A Sudden Case of the Doldrums.
I noticed the other day that several blogging compatriots of mine were having a similar issue. They felt a bit stuck with their current WIP. One had rebellious characters and the other found themselves in a doldrums of sorts. I gave them essentially the same advice, because I felt it fit in with their situations. It follows along with my philosophy of: A Change is as Good as a Rest*.
I have suffered from time to time a lull in writing. I look at the computer screen or notebook and I see a vast empty sea of white. Nothing feels right, I do not have ‘It’. You know that motivation, la joie de la vie, as the French might say. Except I am not French, and I don’t say that, too often at any rate.
The plot or characters or something suddenly does not feel right, and I waffle, and hesitate and the doldrums settle in. It becomes easier each passing hour to find something else to do rather than fussing over the manuscript. This happens frequently enough that I have learned to identify the feeling. It is at this time I choose to divert myself.
It is not enough to keep writing. Well, it is and it isn’t. Allow me to explain. While continuing to write (your blog, journal, another story) is excellent as it maintains your writer’s edge, it does not address the issue with your main work. It is essential to keep writing, because writing is a frangible skill and must be practiced regularly to keep it in tip-top shape.
What to do then? Don’t Panic! Here is what I do, it seems to work pretty well for me. Your mileage may vary though. Going with the aforementioned philosophy, I take a step to the side of the main writing project and write a short exercise or two. Flash fiction and short story are two terrific styles. They allow me to step apart for a little time and try something new/different with a character or plot. Here are the benefits that I perceive:
- I get to create background on a character(s) or develop something new. In regards to my steampunk series for instance, I developed the notion of pocket-sized clockwork automatons.
- I can try out different angles on a scene without having to redo a whole lot of the main manuscript.
- Flash fiction is terrific for developing little insights for characters. It helps to define them. It is one thing to write on a piece of paper as you are outlining things: ‘John Doe is missing a hand, he is traumatized by mousetraps as a result’. A bit of flash and you can discover what happened to John to make him so afraid. You can see things more clearly from his perspective.
I recently described flash fiction and short stories using this comparison: FF and SS are like speed training in running. Short quick bursts that over time help strengthen the tools needed to run long distances (or finish that manuscript!) Does it work? I think so. I’ve posted some flash and shorts here that were written as short breaks from the longer work. I have to say that I really like each one and feel that it helped build a foundation for the characters, allowing me to better use them in the manuscript’s current time.
Something else you could do, which I enjoy even though I am terrible at it is drawing. I like to try drawing what is in my mind in terms of characters, locations, machines and so on. Of course not everyone is inclined to draw.
The point is, I step away from the manuscript but remained focused on the story. I experiment with things. I believe that writing a story does not necessarily mean following a straight line (or curved one even). Going off on a small tangent can provide a benefit that may not be readily apparent. How about you? What are your thoughts on that? What do you like to do to recharge your batteries?
Thanks for reading!
* All right, I picked this up from The Bastard Operator From Hell. The original articles are of course, here. They are also incredibly compter-geeky, foul-mouthed and Machiavellian. Read at your own risk!