For the first time in my life, I’m beginning to understand what “writer’s block” actually means.
It means pain & frustration, it means being cranky and feeling stupid and wondering why on earth you ever thought that there might possibly be a chance in hell that you could write because obviously you cannot. Write, that is.
I have been struggling with two stories for the past couple of weeks, stories that I thought I had a handle on months ago and now… there they sit, denuded of what once made them stories, leaving behind bones of a couple of ideas and some gristle that once used to be my brain. Or maybe they were once pieces of my imagination, it’s hard to tell. All I know is that my excitement and pleasure have dissolved and I’m left with the need to plough through this and no idea how to do so.
This all started with a story that I knew was wrong from the get-go, but didn’t know how to “fix” which, I realize now, was the wrong way to consider it. Instead of “fixing” it, I needed to re-think the entire approach and start again. But I didn’t. I chose instead to beat myself over the head with a basically good idea badly executed and proceeded absolutely nowhere with it. Then I went on to edit, to do second drafts, of stories that I knew were good but needed to be made better. I even had excellent guidance in how to make that happen. And it was okay but wasn’t thrilling my heart so I decided to tackle a brand-new story which I had already outlined but not written.
I should explain that this series of short stories has all been outlined on 4″ by 6″ cards – some stories only took 1 card, but most of them are 3 cards. They give me a starting point, a road through to the end, and a probable ending. And on the back of the first (and sometimes only) card, I have a list of the characters who are in the story, their relationship to our narrator (who still doesn’t have a name, which is another source of writer’s block/irritation to me right now), and what may or may not have happened to them otherwise in our stories. These are brief notes, cryptic in many ways, and are intended to keep me thinking straight. I’m beginning to think scotch might work better.
However…. to get back to that new story. I had my outline cards, my character list, and a very strong inner knowledge of where I (thought) it should go and what it should say, especially in relation to the others. And so far, what’s come out of my fingers has very little to do with what was in my head. And I’m wondering, seriously wondering, if just throwing out the damn cards and forgetting this idea altogether might not be the valiant’s path. There are a couple of pieces of information that the story was intended to add to the body of knowledge about our narrator and her town but I could fill that in another way… I’m pretty sure. So why am I hanging on? Why am I so anxious to stop moving forward?
Were I to be completely honest with myself… I’m afraid of succeeding. These are good stories and the guidance I’ve received about them will make them better and that makes them more publishable and that brings me closer to being the fiction writer I’ve always wanted to be and that brings me closer to success and that brings me closer to being sure that success will one more time completely elude me and break my heart and make me break out my 18-year old scotch. And keep it out.
But who is completely honest with themselves? Certainly not writers! So I’m going to live with this writer’s block for a little while but not too long, and I’m going to keep writing even the crap that’s coming out, and I’m going to finish these stories, and I’m going to keep my heart whole.
And the outline cards intact… for a little while longer.