For years now I’ve had an essay on my site about writer’s block and why I don’t like that term. The short form is, calling something “writer’s block” does not help you figure out what the cause is, nor how to fix it.
This is relevant right now because Alyc and I had some trouble with a scene in this chapter. We knew we needed to do more with a particular character, and we knew it had to function as setup for something else in the near future. So we’d come up with an idea that, structurally speaking, was exactly what we needed it to be.
We couldn’t get traction on it.
I wrote a beginning. Alyc wrote a bit more. I stared at the screen and had no clue where to go from there. Alyc felt the same. We agreed that, since the next two scenes in the chapter weren’t directly affected by this one, we could work on those and hope that when we came back the next day, we’d have more inspiration. The next day we came back and . . . nope.
When we got on the phone to hash it out (as opposed to in chat, which is how we handle smaller bits of coordination), the first thing I said was “I think we should consider whether we ought to scrap this and replace it with something else.” And that’s what we wound up doing. Because while the idea we originally had was, structurally speaking, exactly what it needed to be . . . nothing in it seemed fun. Not just in the superficial sense of “yay this is a fun scene where entertaining things happen!,” but in the deeper sense of “there is nothing here that we’re excited to write.” In fact, our idea called for some things that, while all too appropriate, we really didn’t want to write.
That’s one of the many possible flavors of writers’ block, and the solution for it was to back up and take another look: at our reasons for needing a scene with this character, at what it had to lay the groundwork for, at what it could be doing to enrich other parts of the story, and — perhaps most usefully — what had happened up to this point, which the new scene could build off. That last wound up providing us with a good hook . . . and we could tell it was a good hook because as we started working through that notion (“okay, how would this happen? Who would be involved? What tactics would they use?”), we started making those noises that happen when one idea cascades into another. The end result is a set-up and spike of two shorter scenes that land on a lot of personal and emotional buttons for the character. Buttons we would have missed entirely if we’d gone with our first idea.
Collaboration may pose extra challenges, but it also provides extra tools. In this case, when both authors are looking at a planned scene and saying “meh” . . . it helps us be sure that it isn’t just laziness talking. We’re barking up the wrong tree, and need to go find another one.
Word count: ~141,000 (and with that, I have officially fulfilled this part of my Clarion West Write-a-Thon goals!)
Authorial sadism: That character might have preferred us to stick with our original idea.
Authorial amusement: The discussion of moon eyes.
BLR quotient: Starts with love, stays there longer than any of the characters expected, then takes a hard swerve to blood.
This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.