Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Rough Road of Writer's Block

"Everyone wants to tell their story," Ed Masry told Erin Brockovich in the film version of her life.  Sometimes people will open up to tell that story and some stay tightly clamped.  Some will tell parts of the story and some will fabricate other parts.  Everyone's different, as if I even need to say that.  That's the way it is with fictional characters, sometimes.  Sometimes they will start to tell me their stories with ease and then stop.  And then I'm stuck, feeling glued to a space and I can't move forward.  I don't know if I would characterize it as writer's block, entirely, because I still think about the characters and their stories all the time, even after I'm finished writing their story.  I've heard some writers say they don't believe in writer's block.  I can't say whether I do or not, but there is something I heard once that made me reconsider my thoughts on it.  Bono, the lead singer for U2, was in grade school and studying a particular author who, his teacher told them, went for years without writing anything because he was suffering writer's block.  It was like his mind would not put forth any idea to write about.  Bono spoke up and said he didn't mean to be disrespectful, but why didn't that writer just write about that until he did find an idea?  

Hmm, good idea.   

Anyway, I think I mentioned that this latest story I've been working on had me stuck recently. I love my characters and can't bear the thought of shelving their story because I feel stuck.  The thing is, I know how I want their story to end, but for a while, I didn't know exactly how to get there.  It was beginning to get frustrating, a feeling akin, I guess, to standing over a pot of water, waiting for it to boil, or waiting for a flower or fruit on a tree to bloom.  It seems like it's never going to happen.  I felt that way about my story.  The path of how to get to that ending wasn't clear and felt like it was like it was never going to be.  I understand Stephen King felt the same way when writing The Stand.  Then one day when he was out for a walk, a single idea arrived in his mind.  He compares it to a gift, and said when he incorporated that simple, single idea, he finished up the work in just a few weeks.  I can't say when my idea came to me, exactly, though I wish I could.  All I know is, I'd been trying to make an idea work and it just wasn't happening.  And although I do applaud myself for pushing myself to keep going and trying, my writing wasn't good and the characters almost seemed forced in their actions--which they were, since I was trying to force the plot in one direction.  But then, I got the idea to modify it just slightly.  And that's when the pot started boiling, the flower decided to bloom and like the imagery those two things conjure, it was bursting and lovely.  My characters are talking again and I'm grateful because I have missed them.  And a part of me does feel like maybe if I hadn't made myself keep going and stay with them even when they weren't talking, I wouldn't be working again.    

I'm reminded of something our pastor said in church this past Sunday, and didn't even realize it until now how that applies to this story.  He mentioned that the roads we encounter and take are sometimes easy and sometimes they're quite rough.  He told a story of a young man on a bus in Jamaica, and how it seemed like the driver was downright trying to hit every pothole on the road and at one time, the bus jolted so violently that everyone bounced out of their seat and the woman sitting next to this man ended up in his lap.  She laughed it off and told him that it was a rough road, but not to worry, they'd all be home soon.

So whether it's the writing road or the road of life, it is, indeed, rough sometimes.  But stay with it, because it'll be lovely once you get to where you're going.  I looked up rough roads as I was finishing up this post to find a picture to illustrate and this one below stood out the most.  The road looks rough and intimidating.  But . . . doesn't the scenery you'll pass look awfully beautiful, too? 

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