Last year I would have sworn writer’s block was just a crutch. Not a real thing. Something writers use to explain extended non-writing periods. I’d never had much trouble coming up with new ideas or following the highways that will lead to the ending I've planned. That’s not the problem, and not my version of writer’s block.
I've recently discovered that writer's block is real, and it's a pain in the butt. I’m great at denial, so I consistently told myself I did NOT have writer’s block, I just did not have the time needed to write. I am such a liar.
I think, if I believed it at all, writer’s block always sounded like a condition in which the writer can’t figure out what the character should do next, or what should happen next in the story. I always know what will happen next. Thing is, I’ve never had so much trouble making it happen. Today I figured out why.
Our characters are our babies. They’re our children, our creations, and we want the best for them. We want to see them happy, even if they have to go through some trials to get there. Here’s what I forgot: like our children, we can’t protect them. Not always. We can’t shield them from everything, keep them safe, make all the right decisions for them so that nothing bad ever happens. Not only is it impossible, but in a fictional world, it’s also super boring.
I got stuck. I knew what had to happen next in my current manuscript, I knew the choices my main character had to make, but by the time I reached that point, none of it fit. Her next move no longer fit with the previous series of events. Could I have forced it? Could I make her do the things I know are plotted out on her road to continue the story, even knowing it wouldn’t have the right flow? Knowing the reader would think, ‘What? Why would she do that?’ Sure! Absolutely. But when I’m reading, that’s where the author loses me: when a character makes a decision that isn’t based on her past experience or necessity, when that character seems to be acting simply out of the need to further the plot. Readers see through that and it ruins suspension of disbelief, pulls us right out of the story.
So instead of pushing the story along, building my word count, I threw the whole thing in reverse. I went back and looked at what I’d done to screw things up. How I originally knew what Tommie would do but now, in chapter twelve, it just didn’t seem like she would. It’s so clear to me now why, I’m surprised I didn’t catch it earlier.
I’d done everything I could to protect her. After all, she is my baby, my creation. I don’t want her to suffer, do I? So I sheltered her. I let her boyfriend go above and beyond to help make sure she’d come to no harm, even when there was no reason for him to do so. I allowed her to be sweet when she should have been angry, I let her be weak and worried when she should have been strong and stubborn. I kept her in such a bubble that the Tommie in chapter twelve had no reason to make any detrimental decisions at all. By the time Tommie and I got to chapter twelve together, I was a little bored by her myself.
Now this is the fun part. I went back through the manuscript and painted white-out all over that son of a bitch. Okay, not really. The great thing about 2015 is we don’t need white out. But I reworked and revised the heck out of some crucial parts, and then some other parts, way before chapter twelve. I allowed Tommie’s boyfriend to act like a boyfriend instead of some perfect flawless drone. I let Tommie’s stubborn nature dictate some rather stupid choices (sorry, Tommie, it is what it is) that help shape her path much better toward the Tommie she must be by chapter twelve. Man, I missed this Tommie, the one I began the story with and then somehow lost under too much goodwill!
And just like that, my writer’s block is cured. Now I have real people, characters I feel like I know, can relate to, and can’t protect. Now there’s no forcing anything. Tommie will make the choices I always knew she’d make, for better or worse, and I can’t stop her. Now the words pour from my fingertips onto the screen effortlessly, the story already written and just waiting to be excavated (one more thing Stephen King is right about). Next time I say “Oh, I just haven’t had time to write lately,” somebody please smack me out of denial and tell me to quit sheltering my characters. Love these lightbulb moments, wish I had more of them!