Monday, 16 July 2012

A Tried and True Method for Overcoming Writer's Block

Dorothea came through! Yes, a book written 80 years ago - just as good today as it was then. 

For those of you who didn't read my last post, I was suffering from fear and decided to turn to Dorothea Brande's classic 'On Becoming a Writer' to see if she had any help. 

So, my problem: kept getting stuck editing what I had already written, and couldn't bring myself to write anything new, secretly afraid that the work was weak and the story just wasn't going to hang together.
Then Dorothea explained it all to me.

Ms. Brande discusses the writer's temperament, and argues that to be a writer, the individual needs to cultivate two natures which for ease of identification I am calling the elder and the youth. The elder is the practical side of a writer, which is often neglected in descriptions of great artists, but it is the part that makes you sit down to write when you don't feel like it, and when it comes to the second draft brings in the critical eye, etc. The youth, on the other hand, is the wild, creative genius that comes up with brilliant ideas and cares not for proper grammar, story arc, or such mundane things as whether it is marketable. It cares only for the creative flow and story.
Ms. Brande argues that you need both, need to develop and cultivate both, but also learn when to reign one in and when to allow the other their head.
My problem, according to Ms. Brande, was that I had allowed the elder to step in while I should have still been working in the youth. The elder will always slow down work, because they are worried about how things fit together, searching for a better way, critically examining what is being written. This is fabulous for the second draft, but is of very little use until the youth has completed the first. In editing my work as I went, I restrained the youth, told them to take a back seat and then was surprised when I could no longer find that flare to write.
So today, keeping this in mind, I let my mind run riot. On a number of occasions I caught myself trying to control what I was about to type, maybe find a better word, or go back to that last sentence. I stopped it, held back the elder and told my youth to carry on. And he did (don't ask me why my youth is a male, he just is, and so is my elder. I'm sure psychologists would have a field day with that, but as long as I can keep writing I don't mind). A few times I faulted, but I whispered encouragement to my youth, told him he would not be judged on what he came up with, and just let him go again.
And I got the third chapter completely written. It worked for me fabulously.
Unfortunately, most of the writing I'm going to be doing will be purely in the youth because of the focus on first drafts. I will be lucky if I get one day a fortnight to work in the elder actually editing. Though the elder is also the one that makes sure I actually sit down and write. If I left it to the youth to write when he felt like it, I would be like I was for the last 10 years, without anything to show for my desire to be a writer.
So, for anyone that is feeling stuck and might be suffering the same thing, I highly recommend seeing if you are holding your youth back and trying to write too much with your elder. Elders are not creative, they cannot make a draft, they can only edit it and improve it later.

So, I am now up to 70,050 words! As my first novel was 70,000 (I was entering it into a competition which had a max word limit for young adult entries of 70,000), I feel that I'm doing well. Story-wise I also feel like I'm almost at the end. I just have to write the final scenes. This might take another 10,000 or so words, but we will see.

I currently have a friend from overseas staying, who only has two days to see Melbourne (pah, I say, Pah!) so am going to be spending some time showing her around (and did spend most of tonight catching up, which is why I'm writing and posting so late) but I still have high hopes that I will finish the novel at the latest by Thursday and have Friday to do a read through edit. I will then put it aside and start thinking about the next in the series.

It has started to play on my mind that it might actually be four books. The first one happened over a school term, and I thought this one would take place over two terms, but in fact it has only been one term. So maybe the last one will be two terms, but it wouldn't surprise me now if it was another term itself and then the final one would be the end of the year. But that would be the end of that. Luckily I kept one fortnight free in my planning just in case I did decide to lengthen out one of the series. So not all is lost.
Sleep tight my elder, my youth and my reader.


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