Leave you writer’s block in the box it came in

I have two blogs, and lately I’ve been slacking off on both of them. I haven’t had the inspiration for topics at the same pace I had before. Is this writer’s block?

Writer’s block is a common theme among bloggers running low on steam. I’ve been around long enough to see a lot of good bloggers come and go. Were they all overcome by writer’s block?

I don’t truly know what writer’s block is. I guess nobody does. It seems to be a catchall phrase for those moments when you just don’t have enough idea to wrap a meaningful layer of words around.

I don’t know about writer’s block, but I have certainly suffered from blog fatigue. Both my blogs are targeted to specific subject areas. This blog contains three types of features: fiction, essays about writing, and my own skewed perspectives on pieces of classic literature. That’s not a very broad subject area. It can take some time to come up with new ideas within those guidelines.

In the early days, they would put all the bloggers in one big box and make them write their way out of it. Conditions have improved since then.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have subjects I could easily knock out 500 words on. They just might not be appropriate subjects for my niche blogs. I could write plenty of pages on my unfortunate habit of getting stuck behind a pastel colored Prius on my drive to work. I think up lots of colorful phrases as I am forced to drive 15 mph below the speed limit in my frustrated attempts to be a prompt employee. I could probably even create my own Trapped in Prius Hell blog, with a special tab dedicated to the handful of truly noble Prius owners who are saving the world without making the rest of humanity late for their appointments. Yeah, I know a few of these rare gems.

Alas, even this would play itself out over time, and I would have to expand the scope to include overcautious Subaru drivers or be tormented by the steady decay of writer’s block. Incidentally, my 2007 Hyundai was not built for safety and will probably explode into a fireball at the slightest bumper tap, so don’t make me slam on the brakes unless you want all your clever bumper stickers singed.

Maybe writer’s block should be called writer’s box. It’s not that you’re blocked from writing; you’re just trying to write inside the wrong box. I’ve been making good progress on my novel series, but when I climb into the blogging box, it’s slow going. Instead of banging my head against the sides of the box, I climb out of the box and go play novelist for a while.

Sure, I’d like to get back to blogging as frequently as I used to, but if my imagination wants to tend toward novels right now, I’m going to make hay while that sun shines. It’s not so important that I take a break from one medium. What’s more important is I don’t go on hiatus from writing altogether.

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Machines are Patient – flash fiction

The engineer tapped his power transmitter, causing lights to come on for the first time in a thousand years. “Welcome to the last outpost of human civilization on Earth,” he told his companions.

“What is this place?” the reconnaissance party commander asked.

“It’s an underground control bunker,” the fleet historian answered. “It controlled all the nuclear missiles for this alliance. At the outbreak of war, the other alliance struck first. For some reason, still unknown, this alliance never fired its missiles back. We suspected it was because their command and control was knocked out. But as you can see, this facility’s only blemish is a thousand years of dust.”

“What they didn’t realize was that it would only take one side’s bombs to make Earth uninhabitable for centuries,” the engineer added.

The men considered the control center, with its ancient machines shrouded in a pristine layer of dust. “It’s a miracle we were able to get a foothold on Mars before the End War,” the engineer volunteered. “Otherwise this would be the last symbol of humanity left in the universe.”

“It’d be a sorry grave site for human civilization,” the historian said.

“We’re back to stay, now,” the commander assured them. “The surface has regenerated into a paradise. It has all the resources we were running out of on Mars and so many more. It was a good decision by the Council to bring everyone back.”

The men walked among the rows of machines that hadn’t seen light or life in centuries. The commander stopped short. “Look here,” he exclaimed, “there’s a light blinking on this machine.”

The others joined him. The engineer dusted off the console. “I believe that’s a printer,” he said.

“Exactly,” the historian agreed. “They used it to write onto a material called paper.” He pointed to a row of file cabinets. “Those closets are probably full of writing on paper. It was very inefficient.”

“Look, the screen is glowing.” The commander pointed to the small screen on the printer console. “It says something: ‘Paper jam in feeder tray.’ What’s a feeder tray?”

“It’s giving little picture instructions,” the engineer noticed. “The feeder tray must be this thing.” He pulled out the tray as the picture instructed.

“One of the papers is in crooked,” the historian said.

The engineer removed the flawed paper. The picture told him to close the tray, so he did. “It says, ‘Press OK button’, oh, I see it.” He pressed the button.

The men jumped backward as the printer sprang to life. It spit out printed sheets of paper on top of the ones caked in dust.

At last the printer stopped. They heard its motor ebb into silence. The historian picked up the topmost paper. All three examined it. “It looks like a list of coordinates of some sort,” the engineer declared. At the bottom of the page were the words, “End Report.”

The commander tapped the engineer on the shoulder. He pointed to a nearby machine. “Hey, is that other screen lit up under all that dust?”

