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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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 . . .

The novel series I didn’t know I was writing

Last time, I wrote about dividing my long novel into two novels. Part of the reason that last post was nearly three months ago is because I’ve pushed blogging to the back burner to work on splitting the baby. I’ve been writing new scenes and thinking about future scenes I think would add to the plot. A few months of this has led me to a revelation:

Two books are not enough.

This thing is going to take three.

More books, more paper

“We’re gonna need more paper!”

The story covers the span of several decades. Originally, it was heavy on the latter end of the timeline, so I’ve been adding material to the beginning of the timeline to balance it. I think these are interesting scenes that add to the development of the characters, but beefing up the beginning to match the end has begun to show how lean the middle years are.

It’s not unheard of to skip over a number of years from the ending of a book to the beginning of its sequel. I could do that, and I might be able to get away with it. There are a few reasons why I don’t want to try that.

Continuity of Character

By the end of the saga, one of the major characters develops into someone quite different from the person he was at the beginning. The scenes I’ve added to the early years make this change less subtle than it used to be. There needs to be more middle to show how this change came about. I could tell it as back story at the start of the sequel, but that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. The change needs to be shown in its pieces, rather than explained in a few pages.

Fertile Ground

My research, as well as the detail I’ve already added to the early timeline, has given me lots of ideas about interesting events I think would be entertaining to readers in showing the means of transition from the early to later years. There’s a lot of good story in the history of the era to be told. If I am equal to telling it, it would become more than a necessary transition; it would be a compelling story in its own right.

Bonus book

Two is an awkward number for a series. Is it really a series or merely a sequel? Having a third book would make me more comfortable talking about a series. I could begin imagining series titles without worrying about being a fraud, and I would worry about that; it’s the kind of thing I do. Besides, what author wouldn’t want an extra book to their credit?

housebreaking fun

Splitting books is a lot like splitting houses: if you go crazy with your bulldozer, they just might fall to pieces.

You may wonder if I will come back in three months talking about a fourth book, and so do I. I truly hope that does not happen. At some point, fiction has to stop multiplying conceptually and begin the process that results in actual books.

Number four may come after all this, but now I’ve got to limit the number of books I’m writing inside the book I’ve already written.