Over the last week I've been struck with yet another bout of writer's block, which I affectionately (but without much affection really) term "the-black-hole-inside-my-head" or otherwise "where-oh-where-have-my-characters-gone?!"

I don't know what it's like for other writers, but since I'm currently not getting any further writing done, I thought I'd at least blog, to keep my fingers working, even if my creative-brain is not.

So, here is what block is like for me:   Torture!

Well, perhaps not torture in the traditional sense of the word.  It's not like my characters have me tied up in a dark room, while they dance around me cackling evilly and poke me with sticks...  
Then again...

Writer's block for me is like having a black hole in my head.  Where once were colourful and entertaining characters and scenes and "chatter" (the noise my characters make as I go about my day - essentially flashes of inspiration drawn from my everyday life), there is now absolutely nothing.   It's almost as if they have been sucked into another dimension, leaving me here, waiting and hoping that they'll one day return.   It happens so suddenly, and so completely, that I'm left feeling a bit like a stranded passenger on a cold and lonely train station, where no more trains run along the line.  My characters have hopped on board the last train through, without warning me that there will be no more trains.  And so I sit, hoping that one day the powers-that-be will allow a train to return them to me.   

Gosh, that sounds quite miserable doesn't it?  I don't mean to depress you, but I'm only telling you this in an effort to help you understand just how much it rocks my creative mind to have this happen.  It is truly an empty, lonely feeling.

Of course, I'm in my own head here, and I have no idea how others think, or how other writers create.  I only know how I do.  I fully expect that to most I sound a little crazy.  Hopefully to others it makes some sense.  

I usually view my creative mind as a bit like a theatre.  

There is a stage, which changes according to the scene I'm trying to create.  In the case of my books, sometimes its setting is the Grayson's living room, sometimes their back paddock, sometimes Cassie's house, sometimes Castle Rock High School.   Sometimes, when I'm creating a scene where the background is not as important as what is actually shared between the characters, there is nothing except a dark stage with a spotlight on the characters, drawing them into focus.

As the scene develops, characters enter the scene, to say their part, do their thing, or to provide backing dialogue or presence.   Sometimes they're only there to draw comparison in my mind, or to "jump in place" of an existing character... after all I often play with dialogue, deciding who would be best to say what is being said and to my surprise it is sometimes someone unexpected!

I am a cruel director.  Sometimes it takes dozens of "takes" before the dialogue or events are set out in a way I'm pleased with.  My characters enter and exit repeatedly,  saying things over and over, in different tones, using different words, chopping and changing dialogue until the director (me!) is pleased.    It's the same with the physical performance.   Sometimes I'll "make" a character go through the same door a few different ways, before deciding that he should come from a different side of the room altogether.   When I'm particularly mean, I'll cut the offending character altogether, only to decide later to bring him back in because, gosh-darn-it, I did need him there after all, even if only to become the foil for the joke! 

Occassionally, I'll use the trick of "walking a mile in the other's shoes" and step inside my characters minds.  

Figuring out "how" they will react to a certain situation - taking into account their history (the reason "why" they react that way) - and puzzling that into how their reaction will impact on the other characters, and the storyline of the scene, and the storyline of the book, is always very entertaining to me, and oftentimes enlightening as well.   

Figuring out how they "feel" about a situation is just as complex - and complicated.    Emotions are tricky.   Often I'll have to recall a situation that made me "feel" the same way.  Whether it's related to the situation my character is in, or not, often doesn't matter.  It's the emotion in the moment that I'm searching for.   (Developing Cassie and Alex's relationship, for example, I often had to relate to my own relationship with my husband.  We fell in love at a young age as well, which has aided me in sorting out Cassie's confusion and eventual amazement as she figures out how she is feeling and all of the issues that come along with that.   At the same time, I had to try to keep her and Alex as their own individuals as well.  They both have completely different backgrounds to my husband and I, and of course that had to come into play with their reactions to scenarios.  However my own experiences did help me with writing those quiet intimate moments that most chose not to share/talk about in the general public!)    

I will even "walk" in background characters minds for a while, getting to grips with how they "feel" about what they are being asked to do.   This has been handy, and as I've gotten to know (aka "fleshed-out") more of those background characters, I've ended up developing some interesting histories for them, which has led to further books in the series being developed. 

Over time, this procedure has almost become subconcious.  While I go about my day, while travelling, while editing, and while proofing, and even while sleeping,  I'll be "watching" my characters act it out on stage. I'll often find myself smiling at things my characters do.   I'll add a "quirk" or an "action" or a "comment" that I've seen or heard in my day, and sometimes that will be enough to completely change a scene for the better - or worse!  

The procedure has meant that I'm able to "jump" between books in the series, fixing errors here, and timeline issues there, as my characters and their histories - and futures - develop in my head.

So, though they're set out in some detail in my books, you can imagine that, in my head, my characters are nearly as real to me as my actual friends and family.  They are like my children as well as like my friends.  

So, you can well imagine, suddenly having all this activity, all these very real friends of mine suddenly "disappear" for days or weeks on end, can be quite scary!    I never react well to it, when it first happens.  I'm always terrified that they'll never return to me and I'll be left holding the remains of several half written manuscripts, and even more partial drafts.    
This time was no different.   

I panicked.

I fretted.

I worried.

Yes, I even cried for a bit there, mourning the "loss" of my companions. 

Then I realised.

I realised that every time I've been blocked, I've reacted this way.
I understand why I do it - it is like a sudden and debilitating loss to me, as far as my writing goes anyway.  A grief that no-one else really understands because no one else spends 24/7 with the characters like I do.  I am their creator, so no wonder! 

I then realised that the last few times that this happened, the characters DID come back.  It took time, and patience, but they did return.   There was no point in trying to "rush" them back, searching my head for the flashes of inspiration that usually set me into creating another scene, or trying to start a conversation between non-existent characters.  I realised that I'd have to just sit back, relax, read a book or two, and employ some patience... and WAIT for them to come back to me.

This time, however, my good friend Kelly pointed out to me something that I'd never considered.
(A side note to this:  Just over the last weekend, I became severely ill for a period of 2 days.  Just a bug, but still enough to leave me bedridden for the duration).

She said:
"Your body was sending you some messages, telling  you it needed a break.  When we don't listen, our body has to MAKE us listen... i.e. take the voices away, or illness."    

I realised that she made a good point.  

I had a lot happening in my life just recently.  A change in job, after two months of nothing to do but write and job search, after leaving a job which had stressed me out quite severely - enough in fact to force me to quit before I'd lined up another job.  

This meant that though mentally I didn't feel as stressed as I had been, physically, I was drained.   Mentally, though not stressed, I was getting a good workout learning all the ins and outs of my new job's requirements.

Combining that with the amount of writing I'd been trying to keep up with, which I had easily managed while off work, meant that I was set to blow out, like an old, overworn, tyre.

Hence, my block started, just before I got sick.   I'm over the worst now, but still feeling a bit drained.    I imagine that once I'm fully back to normal, that my characters and scenes will return to me as well.   

I'll welcome them, with open arms, and laptop at the ready.

But until then, I'll rest, and thank heaven for my body's ability to slow me down (aka: letting the air out of the tyre!) before I completely blew it!

So for now I'll say goodnight, and hopefully I'll be back up to editing more of my completed story to post on here, and write some more, once I'm feeling better :) 


18/08/2012 2:56am

I am so proud of you, yes you had writer's block, but you still managed to write this. I think you had to take your focus else where for awhile and what better way then to write about writer's block. It seemed to do the trick! I am sure other writers or creative beings could really learn from this post. They are not alone. x


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