I’ve been following, with many a wince of sympathy, the comments on Marsha’s blog about what to do when you hit the metaphorical brick wall. We all suffer from it, though in my case it stems more often from succumbing far too easily to distraction – the lure of a packet of Maltesers, a sale in the Debenhams coat department, or even a sardonically raised eyebrow on a brown-eyed man.
My symptoms are a little different for two reasons: first, I plot, plot, plot, plot, plot to the nth degree so I don’t write so much as a chapter heading without knowing exactly what will happen in each scene, all the way until the end. I do this partly because I hate surprises and partly because a large chunk of what I do for a living involves creating storylines for other people to write out in full, so it stands to reason that the more detail I put in at synopsis stage, the closer the finished product will be to what the publisher is looking for. As a rough guide, my storylines extend to around 10,000 words for books up to 35,000, while Warriors synopses can ramble on to 25,000 words for a 75,000 word script.
I have clearly become storyline-dependent because I do the same for my own novels and spend weeks muttering darkly to myself about how Character A will get from Location B to Emotional Crisis C, all before I have a document open in front of me. By the time I start writing, the aim is to be able to rattle through 4-8,000 words a day, as if I were describing a movie playing out in my head, with my trusty synopsis printed out at my side so if I get remotely stuck I just have to look at the page and say, What happens next? Oh yes, Helena comes out of the stable having been bitten by Oriel and Jamie sympathizes but says she was a bit dumb to go in with the stallion in the first place… The very idea of writing a book without knowing what happens at the beginning, middle and end of every single chapter brings me out in hives. I am in awe of people who talk of setting off on an adventure with their characters, and letting the story wend where it will. Am I a control freak? Scared of taking risks? Weirdly scientific about my approach to random acts of creativity? Maybe a little bit of all of the above.
In theory, this means writer’s block happens for me at storyline stage, when I frown at my keyboard and wonder what on earth those melodramatic feral cats can do next. Or when I know that my heroine’s brother must be dramatically unmasked as an impostor, but I’m not sure how that can be done without the accompaniment of soaring strings and a tragic bassoon to prompt readers to feel aghast NOW. The ways I tackle The Block are connected with the second reason that my symptoms are a little different than most; quite simply, I don’t have time for writer’s block because I am always working to a publisher’s stone-set schedule, so if the dread mist descends, I have to do something fast to get my story back again. I allow myself three days for a long storyline, one day for shorter books, so if the action stops flowing and I just don’t know what happens next, I turn to a few swift-impact solutions… [Read more…]