writer’s block aka your phenomenal narrative skills run amok

Painting by Cy Twombly

Painting by Cy Twombly

You’re a writer. Or a blogger. Or a creator of some kind. You can incite a reader to suspend belief; you build suspense like a big-rig-sized ratchet, and your characters are people readers will mention, like the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man, years after they put the book down. You can wait for hours on your belly for the light to be right for your painting or photo. Your poems evolve lightly, spun like airy cotton candy, a word at a time. No matter your medium, you are a facile “story-teller”, except, as Dr. Seuss would say, when you’re not.

I’m editing  rewriting my 100,000 word novel for the second time. So, I told a story already (note a hint of indignation here). Occasionally I slow to a crawl halt and wonder what the f**k I am doing writing and rewriting all of this stuff. And then with all that language and angst in the air, I wind down to an even slower crawl  halt. A slower halt. That’s clever writer’s lingo for block.

My earlier career as a coach trained me not to use such solid, unmovable words in reference to states of being, so that we all could be more flexible and elastic in the face of adversity and swings of fortune. Block would be a no-no word. But it did come up recently in one of my slower halts.

So I did what I always do. I googled it. Googling is one of my favorite crawling halting activities.

That day, the number of articles conjured by the #writer’sblock search were 8,230,000 entries (in just 17 seconds).

Clearly, not everyone subscribes to the flexible and elastic model for describing such a state. However, I’m not philosophically able to be in such a solid state as “blocked”, or even slowly halted, because I have generous beta readers (I bow to them) waiting to read the next part of my rewrite; I have to reframe this professional condition in such a way that I can move on (and my family won’t demand that I stop using writing as an excuse for not emptying the dishwasher).

Presumably, after 2 rewrites and numerous other writing projects over 20+ years of my life, I can say I have a modicum of narrative skills. In this instance my hero(ine) wants to meet goal, something gets in the way, heroine conquers/or doesn’t; get whats she wants or doesn’t because heroine’s don’t always get what they want, but sometimes they just get what they need. (I bow to the Stones, also). I’m sure this is true of you, in your creative endeavors, too. (The hero’s journey part, not the Stones part. I’m guessing you must be a Stones fan, but I don’t know you.)

Since you and I are creators, and human, we are born with powerful, little, air-powered narrative generators (PLANGs for today’s purposes) that NEVER STOP. Which means that even when I’m slowly halted, I am still telling myself a story or two. If I’m not careful, that little demon of an PLANG switches to stories about ME, and MY GOALS, and MY LIFE, which are unhelpful when I’m trying to write about fictional characters and their goals, and stay on topic. Plus it uses up precious resources for creating “crazy” which I need for my novel.

I have mastered (a few times) a trick or two when I notice my narrative has switched from the novel to me. I do tricks, like writing clever paragraphs about how the protagonist (me) got through this sticky part of being halted, where she (I) look(s) like she’s (I’m) not writing (to the untrained eye). I arrive at clever work-arounds on her behalf, find new reserves, and use unlikely friends for twists in the “blocked” plot. I outlines scenes; I edit old parts, when I (she) still can’t bring my(her)self to write. I do word searches on my overused words (like ‘halted’).

Most importantly, every day, I OPEN THE DOCUMENT, which is always my Writing Tip #1. For some reason, once I stop listening to my narrative-run-amok, I always do something good inside that document, in spite of my sad, stereotypical story about #writersblock.

I had a Zen teacher/friend once who always said, “It’s ok to have a PLANG (I’m paraphrasing here, of course). It just becomes problematic when you believe the story.”

If you have read this far, I bow to you. (Readers are a huge benefit to writing.) If you want to read more #writer’sblock blogs, there are about eight million of them. But I love Chuck Wendig, so here’s a link to his really good take on it. But if you’re reading this because you are slowly halted, go open your document, get your paints out, grab your tripod or break out the acetylene torch and put it to metal. I prefer not to be an accomplice to a line of narrative that leads you to a dead end.

Luckily, I am not likely to be a big diversion for you in this way. As you can see by the dates between this post and the last, during the flood of Blogging 101, I have been slowly crawling toward that giant goal of bi-weekly posts.  In defense of my flawed character (me), did I mention (she’s) I’m rewriting a novel?

What are your big projects and how are you managing to blog and work on your project, too?

