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November 29, 2011

How I Broke Through Writer's Block (This Time)

I've had a bad year for writing. Well, that's me exposing the insecure writer immediately, it's more accurate to say that I've had an unproductive year. Well, once again how do you measure these things? I've had an uproductive year if you measure productivity by the number of stories completed.

It's felt at times as if I've slipped right back to the start. Actually step two in the writer's life, which seems to me to go like this:

  1. Start writing. Oblivious to how crap you are. Writing comes easy due to low quality control. Churn out tonnes of rubbish.
  2. Learn more about the art and craft of writing, realise you know nothing and that you were writing crap all along. Paralysed by doubt. Constant thoughts of how you will never write a novel as good as your favourite author.
  3. Realise that you have to forget all of that and write the best thing you can and keep writing. Remember all that stuff about just writing a draft and finishing which seemed silly at step 1 because it was all so easy. Aware that there's always something new to learn but strive for continuous improvement whilst finishing stuff.
  4. Forget everything in step 3 and go back to step 2.
Parallel to this is the selling stories bit:

  1. Get rejections and rejections and rejections.
  2. Sell first story to small webzine, ecstatic. Think that this is the start of something.
  3. Get rejections and rejections and rejections.
  4. Sell a story to a slightly bigger webzine.
  5. Get rejections and rejections and rejections.
  6. Sell first professional rate story
  7. Get rejections and rejections and rejections.
  8. ....presumably carry on ad infinitum until you get a million pound book deal.
So anyway, this year I've been in step 2 of the writing cycle and step 7 of the selling cycle (which is more like an inifinite line than a circle/cycle). To say I haven't learnt anything is of course nonsense, I'm always learning, this year explicitly as I read: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway and even did the exercises;  Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell; The Art Of War For Writers by James Scott Bell and a few books on talent and getting good and practicing. Unfortunately the initial effect of reading these books were to grind my writing (and SF reading) to a halt as I looked at my stories and saw their faults. I must have spent several months trying to rewrite a story I wrote a few years ago. Still haven't succeeded. I set myself a deadline of submitting to an anthology (Ian Sale's Rocket Science) and struggled for ideas. I thought maybe I'd pull a story out of nowhere as the deadline approached because I'd done this previously. Nothing came. Well, some ideas came but they were distant from Hard SF so I rejected them and now lie unloved in my notebook: four different starts to a story about the Moon/Mars. The deadline passed. I felt a failure.

Then the looming monster of NaNoWriMo, which I publicly rejected, but decided to write four short stories instead. Surprisingly the first one came out in a pleasurable canter. What I decided to do was to return to the universe of an unfinished novel and write stories to help me explain it. Previously I may have been tempted to hoard the ideas, dole them out slowly, not "waste" them on a short story, but I decided to go for it, threw everything into it and wrote. I like the output (now) but more importantly it got me writing.

I know that more ideas come to me whilst I'm writing. I really do know that. But if you break the habit it's hard to get started again. One pleasurable story in and something changes and everything seems okay again. Which is just weird. I never finished the other three stories, the second one is still in progress, rolling on at a few hundred words a day, written in the early morning darkness of a winter, stretching past 5000 words and baggy as a baggy thing. But I'm enjoying writing it and I'm confident that I can edit it into something cool. Probably. Until the doubts creep in again.

I can only assume that all this never changes?