Sundays evoke the image of a relaxed day, perhaps with family around the table and a nice meal, or maybe watching the television. We’re doing the latter; farting around on Netflix after a large brunch of eggs and bacon. We’ve got lobster tails for dinner for the man of the house and burgers with bleu cheese for me, and ribs for The Boy. It’s a nice day.
As I write the draft for the third book in our popular Sealed series, which is called Sealed by Duty, I’m reminded yet again of how tenacious our inner critic can be. As I look at the story, my words are strangled and silent and it took nearly an hour just to get 300 on the page. Still, it’s 300 more than I had yesterday and I’m reminded, yet again, that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Here’s some more thoughts about how that process works for me, in case it sparks something for you in your creative endeavors.
I open the draft and sit with the blank page for a while. Sometimes, if I’m really not seeing Story, then I’ll reread the part prior to where I need to add more to the page. That will help me figure out what happens next.
Sometimes, that doesn’t work. But I have to give it long enough, and listen hard enough, and then write down what I hear without judgment.
That’s the hardest part, actually; writing down what I hear without judgment. Trust the story to tell itself. See it, like a movie in your mind, and report what you see. They say the second book is the hardest, because after the exuberance of the first book, you know what’s coming and how much work it’ll be. I find that’s true for the seventh book, and the twenty-seventh book, too. My inner critic goes for my jugular each time.
On occasion, listening doesn’t work because the critic is too loud to hear Story. No amount of coaxing helps. These times are incredibly frustrating and they typically hit, for me at least, in two key points: the first is after the first 25,000 or 30,000 of the book is on the page and I can start to see the full scope of it; and at the end, when I’m about 3,000 or 4,000 words from the end. In both cases, the end is near and that’s what stops me. I have a fear of endings.
No, I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet or I wouldn’t be writing this post.
One of the things that works at this point is to draw a grid of squares on a blank piece of paper. Yes, by hand. For me, this process is kinesthetic. Doing it on the computer doesn’t work; I’ve tried. Cherry Adair teaches her Plotting Board, and this is a modified version of it. I write in the grids what parts of the story I already have; this allows me to see where the gaps are. It’s normal that I have the beginning, some parts of the middle, and the end. It’s the dreaded middle that’s the problem – which is the title of an essay I read but can’t now put my hands on, so I’m afraid I can’t give the author due credit. They’re right, though, this author; I do dread the middle because I need to get through it to get to the end. As much as I have trouble with the end, it’s the middle that has to be done to even have that problem.
And then there are those times where none of that works – not listening, not drawing grids, not banging my head against the keyboard, nothing.
At those times, one needs to step away. Now I don’t mean give up easily – give it a real, honest try. But if you’re still stuck after an hour, walk away. Get your head clear. This is one of the many reasons I knit – because even if I’m blocked on words, I can still make something. Let the knitting tell you a story. Sometimes it’s your missing story; other times, it’s a bedtime story that soothes your inner artist and lulls the inner critic into a nap so that you can sneak onto the page.
Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about: get onto the page.
By any means necessary.