Anne B. Walsh - Do you believe in magic?

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Anne's Randomness

Dry as...

As dust. As a bone. As the Sahara. As lots of things that are very, very dry (including all the ones that I will not write down here as I am attempting to make this a family-friendly blog wherever possible). That is how dry I am on the project I had said I was doing, and had intended to do, for National Novel Writing Month 2013. ARGH.
Those of you following my progress on my NaNo profile may be baffled by this. "But Anne, you have lots of words logged! You're days ahead!" Yes, I do... it's just that they're all for other things. I am, to put it plainly, cheating, writing Killdeer and Surpassing Danger and my untitled reader-submitted Christmas story about gifts.
I know what I ought to be writing for NaNo, and what I ought to be blogging about today, on Thunder Thursday, and both of them are Playing with Fire. The trouble is, PwF has gone dry for me at the moment. So... thanks to that, and with a question from reader AJ on the Dangerverse Facebook group, I'll blog about dry spells instead!
AJ's question was, have I ever had my story go through peaks and valleys? Is this normal? The answer is YES. (Imagine it in much larger, fancier text, if you will.) Dry spells are among the most normal things a writer can experience. It isn't writer's block, because you know where the story's going. It's just hard to get words on paper.
NaNoWriMo is meant to help writers push through their dry spells, by forcing them to get a certain word count out every day, even if it's hard, even if it's not quite right. But is that always the best approach? Well, no. Nothing is always the best approach in any discipline, and writing is certainly not an exception to that rule.
The trick of being a writer, or being anything, really, is finding out what approach is best in what situation, and the trick to that, at least in this case, is to dig into your dry spell and find out what's really going on here. It's also useful for characterization moments, when your characters do unexpected things... but that's for another post.
For dry spells in writing, I can think of two major causes, and they require totally different approaches to curing/solving them. The first is what I think you may be encountering, AJ. You're approaching a difficult area of the story, something you, as a writer, maybe don't much want to write about. (See also, Anne and Bad Things.)
What is everyone's first, easiest, most common reaction to seeing something coming that they don't like? Stall. Hide. Hunker down and hope it goes away. It's a very common occurrence that somewhere inside a writer's subconscious, when they're coming up to an uncomfortable or unpleasant moment, mental brakes slam into place.
So how do you get your subconscious's foot off the brake pedal? It's not easy, but it can be done. Tricks can be very helpful here. Write from a different POV, write continuously for ten minutes even if that means writing "I don't know what to write", write it like a news article instead of a novel -- experiment until you find what works.
However, be aware that your subconscious is tricky. What worked yesterday may not work today. What works today may not work tomorrow. Be open, be thoughtful, and be willing to keep experimenting. Sooner or later, you'll find the right trigger for this situation and this time, and the words will start to flow for you again. I promise.
Now the other type of dry spell happens when you've been writing a lot, for a long time, without much of a break. It's not that the story's being difficult, but just that it isn't interesting anymore. You're tired, worn out, you don't want to continue. Welcome to the other, and even more insidious, type of dry spell... the doldrums.
What do you do about the doldrums? (See also, ten chapters in a year.) Sadly, I have no magic advice, any more than I did about the stalling dry spells. I can tell you that reading enjoyable books, petting animals, and getting out and experiencing some life have all helped me through mine. What'll help with yours? Only you can tell.
Even more sadly, sometimes the doldrums are a signal that the story you're working on? It isn't worth continuing. Whatever life there was in it, it's gone. When that happens, there is little to do except sigh, tuck that story into the "graveyard" on your computer's hard drive, and wish it well as you move on to something more lively.
But! Be cautious before you make an unchangeable decision that this is what has happened to your latest work. It is possible, and even likely, to mistake a stalled dry spell for the doldrums. So revisit your "graveyard" every now and again, or even rename it the "hibernation room". Maybe all your story needed was a bit of a rest.
So, having written quite a long blog post on this Thunder Thursday which has nothing to do with the Chronicles of Glenscar except for the fact that I've currently tucked Playing with Fire into bed for a long autumn's nap, I shall take my leave. Comments welcome, and if you commented on the last couple posts, check back, I've answered!

