tried to find the reason.  Struggled.  Failed.

Then my husband finished reading the new draft of my England book, the one that's the prequel to what I'm currently working on.  It was bedtime, so I told him I didn't want his comments yet, I just wanted to know if he thought it was better than the first draft.  This wasn't because I don't value his comments; I do.  It was because I wanted to be able to go to sleep without his comments rattling around in my head. 

He said, "It's better, but I still don't think the ending works."

Dammit.  That's a comment.  But of course I asked why not, and we had a wide-ranging conversation about the size of London train stations, the probable number of people traveling through them in 1940, and the amount of chaos likely caused by the very first day of the Blitz.  And then I went to sleep.  Sure I did.

The problem was that while I completely disagreed with my husband about certain of his assumptions, his overall opinion--that the ending didn't work--pretty much coincided with mine.  I wanted my ending to work.  I loved my ending.  But I'd made a technical error in the first draft; when I fixed it, in the second, I could see that I was forcing the ending:  you could see the scaffolding I was having to use to shore it up.  I hate it when I can see the scaffolding.

This had been bothering me in the dusty back corners of my mind for some time.  So I thought, what do I really need to happen here?  How could I do that?  And then, suddenly, I could see my way through--but in a way that changed everything.  Particularly the start of the sequel.

Just like that, no more writer's block.  And a big thank you to my husband.  Though I hope he waits until morning next time.