Blogging 101 or why even a small life preserver is good in a flood

First, the small print. I was once a blogger. (You can click on this if you want to see what happens to old defunct blogs.) An early blogger, they call it now. But I stopped somewhere back in 2009 or 2010 (probably because there wasn’t a 101 and all that community). I did start a new blog earlier this year, having been told from numerous sources that a blog is ESSENTIAL for promoting your novel, even if your novel isn’t finished yet. You can see how that’s working out so far.

I am writing a novel, so as a Quick Reader will see in less than a blink, I have written only one blog before this, and added one short piece of fiction for a blogging challenge on a writing blog I follow. Quick reader will note: you can already see blogs (some of them–I can’t remember how I did that, so haven’t added others) I follow; and, you can see my piece of short fiction, even though I have, as yet, been unable to put it on the Page (a blogging term) where Short Fiction be posted.

Which brings me to Blogging 101. WordPress is phenomenal when it comes to tutorials for “getting your blog up and running.” They have gone so far to suggest that I can go “from Zero to Hero” (#zerotohero for the tagging proficient) with the short, daily assignments they’re doling out to us aspiring writer/blogger/photographer/social media-ites.

They are so good, in fact, that it’s been like a flood. At first, I was bobbing merrily along in the fast-moving water of the first few days–studying the tutorials, reading people’s posts (I even commented on a few of my favorites). I set up a Short Fiction Page, as I mentioned, though I never got to the part where the Short Fiction is actually on said page. By day four or five, “not-blogging life” had barged in. I had to travel, took a son to look at a school, and–did I mention I am writing a novel?–finally completed the second rewrite of Part I of the novel for some eager second readers. I bow to them. (I say this after every mention of them).

There are thousands of blogging posts about writing (or not writing, in my case) your blog about the book you are writing (and non-writing). Unfortunately, none of them are mine yet. And, I can’t seem to find the time to read the others because a) I’m trying to become a Hero from Zero and b) I am writing a novel, and my beta readers are waiting for their  next installment (I bow to them).

When I finally opened up the Blogging 101 page again, I was definitely underwater. No more bobbing for me. I would learn to put my short fiction on the Short Fiction page and promote my novel after I finish my novel, I told myself. I usually don’t say this out loud, but, I gave up. Relieved, I took a few moments of “me time” to just skim a few of the blogs, looking for inspiration and to pick up some tips for the future, the far, far future.

I have to say, some of the 101’s look like pro’s. Like they skipped Hero and went on to Kings and Queens of the Universe (or they may have started at 10 instead of Zero.) I felt affirmed in my choice to quit, as I couldn’t imagine finishing my novel and writing nearly as well as any of these great brave beginner bloggers. But wait. Just before I clicked off, I read a fabulous blogger, Jill’s Scene–someone on another continent who is a book lover, and articulate (Ideal Reader–assignment #4?), and she wrote a post about books and reading, which you can see, is what I’m up to. And, she had links to other great bloggers, like this funny guy.  So, I spent one more nano-second and hit the like button, hoping she would show up in my reader again next year when I had time to go back in to Blogging 101, or #zerotohero.

So here’s where the life-preserver comes in. Even though I’m on Blog #2 (or #3 if you count the Short Fiction blog, even though it should be on a Page), and I have learned this morning that Zero-to-Hero is OVER, I was inspired, over-the-moon inspired, to see that I received a like, a follow, and a comment from fellow 101’ers–Jill and a few others. For that, I must say, I bow to you. I was forced by your attention to write a blog, which might be the point of the whole 101 thing, if not life itself.

Now, I’ve written a blog, and I’m bobbing, not drowning. I’ll be back. I actually have another idea for a blog. But, did I mention I’m writing a novel?

Girlfriend Pushes Man Off Bridge

Girlfriend Pushes Man off Bridge, Headline Dec 13

By Chris Naff

When Jimmy McCloskey hurtled toward the grey-green bay below, he immediately forgot the vicious fury roiling in his chest moments before; he forgot the pain in his ribs from the steering wheel when that piece-of-shit Hyundai she bought–bringing their debt to the no exit level–skidded into the black and yellow striped bridge barrier. A few times since, when he closes his eyes, he still sees black and yellow stripes. It would have solved so much if he had just drowned.

Later, with the shrink, he will be unable to recall that last tussle the witnesses described, when they crawled out of the car. He won’t remember her push, or his grab–depending upon which witness you favor. Nor does he recall the rage-filled epithets they were reported to have been slinging at each other, each of them ragged and bleeding inside and out.

