Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Writer’s Block – Real or Fiction?

By Deb McLeod

Writers Block by Deb McLeod
Lend me your advice… 

Recently, while working full time on my novel series, teaching three creative writing classes a week, working one-on-one with more than two handfuls of individual clients, running a writer’s book club, and being a wife and mother, I found it necessary to join an experimental writing group. 

When you teach writing sometimes it can feel like you need to fill your own creative coffers. The idea of a group just for me was appealing. The premise of the group was so intriguing I found myself happily anticipating that first meeting and rushing off to be a student once again. 

In 2004 I shut down my writing coaching business to get my MFA in just such a mood. This time I wasn’t looking for such a drastic change; all I wanted was the energetic boost I would get from trying something brand new. New skills and new writing friends. Nirvana!

But I forgot about a major component of me: my coaching business and even my writing are based on my ability to listen. I listen deeply to my clients and help them produce their project and learn not only craft but the voice inside that’s trying to come out. We work on their personal cadre of metaphor and meaning. When I write, I listen to my own work and what it wants to be. I continually surprise myself with what I’ve said and I follow that, enriching my writing with meaning that connects deeply with me. In my coaching business one of my clients once called me the accidental therapist. 

This group, which is DeAnna Knippling’s Wild Ass Novel Project, is two groups of people writing collaborative novels. Wonderful idea. Wonderful writers. I am so impressed with the passion and skill level of everyone I’ve met in the group. 

So here I am "listening me" in a situation that demands I be "participant me" in so many ways that I’m not. This is exactly what I signed up for. To challenge what I'm already doing with something new.

We’re writing in the genre of light fantasy (I hope I got that right). A plot with monsters, ghosts and magic.  My publishing credits run to the literary short story. Even my eight-book series is morphing into my usual – though when I first sat down to write it, 50 Shades of Gray had just come out. I said: Oh yeah, I can write smut too (to which my daughter laughed). Of course I failed at that, but birthed my series The Julia Set which has takes the holomorphic function of Julia Sets into the realm of good and evil. 

In the WANP, we’re writing a male protagonist. (Not my usual MO.) 

There is no love story. (What??!)

We began with plot (where I have always started with character). 

We threw out ideas for place and occupation. From there we used a 4-point method to plot the entire book. In two meetings we have all the scenes and their plot. We have a one-line summary of our protagonist’s internal flaw. All characters are named and physically described. We’re ready to write, I think. 

This project is going to be a wild ass success and I’m honored to be a part of it. It’s been a fascinating journey already but I’m afraid I haven’t been of much use yet in the group. Not an aggressive soul – remember, I’m the quintessential listener who mulches what I hear. So while I’m mulching, the group has zipped on by to the next scene and complication. By the time I’m ready to contribute anything at all, it’s too late. And what I would contribute would likely be along the lines of – this particular monster is created around greed, what thematically can we say about greed that underlies the plot and connects the characters? How can we use greed to show…? 

Completely out of place. This is fast writing, not my usual mulching.

A kindred soul tried to help me get a point out in all the hubbub of creativity but as soon as the attention turned to me at her behest, I froze. I managed to get out what I remembered of what I’d tried to say some minutes earlier. Of course it went flat – a moment of silence from the group – then the speed picked up again as they moved on. 

So now I’m experiencing a creative block. Brain freeze. Deer in the headlights. Shut down. DeAnna will pose a question and nothing at all will come to mind. I’m not feeling it. Not connected with the story. But they are. How are they doing that and I’m not? 

Insecure, uncomfortable and berating myself for taking on another project when I’m already full up. I remember this feeling. In my early, early writing days, there were times I was workshopped or critiqued into silence. Not that that’s what this is at all, there is no one critiquing me (except me!), but there is group consensus and I’m not yet one of the group because I’m not feeling the process or connected with the story. 

So what do you do when you’re blocked? I’m asking because I really don’t want to bag it. I want to be part of this project and I want to learn a new way that can only enrich my writing and my work with my clients. 

I know I’m not the only one to ever experience some sort of writer’s block. So what do you do when you’re blocked? Any advice? Any stories I can learn something from?

About the Author: Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach and founder of The Writing Ranch. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.