I have discovered the ability to make myself sit down and write something fictional on command. I’ve been haunted by “writer’s block” but this last Sunday, I had to conquer it.
As I posted earlier, I have been working on my story collection to get it ready for the second round of feedback, before I start sending it out to agents, publishers, etc. I have added pressure to get it done because I am all set to attend the upcoming Ventura Writer’s Weekend and I need it done in time.
So I was working on my five stories, and one worked out. The other four, through a series of unfortunate events, did not.
Thus I had two choices: Stick the collection back in a drawer for however many years, or write two new stories. I had people waiting on this, so I needed to make my choice, and stick to it, and choose quickly.
I’ve been trying to finish this collection for thirteen years. It was not going back in a drawer.
So I had one day to write two stories–and I had writer’s block.
I attempted to write a decent story five times, and they were all bad. One became a near rip-off of a series I’ve been reading, so I scrapped it. Another was so overdone in the past I couldn’t stand it. The third was just bad, period–two paragraphs in I was like “ah NO.” The fourth started fine and kaputed after half a page. So I invented a title, hoping I could write that way, and wrote a few lines and quit. The lines were “I couldn’t help it if cats liked me. If they always knew how to track me down. And what was I supposed to do, turn them away? No. So I became what I had always hated, and sworn on my mother’s grave would never be– A Cat Lady.” And then I went “Arrrggghh!” and deleted everything.
Now I had less than half a day to write two stories, and I was convinced that I was the worst writer in history. (I get melodramatic when I hit writer’s block).
So I tried another tact: logic.
Logically, this writer’s block made no sense. I had turned around articles in two hours when I was pressed with a deadline. Of the nineteen articles I’ve published (soon to be twenty) I had never once missed a deadline due to writer’s block. It was like there was no room for it when I had all of three days or two hours to get something delivered. So how was it possible that I could be reliable in nonfiction, and doomed in fiction?
I decided to treat this like nonfiction. The actual subject matter shouldn’t affect the outcome, but I assumed I was psychologically conditioned to believe that I could fail to write fiction but not fail to write nonfiction, so I would approach it as a nonfiction project.
I sat in front of the computer, and stared at the blank screen. With nonfiction, I always had a premise to work off of. OK, so in this project, I needed to write a love-themed piece.
I turned to my previous nonfiction works that I had yet to publish, and I fictionalized one of them. That was easy–I wrote a nonfiction story and changed the names and added a few pieces of color.
And oh my gosh I had written a really nice fiction in under an hour. I even read it twice and couldn’t fault it. I set that aside.
Now… one more…
Unfortunately there were no more nonfictions I could fictionalize in a love-themed story that had a happily-ever-after.
With almost all of my nonfiction pieces I had gotten published, I had pitched the idea first, then written the article once it was approved. So I usually had a vague prompt to springboard from.
I needed a vague prompt about love, one that didn’t make me groan. My second fall-back, when lacking prompts, is to park myself in front of paintings and find the story within them, and tell that tale. So I plunked in front of the most magical painting in my room and forced myself to find the story.
I had two false starts, but I basically told myself “You’ve got to turn in this love story by tonight, and you’ve already promised it so you’re just going to have to do it.” And then the story presented a little tiny toe of itself and I had to tease it into being, but I found it, and I wrote it, and the ending was good.
I’ve got to polish both stories, and I may switch the POV on the first story, but I had done it! In the space of a few hours, I had written two stories, on topic.
At that point I felt like a real writer for the first time. I could actually manage myself in fiction the same way I have to manage myself in everything else. And apparently I can make myself write in genres that are beyond my comfort zone, on a deadline. Now if I can just get organized, and scheduled, and work out how to get those novel ideas properly researched, I’ll be golden!
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