Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why I don't believe in writer's block.


Tomorrow starts the second half of National Novel Writing Month. If you've been participating, it's possible that your book has been going along tickety-boo, more or less, until now, and you should be close to that magical halfway mark of 25,000 words.

But maybe you're not. Maybe, for whatever reason, you got started late. Or maybe your characters are running off in a completely different direction from what you envisioned, and refuse to be corralled. Or maybe you're getting bogged down in editing -- going back to what you've already written and adding or deleting stuff -- and now you despair of ever finishing your novel at all, let alone by November 30th.

These problems can stymie a writer, and even lead to what some refer to as writer's block.

I don't believe in writer's block. Here's why.

When I worked in radio journalism, I had a deadline every hour -- sometimes multiple deadlines every hour. Sometimes during morning drive time, I'd have to write headlines that aired at :15 or :20 past the hour; as soon as I was off the air, I'd immediately have to start writing a five-minute newscast that would air on the half-hour. You haven't lived until you've had to write five minutes' worth of news copy in ten minutes. And when you're under those kinds of deadline pressures, let me tell you, you don't have the luxury of writer's block. You go through the newspaper or the latest wire copy or the stories your reporting team gathered the day before, and you write like the freaking wind, and you take the first draft you've just pounded out and you slam the headphones on as the news sounder is fading and you key the mic and start reading what you just wrote -- and you hope to gods you didn't do something stupid like forget to include somebody's first name. And if you discover you did, the guy's first name is now Fred, because there's no time to go back to your source copy and look it up.

The thing is, though, you can put together a five-minute newscast in ten minutes because you've prepared ahead of time for it. You've scanned the newspaper and looked at the wire copy, so you have some idea of the big stories of the day. Your crack reporting team has left you fresh news that you can just plug-and-play. In other words, you have a game plan.

Just like my old days in radio news, one of the keys I've found to winning NaNo is to have a game plan. I start the month knowing who my characters are. I also start with a rough outline of my plot. If I find myself staring at a blank screen, I pull out my outline and figure out where I'm headed next. And then I just start typing. If I realize I'm going to have to do some research to flesh out a scene, I plug in a placeholder and keep going. Because unlike when I was in radio, I'll have a chance to edit this puppy and fill in all those holes once NaNo is over. For right now, my job is to key the mic before the sounder runs out at midnight on November 30th.

So what do you do if you're not at 25,000 words yet? Take a little time to map out your game plan for the rest of the month. Identify some days where you can put in a long shift on your novel. Write yourself a rough outline of your plot. Then sit down and start typing your novel.

Good luck, and see you at the finish line. You can do this.

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These moments of game-planning blogginess has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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