Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On Writer's Block

Like a great sailing ship in a dead ocean, sometimes the mighty sail boat sails directly into the doldrums. A tired, airless, windless area of the seas that couldn't generate enough wind to push a sheet of newspaper, much less a ship. And then what happens? Well, I'll tell you. It's time to break out the boardgames, the long baths, the television shows or worse, the movie DVDs. You are going to spend some time here, so dust off the old guitar and start singing those long sonatas that you are used to singing, because it will be awhile.

This is writer's block. This is the last place that you want to be. Like a gathering of wrecks in the Sargasso sea, your stories, some of them, will accumulate here, become derelicts here, ships partially and awkwardly protruding from the black water. It is a gloomy place that you would like your story to power away from as soon as possible, but sometimes you can't.

These are the breaks. This is what happens when you write. Sometimes you end here, if you don't start thinking about the ending of your stories before you begin on a good idea. Your chances are greater that you will end up here. I'm not saying that if you have an ending, you won't end up here. I'm not saying that if you don't you will. What I'm saying is that chances are better if you work off an outline, no matter how loosely.

But how many writers do this? How many writers lay down the arc of the story before typing the title of the novel? I don't know how many. I have no clue, but there are many out there that have a great idea and sit down behind their laptops, desktops, typewriters and bang out prose, only to get to the Sargasso Sea. They reach a place where there is a great fog obscuring their mind's eye and are suddenly stuck with characters that have gone limp. Action that has grown cold. Ideas that have flown away.

So we march away for inspiration. We go to the DVDs, the movies, the television shows, the Broadway play the board game. We scramble and wait, and sometimes we wait, and wait, and wait until there is nothing left to wait for. The characters grow forgetful, pale, fade like smoke in the breeze. They become gone when we stop writing about them. Their motivations, their needs, their desires...and when that happens the story becomes un-writable. It becomes unwieldy and difficult, and we soon give up for another novel inspiration.

What am I trying to do for you in this post? Show my genuine concern and fellow feeling. I have plenty of stories that I have started out to write but are now floating half mast in a dead sea. I find it difficult to get back to them after enough time has elapsed to begin anew. I always say to myself: I'll just read the story from the beginning and pick up where I left off. But without an outline, this becomes difficult and sometimes impossible. I've done it once or twice, but not enough to depend on it.

Its easy and exhilarating to jump right in on a story and start to rip through characters, scenes and dialogue but really, the best bet is to have an outline. A loose one if it really bothers you. It's also good to have an ending before you start. It's not all that exciting, I know. You want your characters to logically and organically draw your story to a conclusion, but that's taking a mess of risks. However you are guaranteed an ending.

I'm not writing to the writers that do this, I mean, have an outline, and have an ending. Many of you already know how important these things are. I'm writing to those out there that don't. There's a reason why this road is seldom tread, and that this course is seldom charted. You just may lose your steam, your wind might pass from your heart, and your ship will founder in the waves.