Sure, it’s all fun and games until the inevitable happens – that oft-told, sad-but-true, you-know-it-when-it-hits-you case of writer’s block. There you are (or, actually, I am), weaving a tale, telling a story, thinking that you’ve got all your ducks in a neat little row when one tiny duckling refuses to move out of the way. Will not follow the path you’ve set for it. All around just stops, sticks out its little duck tongue at you and says, “Nope, I’m done. Find another way around. Quack.” (Cue end-zone victory dance.)
All to say that, in the midst of writing my second novel, I am flummoxed. Stuck in the mud spinning my wheels. Just a short drive from wit’s end. My characters have gone off cavorting on their own, taking my storyline with them, and, unlike my experience while writing my first novel, this time it seems that I’m not invited along.
“Step away for a few minutes,” some might say. “It will come to you.” Or, “How about a brisk walk outdoors? Nothing like fresh air to clear your head.” Or, and here’s my favorite, “Just think of something else to write. You must have a million stories inside your head.”
Nope. We’re past all that. At this point, each time I step away, my characters just laugh and go even further in the opposite direction. And in terms of taking a walk outdoors, unless it includes a stop at the nearby Trader Joe’s for snacks, all I’m bringing home is a whole lot of nothing.
As to that third suggestion? Oh please. Thank you for your faith in me and for thinking that I’ve got so many other make-believe stories to tell, enough to just sit down and start creating. Not so. Unlike this blog, which seems to lend itself to my writing about my life, writing a novel is so much harder. Here I tell my own observations. There I’m telling my characters’ stories. Here I know everything about what I’m writing. There I’m making it all up. And here I know how each account works out. There … well let’s just say my characters all know but, at this point, they’re not sharing. (Sort of the way I feel about cats. I believe that deep down they have all the answers – but they’re just not telling. Which explains why I’m a dog person.)
So what to do?
Banging my head against the proverbial wall results in nothing more than an existential headache – i.e., If I cannot write, can I truly call myself a writer? And if I am a writer, but cannot write at the moment, then who am I? And if that bag of Trader Joe’s chips is now empty, did it ever really exist at all? And if it did not exist, then are those calories I consumed nonexistent? Oy.
Obviously, I am a writer (you can’t come up with this kind of neurotic stuff and not be) – but this writer needs to somehow get over, around, or past the block. To carry out an end run around that annoying little duckling. To figure out the right breadcrumbs to lure it away and find my way back to my novel’s story.
You may very well ask why I put myself through this at-times painful process. Why, instead of the angst of writing a novel, do I not, say, put together a book of my blog posts instead? They come to me so much more easily and naturally, and they are usually (today’s notwithstanding) quite fun to write. Why indeed.
Because making up a make-believe world is just so awesome. Creating characters, putting words in their mouths, controlling their movements and even their destinies – it’s a kind of rush like no other. And because the tremendous challenge behind it, while incredibly difficult, is unbelievably rewarding when it works. The satisfaction in basing a story on something my brain creates from nothing – versus something I’ve experienced – is just so, well, for lack of a better way of putting it, crazy cool.
That promise of that hard-earned joy is what keeps me going and keeps me writing. And every bit of that writing – whether a blog post, an essay, or a draft – anything I write helps in chipping away at the block until at some point (hopefully in the not-too-distant future), I know I’ll find myself back on my story’s path. My best advice in facing down that stubborn little duckling is to be more stubborn. More fearless. More determined.
And quack louder.
© 2021 Claudia Grossman