Emotional Roller-coaster

As you and the story you’re writing go through time together, do you find yourself on the same type of emotional roller-coaster as with a personal relationship? Do you feel elated by positive events and dejected by negative ones? I’ve been through the process enough to detect a repeatable pattern. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Let’s follow through as I experience the highs and lows of writing a story and getting it published. This is my relationship with a single story, so the line will overlap with other stories in various stages.

Emotional RollercoasterGetting a story idea is enjoyable, having it mature in my mind while I imagine the possibilities, the characters, the plotline, the settings, and some of the dramatic scenes. It’s a good feeling to go through that, because that imaginary, unwritten story is as good as it’s ever going to be. Once the reality starts and I put words down, the story never reaches the exalted heights of perfection that it achieved when just a dream.

Still, putting words down has a gratification all its own. I feel I’m making progress, producing product, assembling widgets on my keyboard / word / sentence / paragraph assembly line.

Until I get stuck with writer’s block. Here I mean the minor writer’s block I’ve described before, where I can’t get out of a plot hole, or I need a character to act contrary to his or her motivations, etc. Although temporary, this is a real downer. I don’t always experience this, (as shown by the reddish line) but there’s usually some drop-off in enthusiasm as the glow of the original idea fades a bit.

Reaching THE END of the first draft is a definite up-tic in satisfaction for me. The mad rush of getting words down is over. It’s good to know I can start the reviewing-editing-improving phase.

For simplicity, my graph only shows two drafts, but there may be more, with minor wave crests for completing each one. I get to the highest emotional state so far when I consider the story done and submit it for publication. “Here, Dear Editor, this is my newborn! Don’t you love it as much as I do?”

That emotional high fades, as they all do, while waiting for a response. Usually I’ve begun another story by then, so I get an overlap with a similar-looking graph displaced in time.

My graph depicts two paths here, one showing a rejection. Despite my earlier advice to look at rejections positively, I still find that hard to do. Rejections stink. Maybe not as much now as my first one, but still…

An acceptance of a story is a very high emotional state, especially the first time. It’s time to celebrate, indulge, and surrender to the grandeur and magnificence of me.

No one can maintain a very high or very low state forever, so I do descend from the grand summit as I get through the rewrites and signing of the contract, though these are not unpleasant.

The launch of a story is another sublime pinnacle of emotional ecstasy, and that’s no hyperbole. “For all human history, readers have awaited a story like this, and today, I, yes I, grant your wish and launch this masterpiece, this seminal work of ultimate prose, so you may purchase and read it. You’re quite welcome.”

After the story is launched, you’ll get occasional uplifting moments, such as favorable reviews, or book signings, etc. These are never quite as exciting as acceptance or launching, but they’re gratifying anyway.

I’ve not gotten through all these stages with a novel yet, but I suppose a novel’s graph is longer in time, and has many more ups and downs than that of a short story.

Also, your mileage may vary such that your graph looks quite different from mine. Leave me a comment and let me know about the emotional stages of your writing experience.

Remember, when on a roller-coaster (emotional or state fair-type), it sometimes helps to raise your hands in the air and scream. Whee! Here goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 26, 2014Permalink

Writing the Tough Scenes

Blank Screen BluesSometimes, you need a certain scene for your story, but you just can’t write it. Has that happened to you? Something about the scene gives you the Blank Screen Blues. Words won’t flow. The idea of writing the scene repels you. You invent excuses not to write.

Most likely the problem is one of the following kinds:

1. There’s a ‘story problem’ where the plot isn’t fitting together, or you need a character to do something that character wouldn’t do, or the scene’s setting is wrong.

2. The scene involves a subject or action you find disgusting or abhorrent.

            Story Problem

This blog post provides a good five step process for overcoming ‘story problems’ that keep you from writing a scene. Here are the steps in brief, though you should read author Rocky Cole’s more detailed descriptions:

1. Determine why you need the scene.

2. Decide what characters are in the scene and what they want.

3. Decide on a location and time for scene.

4. Figure out how the scene starts and ends.

5. Write the dialogue first, then fill in the rest.

            Distasteful Topic

There are certain topics that are difficult to write about. These vary from writer to writer, of course, but can include abuse, alcoholism, death, rape, sex, suicide, violence of other kinds, etc. Some writers find it easier to write about violence to a human than to certain animals.

