....what to do when the words just won't come.
You've probably been there. It's first draft season and, the night before, when you were watching a mediocre film on TV, half your mind was planning out the next few scenes of your plot. You can't wait to get back to it. Next day, you make your beverage of choice, sit down and ... nothing. You write a couple of paragraphs, and think, "If I paid money for this, I'd ask for a refund". Your dialogue is banal, your descriptions wooden, and that scene that seemed so intriguing and relevant last night now comes across as hackneyed/unfeasible.
A few suggestions about what to do when this happens
(and what not to do):
- Push through it. It might be that the spark re-ignites in the next scene, and it begins to flow, after all.
- Push through, even if it doesn't. But won't this section be useless, and need to be scrapped, anyway? Probably. Or maybe it can be improved upon in the second draft. There might be some good ideas hidden in the bad stuff. The important thing is that you've got it down, and taken the draft to the next stage.
- Do you have a daily word count target/must-write for your first drafts? I do. It's 2K. I don't allow myself to get up from my chair until I have written those 2K. On odd days like this, though, I give myself a break. I say, "Right, it's not a good writing day, so you can get up when you've written 800". Inevitably, I carry on and write more.
- Accept it. Don't give yourself a hard time, and bow out for the day. Use that allotted writing time for something you wouldn't otherwise have done, so you feel it wasn't wasted. Like the ironing. Yes, yes, I know that in the grand scheme of things the ironing isn't anywhere near as important as your novel, but most of us don't live in the grand scheme of things. And tomorrow, when the sentences are falling out of your head faster than you can write them, you won't have to think, 'damn, better stop now, I've got to do the ironing.'
- Write a blog post. Write the plan for the short story you've had in your head for a couple of months. Plan out the next few chapters. Write the first draft of the blurb. Any of these things will give you a sense of achievement and put you in a better mood - and they might even give the creativity a kick start.
- Talk it through with a writer friend, either in person or via emails. It might not solve the problem, but it's good to talk to someone who will understand.
And what not to do?
- Get drunk and morose about it. You're not Hunter Thompson or Ernest Hemingway. It'll just make you feel worse, and you won't be able to write tomorrow, either, because you'll have a hangover.
- Read one of your favourite books. It'll make you even more depressed, and convinced that you might as well unpublish everything you've ever written.
- Take it out on your loved ones, acting the prima donna about your 'writer's block'. Don't glamorise it; it's not some mysterious syndrome that afflicts the creative/artistic. You just can't think what to write, that's all.
- Become convinced that you will never be able to write anything decent, ever again. You will. It'll come back
But what if it goes on for over a week, or a month? If you've already written several novels, maybe it's just that you need a break. Some writers start the next one as soon as the current WIP has been despatched to the proofreader. Some need a few months to collect their thoughts. If it's your first try, it could be that writing novels isn't the best move for you at the moment, and you might be better writing short stories, or novellas, or articles, to keep your hand in until the time's right.
If you're having a bad writing day today, I hope the words flow better tomorrow!