Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 2 Writing Retreat: Writer's block

When I arrived yesterday, it had been nearly 7 weeks since I'd worked on the current novel. That didn't mean I hadn't been writing. I write in my journal every morning. I'd written a couple of long papers for clients, and I'd been blogging every day on two blogs for a week. But the novel had sat neglected.

I'd like to be able to say that I've spent the last 7 weeks thinking about the plot and characters, writing in my head or solving problems or creating new angles, but that would be a lie. I haven't given it much thought. I get too busy when I first come back from a trip, then I get an odd kind of shyness about it. I make all sorts of excuses, the kinds of excuses and procrastinations that are as common among writers as air pollution in big cities. I can't work on it because I only have an hour; guess I'll check email instead. I can't work on it because I might get interrupted; guess I'll watch a documentary on Netflix. I can't work on it because I don't have a clear direction; guess I'll get something to eat. All kinds of other tasks take priority.

Well, I got here and there was plenty of time even on the first day. But did I get started? Of course not. I could have. We had a silent afternoon after lunch, but I read Kim Stafford's memoir of his dad and I took a long nap, and I played canasta, and I looked out the window, and I wrote my blogs. And, and, and.

As a long-time exerciser, I am well familiar with the opposing forces of momentum and inertia. I don't dare not exercise for more than 3 days at the most or inertia begins to wrap its wily arms around my limbs and I get leaden and just don't want to go the gym. By the fourth day, momentum has been replaced almost completely. It's as if the two exist on a spectrum and I've more than crossed the balance point and am on the slide to sloth.

The same thing happens in my writing life. I go away on retreat, start writing every day, make great progress. I get to spend most of the day every day for a week thinking the novel, planning the novel, writing in my head, living with the characters. A fine head of writing steam builds up and I am more than rolling, I am flying, it's going so well.

Then I head home, still full of the story and determined to live my creative life differently but no such luck. There's a full litter box and a big stack of mail and clients to see to and appointments to keep and friends to catch up with and marketing to do. And then 7 weeks have gone by and I feel shy again.

But after breakfast this morning, I opened the file, read the first 14 chapters I'd written, and made some tweaks. Sounds promising, right? Well, then I froze again. That's editing work. I can do that without a problem. But what about the new stuff that needed writing?

So I made myself plunge in. I decided to write a chapter that might not go in at all. That way there was no pressure. And in 4 hours, I'd written about 3 pages and I could see where I was going to go next. And maybe, just maybe I'll use some of that "extra" chapter.

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