Friday, July 27, 2012

Avoiding the Writer's Wall

by Stephen L. Duncan

In my fairly limited existence as an author, there have been many truisms that I’ve run across while trying to get the words onto the page. More often than not, these little bits of advice on the dos and the don’ts of being a writer get stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, only to be quickly forgotten. I'm just stupid like that. One, though, rings truer than others and I try to keep it in mind whenever a distraction attempts to call me away from the work.

Writing a novel is all about momentum.

You stick a word down, then another. Soon you have a sentence, and a paragraph follows until a page is filled. You do this over and over, and eventually you'll have all the pages your little spark of an idea needs to be a story.

That’s fairly simple, isn’t it?

Indeed. Yet there are always obstacles in our way. You’ve heard of one, no doubt. The dreaded Writer’s Block. I’ve never suffered from it, but it sounds horrible—a sort of frozen paralyzed state where words just don’t exist in the mind. Momentum can help prevent this little hiccup, because words are like water and a book, after all, is merely the result of a broken dam. The faster the flow, the harder it is to stop.

What I have experienced recently with the novel I just tuned in to my agent is the Writer’s Wall. If Writer’s Block is this leaded state of being that weighs you down, immobilizing you, Writer’s Wall is something you crash into.

In a way, it’s the opposite of Writer’s Block. You have too much going on in your writing life, too much spilling out of your head onto the page. And then, like something out of NASCAR, you hit the wall. (Hey, I’m from Alabama. I can only go so long in a day without a racing metaphor.) Your words are broken, not working, and your story seems futile. Worse, you're no longer certain you should be writing it.

The symptoms are these: From an abnormally confident valuation of your own work, often joined by a heightened productivity, you will experience a sudden onset of fear of publication characterized by a consuming doubt in your own taste and talent. Every word choice will be in question, every sentence’s worth made suspect. You will begin to negatively compare yourself to notable successful writers. While ideas and stories may flourish, you will encounter a paralyzing lack of esteem that prevents these ideas and stories from being realized.

A lot can steer you into a Writer’s Wall. Rejection. Negative feedback. Too much momentum. The list could go on and on. But the trick to pulling out of the crash is to take some time away from your work. Let it marinate in your head a little. Slow down. Live some of your life away from your computer.

Of course, if you’re like me, you might read this and then quickly store it in some recessed part of your mind, ready to be forgotten.

Write hard, y’all.

Stephen L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.


Jeremy Bates said...

I've found out that I am old school in that I am both crew chief and driver. Rather than steer myself into a wall, I insure that I have the correct tire pressure and set up for the track that is the writing process.

When I have a zillion things competing with me to be in the race (story), I jot them down rather than incorporate them all into the story. After all, only so many racers can compete in any one race.

And hey, finally someone spelled y'all correct! lol

By the way, I am running a Blog Fest Aug. 10-12 called the Dog Days of Summer. I'd love to see you there.


Jemi Fraser said...

Great description. That debilitating fear has attacked me way more than I'd like to admit. I'll work on that steering :)

Pearl said...

I refuse to consider writer's block.

If I don't acknowledge that it can happen, it won't happen to me. :-)


Lynn Proctor said...

i think i have complete block when it comes to starting a new story :(

Arlee Bird said...

I don't have much problem with writer's block, but I've hit that wall. So true about the momentum of writing. If I get on a roll I can keep going pretty well, but if I derail it can be difficult to get back on track sometimes.

Wrote By Rote

Sunny Frazier said...

I just realized that I've hit the wall. Thanks for the notification.

I'm posting the URL to your piece over at my site under "Posse Posts."

Stephen L. Duncan said...

Great comments, all. I think the trick to not hitting anything (to beat the racing metaphor to death) is good brakes. Take a breath and take a break. It'll do your writing wonders.

Jean Oram said...

For me, and by your description, I hit the wall when I have been editing my own stuff for too long. Ugh. Hurts to even thi about it. said...

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