Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Escaping the Writing Doldrums

I suppose we all get stuck there at some point. A combination of real life and a heavy workload have left me becalmed for what feels like a couple of months now. That’s maybe the thing that frustrates me the most about my writing. I’m fortunate in that I never have any shortage of ideas. There’s a black pool of sludge at the back of my mind that spits out new and ever more inventive pieces of depravity at regular intervals.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual process of setting words to paper (or typing them onto a screen), I’m painfully slow. I’m a chiseller. Each word has to be painstakingly chipped out of stone rather than flowing freely from my fingers.

Okay, sometimes the words flow freely and it’s a wonderful thing.

And then there are the other times...

It’s almost like a natural lifecycle of the creation process. At the beginning the idea is fresh and new and I thrash out the first few pages in a burst of excitement. Then it depends on whether I can ride that crest of excitement to the finish or not. I’ve started a number of stories thinking, ‘it’s only a quick one, 3,000 words at most, it’ll only take a couple of days’, only to see those stories balloon to around 4,000 words with the ending still off somewhere in the distance.

Then it starts to get tough. I start to get antsy. The story’s too long. There must be too much padding in there. I get scratchy. Doubts set in. Is that the correct grammar? Maybe this sentence would be better, or this one.

That’s the worst by the way, getting stuck on That One sentence. By the time I’ve got it down to my satisfaction, I’ve invariably forgotten what I was going to write next. Cue another lengthy pause while I try to remember what that sentence was supposed to be, because obviously it was perfect and much better than the alternates I’m thinking of now (it wasn’t, I just think that). And then, yeah, the whole thing grinds to a shrieking halt. I look at the clock and realise an hour’s gone by and I’ve written a couple of lines.

I think it’s mostly impatience. I want to move onto the next idea. The current idea is fully formed, a solved puzzle, I just haven’t got round to committing the actual words to the screen and until I do it’s clogging up the pipes. Normally I can get round this and beat distraction behaviour by having another story become my distraction behaviour. It’s fine unless I’m around a deadline. Then I’m stupid and tell myself I should only be working on the one story, and then end up getting nothing done as distraction behaviour sends me off to play computer games or randomly surf the internet.

I’ve got two stories holding up an overdue third collection (and other projects!). They’re good ideas, but they’re also complicated and they’re at that point where scratching out each paragraph seems to drag out longer and longer. It was the same for “Arachne’s Web” in my first collection (out next month if you’ll excuse the shameless plug), but I dragged it over the line and was ultimately pleased with how it turned out. It’ll be the same for this pair I’m sure.

So, has anyone else experienced the same? How did you escape your own writing doldrums?

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