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Science vs. Writers Block

Discussion in 'Research' started by Russ, Jan 6, 2016.

  1. Russ

    Russ Istar

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  2. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    This is a really good article. I've said most of this before, and have a personal understanding of my own psychology, so maybe it's easier for me to diagnose my own symptoms and their causes. I wrote an article for the home page a couple years ago, titled "One letter every Writer ought to Write" and it wasn't well received. Basically, it was about writing yourself an affirmation about your own writing, to counteract that negative thinking we all face sometimes (some of us constantly).

    I think everything in this article nails the reasons people feel blocked. For me personally, I live somewhere between "not feeling loved" if I'm not producing perfection, and the anxiety of not meeting my own expectations. I developed anxiety as an adult, and since gaining a better understanding of what my anxious behaviors are and when they manifest, I've become a more consistent writer. If something's bothering me, I step away from it, do one of my other hobbies for a few days (or a few weeks), and then I get back to the parts of the story that felt torturous.

    Thanks for sharing. Hope this helps other writers nail down their own reasons for not being as productive as the want to be. You gotta find the cause, squash it, and move on. Don't stop writing!
     
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    This was great! Thanks Russ :)

    I read a few great books lately on writing that debunked something I see a lot. Both authors basically said "Some people will tell you that you are not going to be successful if you don't write every day. That is BS."

    That was helpful for me. One writer said that she spends MONTHS on planning, prepping, characterization, drawing, sketching, just sitting around thinking, watching movies and reading before she feels 'ready' to start putting words on the page.

    Margaret Atwood says "You may not realize when you are ready to write that story in your head, but you will certainly know when you are not ready." Going on to say that some stories she has to 'sit on' for a while before she feels compelled to start writing anything.

    Another author I have read mentions a 'composting' period, where he, for weeks, will just just allow his thoughts to compost down until he gets the nugget of a premise that he needs.

    I had always felt like I was sub-par because I wasn't writing every day. I was doing a lot of thinking, composting, organizing, planning, for the past few weeks, but no writing. This made me feel so much more relaxed, knowing that I too have to take breaks between stories before I feel ready or 'geared up' to start working on the next one.
     
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I'm there with you, Helio! There's no sense in staring at a blank screen for hours. If I find words aren't coming out of my brain, I play Skyrim, paint with my kids, put on a mud mask and lay in a hot bath and type posts on Mythic Scribes...

    I don't force it. Hey, I've been pretty much an every day writer for almost ten years. I cut myself some slack. My pile of work is large enough. I'm better served by being emotionally healthy, than I am by cranking out a thousand shitty little words on a day when I was less than my best.

    If it isn't a good day, go do something you want to do! If you can play at the park with your kids and be thinking about characters and conflicts while pushing kiddos on a swing, YAY!!! If not, just enjoy the day out in the sun (not now, of course ;) ) and get back to writing when you feel a little more focused and inspired. Honestly, it isn't going anywhere. I've never understood the feeling of racing for the finish line. I mean, unless you're a professional and have a deadline, where does that need for speed come from? Maybe I'm just different because I wrote for ten years as a hobby and was never in a race? I just wrote when i felt like it, and didn't when I didn't.

    I feel bad for folks who feel really stumped by writer's block. I guess because I've never really had it. I've had situations I couldn't manage to outwit, like when I wrote a very convenient coincidence into a story and had to somehow figure out a better, less contrived solution, but I've never actually experienced a total loss of writing inspiration. IN fact, that ought to be in the article as well...writer games. Challenge yourself. She wrote about 20 minutes of free writing, which is good, but I think sometimes prompts can really fuel the imagination. If someone were having a really hard time writing anything, I'd recommend they go to seventh sanctum and get a random prompt fro the generator, and begin their day with it every day till they're so sick of writing "Falcon Labyrinth Spies in Central America, during the Spanish Inquisition, with a squid, a pen, a lost compass, and Wizards who eat Shoes" that they'll gladly go back to that sketchy scene where they left off with a confused MC who doesn't know what to do. He'll darn well find something important to do, or his pen-monkey will be forced back to the bird spies in the jungle with the shoe-eating wizards...no fun at all!
     
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  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Just as an aside, I'll throw out there that one of the guests in S3 or S4 of Writing Excuses mentioned during his appearance that the book he had coming out soon was written in 4 weeks.

    Because we all need someone to hate.
     
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  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I wasn't sure whether to "thanks" you for that or not… but I did anyway. Try to hear it cloaked in heavy sarcasm.
     
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  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    AHAHAH @ heavy sarcasm

    We could do it, Helio. What was the word count, I wonder. I bet any of us could write a book in 4 weeks that's like a nano length, 50-60k words. I mean...it ain't gonna be Tolkein or GRRM, but I bet I could write a short romance novel in 4 weeks. HA, or really stack the deck in your favor and write erotic fairy tales or something else that will sell regardless of quality! Something that doesn't need editing, HA! No plot required.
     
