In the last article, I discussed writer’s block and started looking at three major varieties I’ve identified. The first is a slog where you have a segment that just isn’t clicking and you have to push through. The second is when your story has become tenuous and, as you’ve progressed, you’ve begun to lose your grasp on what you’re doing. This is most common with ‘discovery writers’ like myself who learn much of their story in the process of writing it.
Now it is time to look at the third and most important type of writer’s block which has served as the inspiration of this series of articles. While related to the second example above, this variety of block is possible for every kind of writer.
I believe that the best stories are living things in their own right. They have to be worked with, wrestled with, and sometimes allowed to breathe. Certainly, an author could claim dominion over his story like a universal master and break it utterly to his will. But I believe when this is done, the story loses its soul. Characters do what they do because the author makes them. Events transpire under the author’s strict and relentless rule.
Certainly, an author must exert a level of control much like a wrangler taming a wild horse. Otherwise the narrative spins out of control as plots, themes, and character scatter through an absence of direction. But the horse must be allowed its own head sometimes, too. Sometimes the story will pull you in ways you don’t expect and it’s often a good idea to explore these paths. They may end up as garbage you’ll end up deleting, but I’ve found that many of the best moments in my stories occur at exactly these times. These are when your characters truly live and breathe to their fullest.
Expanding this concept to a higher level leads us to the final form of writer’s block. Sometimes your just telling the wrong story and the story knows it before you do. Okay, that may sound silly. How about this: there is an inkling in your subconscious that innervates all your efforts to press forward. Perhaps it is a nagging sensation. Sometimes you can push it or coax it, but sometimes you just have to stop. When you do, it may not be a bad thing. In fact, it may be the best choice you could possibly have made because if your story is wrong, pushing onward won’t make it any better. You have to fix it.
In my most recent endeavors writing the sequel to the forthcoming “A Whisper in the Sand,” I encountered this challenge. As I mentioned a couple articles ago, I had the basic plot sequence worked out, but I was struggling with the mental challenges my protagonist would face throughout the story. I decided that the best way to discover this was to begin writing and find the answer in the story itself. I would treat it like a living thing and hold the reins loosely to see where it was going.
As I progressed, I liked the direction I was taking. Everything was working out well (with the exception of the above-mentioned challenge). There were the usual challenges that emerge whenever writing a story, but it was going in a good direction. In fact, as I passed into the second act I found renewed momentum. I was writing at a pace probably unmatched at any time during my writing journey. But then, as I raced full tilt, I had an inkling that something was wrong. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I pressed on until one day my story just wasn’t there. It had reared, throwing me to the ground. Accursed writer’s block had raised its ugly head again.
But was it ugly?
Not this time. It was wonderful. My story had stopped me because it was wrong. My protagonist’s journey was weak and feeble. Looking back, it actually was draining life from the narrative. I think I was perhaps telling a decent story with an interesting plot that included new challenges for the heroes to overcome… but there was no soul. Yet I think perhaps part of the reason the story stopped me here was I had an answer to that critical question that had been raised back when I first set out. I knew what my protagonist’s challenge was and the story was telling me.
So yes, I’d already put in 60,000 words, but that didn’t matter. As I mentioned last time, I care more about telling the right story than churning out novels. Thus, I started over. This didn’t mean I had to scratch everything I’d already done… most of it was still usable with critical tweaks to character throughout. And now as I press onward again and approach the point where I stopped, I can say with confidence that the story has found its life. My protagonist has his character journey. This, in turn, has infused all the other characters with new life, my tension points with vigor, and my themes with poignancy. My story finally has a pulse.