I’m struggling to write.
Now this is a common problem experienced by most writers. Over the last three months I have had many distractions which have kept me from the key board.
- Things like going away for several short holidays with family.
- Things like spending wonderful time with my grandson – and his parents.
- Things like catching up with family over Christmas.
- Things like celebrating my wife’s birthday with friends – it was one of the big one! (Ssssh – I won’t mention her age)
- Things like getting jobs done around the house that had been studiously ignored during the year.
Probably the most concerning, however, has been a deterioration of my health. Several things have made concentrating on my writing very difficult. This is where persistence comes into play. Over the last few days I’ve gradually pushed through the disappointments and difficulties and persisted with my writing. Sometimes it has been easy, sometimes very challenging.
As I see it now, my priority over the coming months will be to keep on steadily writing while being careful to pace myself and care for my health.
Where is my story going? Some thoughts about plot
A few nights ago I had a restless time in the early hours of the morning. I had been working hard on my children’s novel. I had written 400 words in the hour or so before retiring. This had drained me emotionally and mentally. I took a while to go to sleep; the mind was too active. Several hours later I more or less woke up knowing why I had been struggling with the story.
The story was going nowhere.
Sure-I had a vague idea of some of the plot. I knew the major events that I wanted to incorporate. I roughly knew where it was going and how it would finish. I just basically didn’t know how to get there.
In a flash of inspiration-despite the fog of being only half awake-I knew what the problem was. I hadn’t asked the protagonist some fundamental questions. (Hint from one of my lecturers: if you don’t know where to go next, ‘interview’ your protagonist. Thanks, Claire)
I needed to know the following:
- What does my character need or want above all else?
- What worries my main character? What is he afraid of?
- What or who is stopping my character getting what he wants?
- How will he overcome these obstacles and who can help him?
Once I had a clear understanding of the answers to these questions, plot ideas started to suggest themselves and the story became alive. The main character started to take over and I just had to take a back seat and let him drive the story. It’s exciting when that happens.
Plotters and Pantsers
Writers tend to fall into one of two camps, plotters and pantsers.
Plotters are meticulous planners. Plotters have an idea for a story and then plan, plan, plan. The read and research their theme and topic and revel in their discoveries. They draw up story boards and plan extensive character studies. They fill note books and sticky labels with all kinds of detail. For some of them, the research and planning is far more exciting and satisfying than the actual writing. I would imagine that crime writers in particular need this approach, or there will be too many loose ends at the end of the story. A very real danger in this approach, however, is drowning in a whirlpool of information.
Pantsers are almost the complete opposite. They have a great idea and rush to their keyboard and start typing, often with little regard for planning and really just writing by the seat of their pants-hence the name ‘pantsers’. Plot? What plot? Oh-that will take care of itself as I go along. The big problem with this approach is the brick wall that the writer rushes headlong into after three or four chapters. After the initial flurry of enthusiasm and inspiration, the writer suddenly comes to a screeching halt in front of that wall-what happens next? Often they have no idea where to go with the story. They don’t have a plan. There is no plot.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. I tend to be a ‘pantser’, especially with short story writing. With the shortened forms of fiction writing one can afford this luxury. With novels it is crucial to spend more time planning, researching, plotting and doing character outlines and so on. With my current novel I am trying to do more planning and plotting as I can see the benefits of doing so. It doesn’t come easily but I’m trying.
For a good discussion on the pros and cons of these two approaches see:
For more articles in this series go to Writing a Novel – a writer’s journal.
Writing while you sleep?
Now – there’s a thought! Wouldn’t it be ‘luvverly’ if you woke up each morning and the writing pixies had been busy all night on your keyboard? Sure to be nothing but fairy tales though.
Say – there’s another story idea – WHAT IF you wrote a story about pixies writing your story while you slept?
See – I’m full of ideas!
And pleeeeze – do not say I’m off with the pixies! That would be fairy insulting and damaging to my elf-esteem.
(Picks up large jar full of tablets. Looks at clock. Yes – time for my medication.)
Seriously folks – there will be times when you’ve been working hard on a story and you get blocked, or tired or just cannot see where to go next. In those situations it might be better to quit writing, get some good sleep and let your sub-conscious take over for a few hours. Then you can come back to the writing with fresh eyes, and a refreshed mind. Might just work wonders.
Sometimes writers get stuck for ideas. This might just be a temporary blip on the radar screen. If it persists over a long period of time, the dreaded writer’s block might be the cause.
Whatever the situation, writers are left without ideas. This is where my very popular short story starters can help. Then we have this series of writing prompts to get you out of those writing ruts. Today I present the latest list of writing prompts.
Use these as writing warm up activities. Use them as jumping off points for stories, or magazine articles or even blog posts. Use them however you wish.
Twenty Writing Prompts
- Write about a career you have always dreamed about.
- Write a conversation between a cow and a blade of grass.
- What is your favourite household appliance? Write about its life from the point of view of the appliance.
- If you had a choice, where would you live and why?
- Write a list of ten things you would never write about.
- Write a list of menu items you would offer to an enemy who came into your restaurant.
- Choose an item in the room. Describe it without saying what it is and from the object’s point of view.
- Make a list of the ten greatest inventions ever.
- Write five things you would never tell your children – or your parents.
- You are alone in the house. Your cat/dog starts talking to you. Record your conversation.
- Choose a colour. Write about how it would feel if everything in the world was that colour.
- A stranger approaches you in an airport and asks for a thousand dollars. Record your conversation.
- Describe boredom. Make your description exciting.
- Assume that more ice creams are sold on Tuesdays. Write a short report on why this is so.
- Take on the role of your editor. Write the most devastating rejection letter you can imagine.
- What would you do if you could live for a thousand years? describe your life.
- Make a list of ten things that the world would be better off without. (“Things” – not people!)
- Describe the best party ever. Who would you invite? Where would you hold it? What would you have to eat?
- Describe what you would do if you found an elephant in your garden.
- Write down your thoughts about the most controversial current news item.
I love Oxymorons.
They fascinate me. Sometimes they are really funny, sometimes serious and often thought provoking. Here is a brilliant one I came across recently in our daily newspaper. It speaks volumes to writers.
Writers take note: procrastination will kill your writing career.
Stop dithering and get on with it.
Go on – stop wasting time here and get on with your writing.
- Oxymorons – an article I wrote some time ago explaining what they are, with some examples.
Good writing: and stop putting it off.