Connie Fischer asked this question a few weeks ago: “I have enjoyed reading your books and love how the writing always flows so smoothly and keeps my interest all the way through. For your writing to have that effect on me, I have to ask if you’ve ever had writer’s block?
This may be a bit harsh toward other writers, and of course I can only really speak for myself, but I think the whole idea of writer’s block is a big myth. There is no such thing; it is just a fancy term for lack of discipline.
I could say yes to the question every single day when I am working on a book, and I don’t exaggerate. No matter how well the story flowed yesterday and how eager I was then for today to come so that I could continue, today, now, my mind is blank. I don’t know where to start or how to start, and the whole story is rubbish, and I hate all the characters, and I have a load of washing to put in, and I should check my Facebook page to see how many people have “liked” my newest post, and–well, I really need a cup of coffee, and while I am up….. If I give in to any of these daily urges,I may eventually decide that it is too late to do any writing today and I need to get my thoughts in order anyway. And the loss of one day is not really catastrophic. I’ll write double my quota tomorrow. The only trouble is that tomorrow I will go through exactly the same thing. No, not the same–worse. By tomorrow my confidence in the book will have been shaken by my doubts today. And soon I will convince myself that I have writer’s block and that will be a huge consolation because that is a genuine affliction and everyone will sympathize with me.
Now what I should have done on that very first day, and what I actually do ninety-nine-and-a-half times out of a hundred, is sit there in front of my computer and work on my mind until I can focus in. Often it is incredibly difficult to do because my mind (like most other people’s) is totally scattered. It flits over everything except the task in hand. Focusing in is a sort of pre-meditation exercise. I have no secret to how to do it and no formula. It is just a discipline, I think. I force my mind to narrow down to my two main characters. If possible, I hop right in to the mind of one of them and live the particular point in the story he/she has reached. I feel their feelings. And then I start writing. I can recall someone (I can’t remember who) at a conference many years ago telling the audience that when you can’t think how to begin your writing you should write anyway. It sounds totally absurd, but it works. Writing is my natural medium (more natural than talking). When I start to write, ideas flow and words come. Each day after I have wrestled with my demons (some days are worse than others) I get on with the story until my daily quota is done. These years that is 2000 words.
Actually getting started, though, does not always mean moving ahead with the story. If that were so, I would be able to write a complete book in 50 days–my books are 100, 000 words long and I write seven days a week. In fact, they take on average four months or 120+ days. Sometimes that feeling that the story is rubbish and the characters rotten persists to a degree that I know there is something definitely wrong with what I have already written. Or sometimes the feeling returns quite powerfully after I have labored onward with some actual writing. Experience has taught me that I must stop–but not to go put that load of wash in, etc. I turn immediately back to page 1 and read through to find the problem. Occasionally it is in the plot. Usually it is in the characters. A number of people have asked me questions about character and I intend to devote a whole blog to answering those, maybe next time. But I will say here that since my stories are all told through the eyes and minds of the hero and heroine (alternately), I have to know them to the depth I know myself. And that understanding is not easy and does not come all at once. They always have layer upon layer of secrets that they give up to me only with great reluctance. And with each new discovery I have to go back through the whole story and make the necessary adjustments. Until I know everything, the story won’t work.
Writing requires a great deal of thought, of working things out like a puzzle, of making sure everything hangs together, that every detail is consistent with the rest, that the whole thing is plausible. Writing is hard work. That does not mean it is unpleasant. Quite the contrary. But no matter how well the story seems to flow when the finished book is in a reader’s hand, the writing of it is a bit like constantly sanding a very rough board until it is smooth enough to leave no slivers and to show no sign of the constant grind of the sander. There is too much to be done to allow for such nonsense as writer’s block! Focus in. Think. Write. As one writer friend of mine is fond of saying, “Butt on chair, fingers on keyboard.” A teacher can’t just walk out of the classroom at the start of a class claiming teacher’s block (though her students might be delighted). A surgeon can’t walk out of the operating room when the patient is anesthetized, claiming surgeon’s block. A bricklayer can’t…. Well, you get the message.
To one person who leaves a comment below before the end of April I will send a signed copy of THE PROPOSAL. The winner last time was Tai Smith. Congratulations to her and thanks to everyone who left a comment. I always love reading them.