“Let’s see.” The engineer wiped away the dust from the monitor. Words flashed on the screen. All three stared at the monitor as the engineer read aloud: “Target report printed successfully. Launch sequence initiated.”

The things we do for $112 and a cookie

Is writing fun? Cathartic? Rewarding? Are there some other motivations that make people, who are not compelled by outside forces to do this task, do it of their own free will?

Why would you spend precious time and energy on this task, when you could be playing, or sleeping, or working a second job – spending your mental powers on something that actually supplements your income?

If it’s your job to write, that’s reason enough, but what about the rest of us, who write anyway?

Is writing fun?

I’ve heard people say they love to write. Some people can write for hours on end, and emerge feeling like they’ve been to a great party. If I write for more than an hour, the party host has begun showing vacation slides, the liquor’s gone, and I’m turning cranky. Writing is hard for me. It’s a chore. There are many things I’d have more fun doing.

Is writing cathartic?

Some say they write to let out their feelings. Writing takes a weight off their souls and allows them to address emotions in ways they cannot do otherwise. I also feel better after a session of writing, but for me, it’s the same as feeling good after a workout, when you realize you have a whole day before you have to make yourself tired and sweaty again. I admit there have been a few times when writing has allowed me to get something off my chest. But my angry letters to Boston Market Corporate Headquarters probably weren’t my best work. Besides, the euphoria didn’t last past the next local chicken shortage.

angry letter

“Tell ’em we’re tired of them running out of mashed potatoes too!”

Is writing rewarding?

There are many different levels of reward. There’s the fame and fortune reward. There’s the flattering five-star review reward. There’s the how do I claim $112 in royalties on my income tax? reward. There’s the I’m really pleased with how this piece turned out, even if nobody ever reads it reward. There’s the I wrote 500 words today so I’m having a damned cookie reward. There are many levels of reward between these as well. What I’ve learned about rewards is they are all fleeting, except possibly the fame and fortune reward, which I know nothing about. Also they are scant reward for the amount of toil that created them. Writing for reward is a fool’s errand.

Why then?

I ask this a lot, because I consider myself a logical person, but there seems to be no logic in why I take on this task again and again.

I think I write because I can’t draw, or paint, or play the horn. I write because I can, though opinions may differ on this point. Writing is my one chance to leave something lasting. Yes, it’s a long shot, another fool’s errand, but what so far has led you to believe I’m not a fool?

If I write enough, maybe one little portion of my output will prove itself to be beautiful and I will have something to show for my time.

If you write, why do you do it?

Stuck in the middle with 2

I can’t prove it, but my hunch is most people who write a novel series start with book #1, then progress to book #2, book#3, etc. This seems like a sensible way to manage such a project. As I gaze longingly at this sensible method from afar, I can only blame myself for coming at this task ass-backward.

As I mentioned here, I had a long novel I decided to split into two. Here, I documented how the two books propagated themselves into three books. So what now? Four? No. I hope not – not yet anyway.

The good news is that drafts of books #1 and #3 are complete. This took a lot of rewriting, a good deal of new writing, and much careful rearranging. It is an accomplishment and I feel good about it.

Having stretched #1 to the left and #3 to the right, I turned to the middle to see what material was left to form the core of #2. I was shocked to find a total of 30 pages left to work with.

A 30-page manuscript is not a large base to build a novel upon, but that’s not even the daunting part. The paucity of pages is merely a symbol of the bigger issue. I’ve got a miles and miles of ground to cover between #1 and #3. Chronologically, I’ve got a couple of decades to pass. That’s a chore, but not the most difficult one. The task that makes me suck in deep breaths is the chasm I need to bridge in character development. There’s a long road of change between book #1 and book #3.

“See that little gap over there? I’d like you to fit book #2 in there nice and snug.”

Since books #1 and #3 already exist, books #2 is both a sequel and a prequel. It seems to me there are more constraints to writing a prequel than to writing a sequel. You can’t just take the story threads and run with them. They have to come out lined up with a future already in existence. When a story is both prequel and sequel, the threads have to line up at both ends.

Let’s say my characters need to begin book#3 at point Z. If #2 were a simple prequel, I could start them out at the most convenient point Y. But because #2 is also a sequel, I have to start them where they left book#1, point X. I have to show how the characters got from X to Y before they can embark for Z.

They have the better part of 20 years to make the legs of this journey which is more than enough time. The true question is how many scenes it will take. Every new scene eats up more pages, and the whole impetus of this operation was to avoid producing books that suffocate under their own weight.

Which leads us back to the obvious solution: a fourth book. That just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it will seem more right later on, but for now I’m set on wrestling with book#2 as a single entity. Is that daunting? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Will I pull it off? Stay tuned . . .