Over the last few weeks, as an experiment, I’ve been talking to a writing coach, specifically, Cathy Yardley of Rock Your Writing. I started out just wanting some accountability, you know, I will get this thing done by next week. Then next week comes and she asks me, “Did you get this thing done this week?” Knowing the question is coming can be incredibly focusing for me, and my online writers’ group is evolving away from that sort of thing, so that alone was worth it to me. I do more, especially when I’m feeling not-so-hot, if I know somebody will care if it doesn’t get done.
But then this unexpected thing happened. Cathy kept asking questions about how I feel stuck, and getting me to talk through how to move forward. She helped me talk through how I wanted to revise the novella, helped me sort out a couple of sticky spots in re-plotting Book Five, and generally was a great sounding board. And I got recordings of our conversations! So I could go back a week later, or two weeks later, and make outlines or plot charts point by point based on our conversation. That was amazing. I’m seriously considering recording my brainstorming calls with friends when they happen (with their permission) so I can do the same.
And this last week we talked about career, and marketing, and how to judge success as I jump out into this crazy world of self-publishing, especially with the extra pressure of a kid on the way. This was the most amazing conversation ever–though a lot of it may be that I was ready for it. I’ve talked to many writer friends from a variety of perspectives about the topic, and everybody seems to have different advice. I should reboot my series. I should write a new series. I should shop the new series with an agent. I should self-publish it. What about serial projects? What about novellas? Plus, you know, the email newsletter I’ve been neglecting and all the “stuff” that goes along with the life of a novelist. (Hello, social media!) Cathy helped me talk through the parts I agreed with and had questions about, and offered some great advice from her own perspective.
I have literally a pile of proposals for novel projects left over from last year, when I was still trying to shop another series to Penguin, and then from when I was trying to find an agent (thus far unsuccessfully, though I haven’t looked that hard lately). Trying to figure out which, if any, I should write for a new series has been hard. At the end of our career talk, though, I came to a real decision about next steps. I’m going to work on the [super secret] thriller series project after Book 5 🙂 and I’m excited about it. HUGE weight off my shoulders, to have a plan, and a way to measure whether the plan succeeded with Book 5 and onwards. So good things.
I’ve also discovered something very important about myself along the way: my best way to process questions and stories and emotions and plots seems to be out loud, in a conversation. Talking it out with somebody who gets it is a freakishly useful thing, and faster than just about any other method I’ve tried. Me and the whiteboard works. Me and the charts and graphs and “morning pages” works too. But not as well as a conversation.
So, yeah :). Turns out I’m a talker.
What about you guys? What helps you get through a block or difficulty on your end?
Monica T Rodriguez says
That’s an interesting discovery. It sounds like you didn’t realize that about yourself. I remember when I discovered I was a visual learner. I realized if someone was reading something out loud to me, I kept trying to take the paper from them. I needed to see it to really comprehend it.
But I also work things out by writing them out. If I have an idea, or if I’m having problems with a character or a situation, I often wait until I can write out my thoughts than thinking it through solely in my mind. I seem to come up with more answers that way. I feel like I have a better grasp of the problem when I write it out.
Glad you’ve gotten past the block. And excited to hear about something new!
Chris Clark says
For me to work past a block, I have to have someone holding me to a deadline. If I know someone else is expecting something from me–especially if I think the expectation is reasonable–then I’ll get it done, but I just won’t meet self-imposed deadlines.
My best example of this was when my oldest daughter (with whom I often trade books) asked me if I would a story for her some time. I sat down that night and knocked out just over 3000 words in an hour. The next morning, I got up early and in 45 minutes edited the story including a re-write of about the last third. Normally, that much work would take me almost a month’s worth of putting in a couple hours each weekend and editing over lunch hours. So doing stuff for someone else (especially if that’s my wife or one of my kids) is great motivation for me.
Other than that, I’ve been finding that my best approach for problem scenes is to throw out the original version, list out what the scene is supposed to accomplish for me, brainstorm a range of different possibilities, and then write out each one to see what fits the best. I tweak it from there and move ahead. I know it sounds slow, but it’s a lot faster than what I had done in the past.