For the last week, my computer has refused to turn on normally. One morning, ready to write (or waste time on the internet), I went to hit my trusty ‘on’ switch and stared as nothing happened. Rational person that I am, I tried several approaches: Pressing the middle of the button, pressing on the left, the right, the top left, the top right, wiggling it in the vain hope that something would click back into place, and finally having a tiny meltdown as my computer remained lifeless.
Ah, technology. I didn’t try the ‘hit it until it works’ approach, since it would likely crack the sad plastic casing. After I spilled tea all over the side of my laptop a month ago (a date forever referred to as the Great Computer Revival of 2012, where we completely disassembled my computer and attacked it with blow-driers), I haven’t trusted my computer enough to hit it. Have you seen the inside of these things? They’re literally held together with duck tape and prayers.
My computer DVD remote, once a novelty, has now become a vital tool for bringing my computer to life every morning. Thank goodness for that extra ‘on’ switch. Though now I live in a paranoid state of worrying when that ‘on’ switch will stop working.
Sigh. I can’t win.
And of course, in the middle of my crisis, I had the insanity to compare this all to writing. Something is clearly wrong with me. But this did occur to me at the time, so I might as well roll with it: Sometimes writing is like this.
Sometimes the ‘On’ switch just isn’t working. We’re rolling along, typing thousands of words, excited about our writing, and all of a sudden it just stops. The fat lady sings. The screen goes blank. We throw our hands up and stare expectantly at the screen, waiting for words to appear—waiting for that missing plot line or character. But nothing happens.
Writer’s Block? I’m not sure that this is the same thing. Even if none of them are any good, I can sit down and type out thousands of words reliably, but they’re missing everything that gives them life. They’re missing the passion, the heart that a good passage of words has. And I can’t help but wonder: where’s the ‘on’ switch?
Sometimes the passions that once fueled our writing no longer work. Sometimes we are no longer passionate about what we happen to be writing. What changed? How do we get back on track again?
I’ve found that we fall into one of three categories with this situation:
1) Your passion needs to be refilled.
Like a gas tank. Or a milkshake (I love milkshakes— don’t judge). You’re writing along, you feel great about what you’re doing, but there’s this monotony to your actions. Maybe the writing is even great, but you no longer get excited about it. You plug away words according to plan, and everything is going according to plan, but something is clearly missing.
Step back. Take a deep breath. Find what you love about that story again. I’ve said this in previous posts, and I will say it again: You need to feel your story from the inside, out. This will help you more than grammar, more than advice on proper story structure, more than almost any piece of advice anyone could ever offer you.
Get excited again, and start writing again. It’s as simple as that. That being said, often the solution in this case is to not write. As writers, I feel like we fall into two categories: those who are super OCD and strict with daily word count (*waves hands*), and those of us who are lucky to write at all each day, even if we want to. If you are one of the former writers, let go. The story will still be there in a week, and so will you (barring the zombie apocalypse, of course). It needs time to breathe. You need time to breathe. Go bowling, buy a parakeet, read something silly. Anything that gets your mind away from your work. And when you return to the story, you’ll find that you have much more fire to write with.
Veronica Roth has a great post about this here if you’re interested. It also involves ice cream. Which is always a good thing.
2) The story no longer rings a sympathetic chord with you.
This second one is tricky. Unfortunately, novels take a long time to write. And in that time, we tend to change. Sometimes in small ways, like our ice cream flavor preference. Sometimes in larger ones, like our definition of courage or fear. If our value system changes, our writing tends to have a habit of reflecting it. This creates problems with consistency if you continue to write, but often this problem leaves us staring at our screens with a nagging feeling that something is wrong.
What do you do when you can no longer even agree with what you’ve written, much less get excited about it?
It’s here that I feel like a lot of writers get in trouble, because they’re not writing through a character’s eyes— they’re writing through themselves. If that doesn’t make sense, let me reword it: So often I hear writers say something like, “Oh, my main character is just like me.”
This is a problem. Again, we do leak into our characters to some degree, but you should never be writing a fictional character with yourself in mind (intentionally, anyway). Yes, they might have your fear of rats, or your love for quiche (does anyone actually like quiche…?), but they should not be you. Unless, of course, you happen to be writing an autobiographical story, which is another animal entirely.
Step back. Write from the protagonist’s viewpoint, not yours. Why? Because you can’t always control when or how you change, but you can control exactly how and when a character changes. Find out what makes that character tick. Find out why she doesn’t give up, or why she shuts people out. Understand your protagonist, and even if her viewpoint is now polar opposite from your own, you will be able to write her story with fire.
3) The ‘on’ switch is just off, and I have no remote. Help.
We’re humans. We were made to live— to not just see the world, but to experience it. As a writer, I know I struggle with this one. We tend to be introverts (huge understatement there). Frankly, I am just too comfortable with sitting at home, thinking up and immersing myself in different worlds all day. This is all well and good, and it is a trait that can turn into a written book, but it will also lead to a broken ‘on’ switch faster than anything.
Without new material, we end up in a rut. We don’t see new people. We rarely experience new things. The most exciting thing that happens in any given day is the mail being delivered.
Don’t do this to yourself. Kick yourself out of the house. Go to the fair, the circus, the grocery store. Go trapezing, for crying out loud. Do anything. Experience life. It sounds silly, but when you come back to the computer after a nice long break away from the monotony, the words flow better. Your writing has life again. You have life again. The switch is on.
And isn’t that the name of the game?
Fix your ‘on’ switch. Get back in the game and write like you mean it. Meanwhile, my computer and I will continue our remotely arranged power-up situation.
Readers— what do you do when you get stuck? Do you believe in true ‘Writer’s Block’, or is it all mental? I’d love to hear your comments below. Off to give my WIP some love (which I am not stuck on for once— thank goodness! 84,000 words!). Feel free to discuss. =)