Writing Thursday: Advice for Aspiring/Perspiring Writers #3: Supernatural Forces Do Not Govern Your Writing

Since I seem to be on a roll with advice for aspiring/perspiring[1] writers, here’s my third entry, and I’ll admit up front that this one may be controversial:

Supernatural forces do not govern your writing.

So here’s the deal:  Yes, some days, it’s easier to get the words to come out of your head and onto the paper/computer screen than others.  Some days, in fact, I’m pretty sure it’d be easier to pull out all of my own teeth with a pair of rusty pliers than to write even a few words.

And when that happens, it’s easy to blame it on forces beyond my control.  “I really wanted to write today, but my muse just wouldn’t come.”  Or:  “Dang.  I’ve got writer’s block really bad today.  Can’t do anything until I break through that.”

Yeah.  Okay.  But if you’re being really honest with yourself…isn’t the real reason something far more mundane?

Could it be that you’re really just more focused on that big presentation you have to give at work tomorrow?  Or maybe you’re worried about that funny noise your car was making on the way home, or the note your kid’s teacher sent home, or your mother-in-law’s impending visit.

In other words, you’re distracted.

Let’s face it:  very few of us are independently wealthy and able to focus full-time on our writing with few or no distractions.  And you know what?  Sometimes Real Life is going to get in the way.  Sometimes you’re going to have to spend the evening mending your daughter’s jeans, or cleaning up cat gack from the living room carpet, or rehearsing that big presentation one last time, instead of curling up with your laptop and your latest WIP[2].  And that’s okay.  Really.

Other times (as happened to me this past weekend), the day’s tasks are just going to leave you too dead-dog tired to even think straight.  When that happens, just admit it and retire early.  No need to blame your lack of writing production on an absent muse, or an imaginary brick wall.  It’s all right.  The Writing Police are not going to materialize from your ethernet port and arrest you for being human.

The other thing that can happen–at least for me–is that I just plain don’t know where the story should go next.  I stare at the last bit I’ve written, and I simply can’t tell where the next scene should start.

Part of the problem, I know, is that I tend to be more of a pantser (someone who unravels her plot “by the seat of her pants” as she goes along) than a plotter (someone who constructs outlines for her stories, or at least has an idea of the overall plot of the story).  I always have a starting point, and I often know where/how the story should end, but the path joining the two is usually murky at best.

Lately, when that’s happened, I’ve had to bite the bullet, sit down, and at least write a rudimentary outline.  I don’t always follow it, and it often shifts around along the way.  But when I feel as though I’m stuck, sometimes looking at the outline helps me figure out where to go next.

Other times, I’ll be in the middle of a scene and I don’t know what a character should say or do next.  Or I have them say or do something, and it just feels…wrong.  Usually that’s because I don’t know the character well enough.  If I take a little time and either write up a character sketch, compile the character’s background and motivations, or “interview” the character, that helps to point me in the right direction.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means.  But what it comes down to is that when the words just won’t come, there’s usually a good, down-to-earth reason for it.  If it helps to call that reason “writer’s block” or “muse failure,” once again, the Writing Police aren’t going to write you a ticket for it.  But it might be worth checking to see if the real reason for your “writer’s block” is something within your control, rather than beyond it.


[1] The “perspiring” part seems particularly appropriate here today–it’s the first week of September, and we’re still suffering through high temperatures in the upper 90’s (F).  Aren’t things supposed to be cooling off now?

[2] Work In Progress.


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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1 Response to Writing Thursday: Advice for Aspiring/Perspiring Writers #3: Supernatural Forces Do Not Govern Your Writing

  1. Sometimes if I wait a few days and let my unconscious play around with it, a difficult scene will finally gel in my head, making it easy to write. More often, though, the scene doesn’t come together until I force myself to slog my way through it. Sometimes writing is just plain hard work.

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