4 Comments to Dry as...:

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Lilyginnyrose on Thursday, November 07, 2013 5:16 PM
Hey, thanks for the advise on writing, I seem to have these problems and think them unsolvable and just quit the story. Shame that Killdeer isn't working out right now, but I don't mind if you're cheating and writing SD :) guess what?? I'm probably getting homecoming for Christmas!! Or a widow in waiting. I can't choose :( and I can't ask for both because there's a limit on surprises (which is where I'll ask it) of fifteen euros, and the shipping is so much, but whatever, I'll just cover the difference. I wanted to say this in my review but posted to quickly, just letting you know I'm all hyped up over it.
Reply to comment
Anne on Thursday, November 07, 2013 7:00 PM
Check your local Amazon site. My books should be available from there with less shipping. The Etsy site is great but I know the shipping is a lot...

Geoffrey on Friday, November 08, 2013 2:24 AM

What you say about dry spells matches up with what I’ve heard a great many writers say about writer’s block pretty well. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard these things: multiple episodes of Writing Excuses are dedicated to the topic, so very many author panels, and innumerable interview questions. Yes, I understand that neophytes have trouble. I suspect they keep asking because they secretly want to hear “Yeah, I can’t get past those either”.

Or maybe that’s hugely unfair of me.

As for myself, I experience writer’s block on a fairly regular basis, and it generally lasts anywhere from ten minutes to a week. Or longer, depending on the medium. And of the first type you mention, I find that the single greatest asset in defeating it is confidence. Once I remind myself that I actually am competent, I can sit down, make a plan for dealing with the next pieces, and get to work. I have more trouble with the second kind, the monster that has destroyed more creative works than have even been created: apathy.

It reminds me of what writing used to be, before there was a professional writing caste. If you wanted food on the table, you had to submit a story. It didn’t have to be a home run every time, but it had to at least be sellable. Starving artists know a thing or two about producing even when they don’t want to. I think it takes a little bit of insanity to live like that. And a bit of desperation. And a huge mountain of faith. And that, I think, is what makes their works so very delightful.

And then there’s that one project; you know the one. It’s that one that keeps you going, but you don’t yet know how it really comes together. Okay, maybe you’re awesome and don’t have one of those. Of course you are, I knew that. Well, I have one of them. See, I’m a discovery writer. It took me a long time to realize it, but there it is: I find out what I’m writing about by writing about it. And I hate it so much. I want to be an outliner with a full working knowledge of how the story goes before I dive in. I want to describe the plot structure, the characters, the purpose of each scene. And that’s where it all goes wrong: I apply my most powerful tool (which most of the time gets me where I’m going), Analysis. I have training in it’s use, in fact. It is, of course, anathema to a discovery writer before they’ve discovered their destination.

Oh yes, a point. You’re a discovery writer. At least you write a lot like one. What do you do when what you’re writing doesn’t match your outline? (Personally, I try to look for the best parts of both, and modify the rest to accommodate. It doesn’t always work that way, unfortunately…)

And that phrase you were looking for? It’s “Dry as a Hackneyed Simile”.

Reply to comment
Anne on Friday, November 08, 2013 8:41 AM
I would say I am something of a discovery writer, but I do so much of my writing inside my mind, telling myself my stories over and over, watching them, living them almost, that the discoveries tend to happen there rather than on the paper or the screen. And while I'm not specifically trained in analysis, I'm the oldest child of a household where argument was a way of life (the longer you could keep Mommy or Daddy talking, the longer you got to stay up), so I think that counts some. As for when my writing doesn't match my outline, I do much of what you do... plus a bit of swearing, growling, frightening my cats, etc. And games. I play a lot of games, as a way to turn off my "monkey mind" and let my deeper brain engage. Often when the terrain doesn't match the map, that's because I'm not in exactly the place I thought I was...

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