He only remembers thinking of junior high diving club as the dull, barnacled bridge abutment scrolled by in slow motion on the way down into the murky chop. That wild and contained feeling, all at once, of forming yourself into a perfect arrow, slicing into the water as a perfect line. Spreading your arms like an underwater eagle, the whole afternoon, your whole life ahead of you. Blue sky.

Thinking about the dive and completing it were always two different scenarios, his coach had always told him. “You know you’ve got it, if you can hold on to the image, Jimmy. Hold on to that picture of you slicing through the water.” He had held onto it all the way through to junior year of high school–the full-body sense of the perfect dive; the poster-size, full-color picture of him in college, full-ride; the picture of him in law school and after. Pro-bono work on weekends for the families at risk–the same programs that helped Moms get out of her own plunge and helped Jimmy find diving.

When the boat picked him up, he was crying, clinging to the pier. “Hypothermic and delusional,” he heard the paramedic say into the small black mike on his lapel. No more delusional than normal, Jimmy thought to himself.

He skipped the last night of practice before the Regionals to be with Ashleigh. Diving was cool, but Ash was a warmer, more luscious plunge–volatile and dangerous, but comforting, too–arms around him, love. “You don’t know love,” his Mother had shouted as he headed out the door. “That girl will drag you with her off a cliff.”

Cliff. Bridge. Moms had seen it coming. She was gone now, lucky that. Two years after he didn’t make the team Senior year, after he didn’t graduate from high school. A year after Jimmy and Ash moved out of the house on their own. Before Ash bought that damn car that would never come back from the shop because they’re broke again: bail, fines, and medical. Ashleigh’s big vision was what? He wondered. A guy and a car. Or, maybe it was the diving champ and a way out of town, originally.

Two days later when they release him from “observation,” an orderly wheels him (hospital regulations) out of the front door. “Anyone pickin’ you up?” The guy asks him. “No,” Jimmy says, “short walk.” He doesn’t yell back “Pick me up? She didn’t even come see me.” He doesn’t want to be readmitted. He sees doubt flatten the man’s mustache.

“It’s all about your vision,” he hears the old coach in his head. “See yourself slice. See yourself, both arms in the air, when you win.” He wonders if the coach is still alive, the last someone who had believed in him once.

Out on the street he makes a left turn–away from the bus stop, the opposite direction from the apartment. A block down he stops on a broken slab of sidewalk pushed up and tilted akimbo just before the alley. He shuffles to the edge where the flat troweled edge looks like the smooth ribbon edge of a diving board. He curls his toes inside his shoes and takes in the wide expanse of possibilities in this moment. He summons up that full-body memory from the fall–the vision of a perfect arrow, slicing on his way down into the water. He visualizes that universal gesture of joy and gratitude, arms up, pumping that blue sky. He steps off the curb, and away.


Just finished The Goldfinch

Starting a blog about writing with a post about reading seems…perfect. It was always about reading for me. Wanting to write like those fabulous humans before me who put such beautiful words, worlds and wonders on the page.

In a year or two, maybe, I’ll have the grand reading list on this blog, like that list going around FB a few months ago about your top 10 books or authors. Let’s just say mine starts with Baum, hangs out at Dickens, Mantel, Patchett, Stephenson, Gaiman, and goes in and out of Atkinson and John Green. That longing, created by a good book, is fuel for a writer.

I know I’m setting myself up for a hard fall, reading Donna Tartt, while editing my own first novel, When Papinette Spoke for God. But one could do worse, much worse, than aspiring to create characters like Boris or Hobie and themes like loss and the search for meaning. It took her ten years to publish–it’s hard to put the world in 700+ pages in just a year or two. Mine will be shorter. I will fall just short of the whole world, but will put my whole heart into it.

I won’t go on any more. For a good review of The Goldfinch (and for me to test my linking abilities in WordPress) click here. And, after you read The Goldfinch, just drop in here and let me know. It was worth it, wasn’t it?

I’m starting this blog early in my publishing odyssey (it will be at least a year before I’m promoting my book). Many of the amazing writing blogs host contests for short stories. I’m writing shorts for practice, so here’s where I’ll put some of them for you and for the contests. Sometimes I’ll write about writing and reading. I’ll try not to complain too much.

Please follow me and/or send me some comments if you like what you read. Your favorite authors, books, quotes from said authors and books would be a nice start.