I have been suffering from writer’s block for a month. It’s not that I couldn’t write. I just couldn’t write anything that felt good. That, as it turns out, was a valuable warning sign. It told me I needed to think more about what I was trying to write and why.
You readers of this blog haven’t noticed, because I wrote chapters 5 – 14 of Martha’s Children back in early March. I could see that far ahead, and it was easy to write all those chapters. And then . . . nothing. I haven’t written a word since.
I knew what was happening. I had started writing Martha’s Children to solve a problem in 1969 that affected an unpublished story set in the present. I hadn’t really figured out why I was writing the story, except for entertainment. But this created a problem in the long term. The more I wrote, the more I tried myself to understand why the people in the story acted as they did, the more I tried to work out the significance of the story, and the more I wanted to provide a reason why people might actually want to read the story. On top of all that, the actual writing of the story created possibilities I did not envision when I started writing it. By the time I came to a halt in writing, I had three different endings for part 2, and I could offer no reason why any one of them was better than any other.
Something similar happened in The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge back when I was writing chapter 8, the werewolf chapter. The events in that chapter broke some of the existing conventions of the story up to that point. I had to sit back and rethink what I was doing. Ultimately, it made Dragon Lady a better story.
So it was time to switch out of my “panzer” hat and over to the “plodder” hat, and keep it on for a while. I had to sit down and ask myself what I was trying to do with Martha’s Children, and compare that to what I had already written. And then I had to work out how I could continue the story, consistent with what had already been written, to achieve my purpose. That’s a tough process. I’ve been at it for a week, and I only finally made sense of it this morning over a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip scone.
The other piece I had to consider was what readers have said in their comments. It matters, at least to me. When you readers give me feedback that agrees with what I think I’m doing, I credit you all with the same brilliant insight I have, and go on my merry way. But when you make a comment that is critical, or even just shows you don’t understand my story on the same terms I do, or that you have different expectations of the story than my intentions, then I sit up and take notice. Doesn’t mean I agree with you. But it does tell me I’m not getting across what I thought I was saying. I have to look at how I might be responsible. And sometimes, you readers say things that give me a whole new slant on the story, and I change the story I’m writing because of that insight you gave me.
That I go on about the effects of readers’ comments should clue you in that some of them have been ruining my sleep of late, and that I had them in mind this morning while plotting out the rest of Martha’s Children. I hope the story will be the better for that.