Sometimes the act depicted in the scene is necessary to the overall story, so you know it’s coming up as you write along. You figure you’ll be okay when you get there, but then comes the day to write that scene and it’s just not happening. You can’t bear to put the words down.

You might be tempted to take the scene offstage. That is, don’t write it, but continue with the following scenes, where the characters recover from or react to an event that happened during an interval between the last scene and this one. You figure that, with enough context, the reader will fill in the gap.

According to the advice offered on this site, that’s a bad idea. The whole idea of fiction, the thing that keeps it interesting to readers, is the notion of characters in conflict. If you take the conflict offstage, you’re keeping your reader from seeing how your protagonist reacts to real difficulties.

I agree with this. Say you can’t seem to write the fight scene where your hero faces the villain. In a way, your own bravery is in question, more so than that of your hero. You need to face your villain, the unwritten scene itself.

Commenters on a Nashville Writers Meetup forum agree too, and recommend just buckling down and using the emotions you’re feeling to write the scene. One quotes novelist Sarah Schulman as saying “If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t doing it right.”

Along with other blog posts on the subject, this one by author Kelly Heckart emphasizes the need for you to force yourself to do what’s right for the story.

In this forum site, one contributor suggests you might be focusing on your own emotions, your own reaction to a disagreeable act. Instead, concentrate on the reactions and emotions of your characters; that might give enough detachment to allow you to write the scene.

Speaking of detachment, author Linda Govik recommends that you set the whole story aside for awhile, even a year. You might find it easier after that time to write that troublesome scene.

Yet another way to achieve the necessary detachment is offered by the author of this post who recommends thorough research of the disagreeable topic as a way to gain more comfort with the notion of writing about it.

You know what they say: “when the writing gets tough, the tough get writing.” Well, maybe they don’t say it, but I’ve heard it said by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Got a Good Case of Writer’s Block?

Writer’s Block gets a lot of bad press.  Authors fear it.  It’s called an occupational hazard.  People write about how to avoid it and how to get unblocked, and I’m one of those who’s written posts like that (here and here).

Could it be that Writer’s Block (WB) might really be a good thing?

Writers block on a pedestalToday I’ll try finding some positive aspects of WB.  I’ll put it on a pedestal and let it shine a bit.

I came across this brief quote from author Gay Talese and it caused me to look at WB in a different light.  He says it’s a signal we’re not ready to write at our best; it’s an inner voice that is doing us a favor by holding us back.

True, WB is an interruption in your production of words, and you will earn no sales from future works until production resumes.  But Talese is saying there are worse things, such as creating stories of inferior quality.  At best, those low-grade stories won’t get published.  At worst, they will, and your reputation as an author will suffer.

Perhaps, then, you should think of WB as an opportunity.  It’s the stranger who grabs you by the shoulder while you’re hacking your way through the forest with your machete and says, “There’s quicksand, and a hungry bear, and a steep cliff that way, Mate.”  Then he vanishes somewhere into the foliage.

It’s decision time for you.  You could ignore him and continue hacking.  Or you could consult your map and compass and discover he is right.  You were going the wrong direction.  The lost city of gold lies that way.

Note: this mysterious guide only detained you.  He didn’t point out the right way, let alone lead you straight to El Dorado.  Writer’s Block by itself doesn’t get your story going aright.  It only stays you from going awry.  It’s up to you to figure out the proper path.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying WB is something to seek out or strive for.  It’s best not to be hacking your way toward the quicksand in the first place.  It’s just comforting to know that if you are headed for trouble, some strange entity, some being from your unconscious mind, may seize your shoulder before you’ve gone too far.

Maybe changing the name will cause us to think of it in a different light.  Writer’s Block sounds dreadful, like some career-stalling or hobby-killing disease. Perhaps Writer’s Pause or something like that would be better.  If you can think of a more positive term for Writer’s Block, let me know by leaving a comment.

Got you to look at it differently, didn’t I?  You’re welcome.  Don’t worry; I’ve already thought of a way you can express your gratitude.  If you do get a good case of Writer’s Block, and it causes you to rethink your story, and a publisher gives you a million dollar advance, it would be only right for you to mail a modest but significant check to—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

January 19, 2014Permalink