Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Writing For Fun And Profit

By Jay Stringer

A change is as good as a rest, and other cliches.

It's good to change things up. I've written on here my views on mythical writers block, and it boils down to this - follow your brain. Just before Christmas I turned in the latest draft of my second book to worlds best agent. I was on a roll, and brimming with ideas for the third book. I jumped headlong into writing it, and asking myself questions; Would this be the final book in the series? Would all the pieces tie up? would I learn to spell?

I got three chapters in and wrote a great mini-cliffhanger, one that would leave the reader asking, what the hell is going on? And then....I didn't know what was going on. So I turned to some of my favourite writing techniques -

I stared at the wall
I rode my bike
I pretended to own a dog and go for long walks

There comes a time when your imaginary dog is tuckered out, and you've had as many showers as you can have in a day without shrinking, when you have to accept that your brain is not ready. It's still picking away at the problem, letting all the pieces fall into different places and seeing how the picture looks. At that point you can PANIC BECAUSE YOU HAVE WRITERS BLOCK or you can follow your brain and go work on something else.

I really don't see writers block as a brick wall. I see it as the door to a safe, or a magic eye puzzle. Just wait, play around with the combination, and it'll come when it's ready.

So I turned to project B. The stand alone, and one that I was putting great pressure on myself to write. This is a story that's been kicking around in my head for awhile and I always intended to tackle it four or five manuscripts in, when I would be in a better position to take on the structure. I was coming to it ahead of schedule, but I had a few ideas for it and I took a running jump. Sent worlds best agent regular (well, my version of regular, which tends to be faster than an ice age,) updates about the research, the structure, the title (because thats the important part, kids.) And then once again, I hit that fake-brick-wall.

That book is closer to being ready for me to tackle, but it still wasn't quite there.

Step three, stop pressuring myself into writing anything and catch up on some reading. I started into my epic TBR pile. And then hit the wall again.

Readers block? WTF.

I looked back on what I'd been reading. And for longer than I realised I had been reading crime. Normally I keep an eye on my pile and keep things changing, keep things fresh. But somehow I'd let that slip, and my brain was yelling at me to change things. I couldn't read or write crime because I was sinking in it.

So, change as good as a rested cliche, or something like that.

I re-read a couple of old adventure books, and that loosened something, then I binged on comics, and that loosened something further. Then I sat down to write, and boy was that loose.

Everything I'd been writing for the previous year had been with the knowledge that I was going to be sending it to worlds best agent, or submitting to a magazine/ezine, or sending them to Professor Weddle and saying, squeal at that, piggy.

I never write for an audience. I write for myself. But even then you'll find pressures creep in and styles change, you're writing something that you know others will read.

I went back to square one. I have a pulp adventure character, someone I mucked around with a few years back in some very bad stories. But action and adventure play to my weaknesses as a writer, and they're a good chance to play with some other things that obsess over, like structure and character.

So with myself as the only intended audience, I gave myself a month off from writing to sit and write. And two months later I'm still there, in the closing stages of what threatens to be a novel. And it's still probably not something I'll be looking to publish, but it's been a great experience. A writing holiday.

The next episode of the DSD podcast will be out very soon, featuring Mr Tony Black, Russel and my own self. Keep an eye on that feed. And if you're thinking, yeah, all of this talking is good, but when do we get to hear you chat with Mr Seth Harwood? Well, that one's coming soon too.


Anonymous said...

Change is good.

I've been in a bit of a rut with writing myself and while I have a deep pile of crime fiction novels and anthos to read, I found myself digging out a couple spy thrillers. You know what? Our brains must be wired similar, I've gotten the urge to write again.

Good timing too, I've got two shorts due this week.

Good article Stringer.

Dana King said...

I don't believe in writer's block. I think a writer can be stcuk (as you were on the first project) and can not yet be ready for something (as you were on the second).

This is why I outline. I may find myself staring at the same damn index cards for two weeks at a time (often while another project continues unabated), but when I'm ready to write, I'm ready.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Ha! I think the two of us are writing a theme this week - changing it up. I agree with Ron that change is good. However, while we always write for ourselves, it is hard not to be aware of writing for an audience when you know you have one to send it to.

Can't wait to see what changing it up brings for you!