  8. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Caged Maiden have you ever seen the movie "Happy Christmas" on Netflix? That is exactly what she and her sister in law do. They just sit down and write a romance together super fast, just for fun, no depth required, just a lot of bodice ripping. I think we should do it. I've always sort of wanted to. Just write a crazy bad fantasy erotica and see if anyone bought it. We've each had children, there is nothing sacred…
     
  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    OMG, it's a deal! So now we are sort of contracted to trade and proof read each other's tragic erotic masterpieces, right? Four weeks...oh so much bodice-ripping. Hm, but now I need a concept...we should brainstorm these bad boys...er...or whatever ;)

    You're my hero.
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Well I never said it was a good book. But then I've never read it and don't even remember the author's name.

    The article above is somewhat interesting, but the problem with psychological blocks may be in the fact that it's really too simple to give advice relating to psychological issues but....it's not as if people suffering those sorts of things haven't heard it all before already. It's too easy to have a habitual "Yes, but...." response already well-rehearsed. (And I'm including myself in that.)

    But speaking of W.E., there have been a few comments sprinkled through the first few seasons that caused some light bulbs to go off in my own head. The most recent one, which is something I've struggled with, is this: I might have the world down, the characters down—so much so that the world and characters are already almost real places and real people for me—but not have the story down. I mean, for explaining why I can be "blocked" early in the process. And it's really frustrating to know that I have all these great elements that ought to work together, that, heck, ought to themselves, alone, suggest a great story, but no real story. That's one of my recurring blocks.

    Another block: My knee-jerk repulsion away from the tried-and-true stories/elements. You know, it'd be so simple to imagine an evil overlord, a young farmer hero, a corrupt baron, .... and so forth. But, by gosh, I don't want to do any of those things. But...why? Intellectually, I know that there are only a handful of stories (that get told again and again) and that common tropes can be used just as successfully—nay, more successfully—than some newfangled never-seen-before elements. But....Nope. Blocked.

    But all these sorts of things are not the same sorts of psychological issues mentioned in the article.
     
  11. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    But still fun to talk about!

    I have the same issues as you FifthView. My first novel never even got off the ground because I spent a year on world building only to realize I had no story. No premise. No character arc.

    My new story is marginally better, in that I started with a premise, but I'm still working on making it a good premise.

    And I have the same knee jerk response as you, but I read an AMAZING example of how to twist that in a book recently, so now, in typical Helio fashion, I will write it all out (not all of it, but I will give you the gist):

    Ok, so in the example he says to start with 'the most horribly trite story idea we can think of"… a boy who dreams of winning the big track race.

    Lets make it even more lame. He is in a wheelchair. Oh, barf! you say. That is the stuff of TV movies. Sentimental slop! Good.

    Ok, so now we take that very lame boy (pun intended) but try to steer away from obvious choices and try to hunt for emotional appeal.

    Where is the story set? In a ghetto? Too obvious. Lets do the opposite and give the protagonist advantages that do not help him towards his goal. He is rich. He goes to a fancy prep school. He is also white, and has high minded teachers and parents and friends and an athletic staff devoted to helping him succeed.

    But it is not enough. He lacks… what?

    No one knows. Least of all himself. All he knows is that he doesn't ever win.

    Good. So instead of a simple goal-and-obsticle we have a psychological mystery. This is getting better.

    So, now what? Complicate the problem.

    The boy has a hero. Who? An older brother? Too easy. Lets go in the opposite direction and give him something distant and unreachable. A marathon runner. An adult. A Nigerian! Yes, a black man. Ok..

    So who is this guy? Highly trained. Yes. Confident? No… lets go in the opposite direction… He runs like an antelope, but when competing everyone can see on his face that he is frightened. Maybe that is why our hero is fascinated with him? Watching TV our wheelchair athlete sees on his idol's face a fear he cannot understand.

    Good.

    Now they must meet. How? Maybe the boy lives in Massachusetts and the Nigerian is running the Boston Marathon. Or hero is selected to present the winner's trophy. So they meet on the platform? Too predictable.

    Lets have the Nigerian place second in the marathon. Our hero locates the Nigerian after the ceremony, wrapped in a silvery kevlar blanket, looking into the distance.

    Unseen hero wheels up. He blurts out, "Why are you afraid? When you run?"

    Steer away from the obvious course. The Nigerian cannot answer that question; Or, maybe he don'ts want to answer it. Maybe he is even offended by it. They get off on the wrong foot.

    And yet… what if at a Special Olympics prelim the following week, the Nigerian approaches the boy in the parking lot. They talk. Our boy asks technical questions, but the Nigerian says that he thinks too much. They form a bond.

    Lets make it more complex. Hero and worshipper would not have a one-dimensional association. A hero likes to be worshipped, I will bet, but might hate it, too. Expectations of others are hard to bear. The worshipper, too, may feel resentment. If fact, what if our hero envies the fear that makes the Nigerian run so fast? Or hero doesn't have that fear to drive him. Our hero is normal, well adjusted and only half successful. His advantages cripple him more that his useless legs.

    Getting better right?

    But still needs more of a twist. We know why the boys needs the Nigerian, but why does the Nigerian need the boy? Should he visit the boy's home? Should the boy visit his home in Nigeria? That could work, plunging our two main characters into cultures so unlike their own is bound to produce more conflict…

    Now we are cooking. We took a cheesy premise and turned it into something interesting.

    Starting premise: A schoolboy dreams of winning a race. The problem? He is in a wheelchair.

    Breakout Premise: A prep school boy, wheelchair bound, enjoys all the advantages in his quest to be the best in track and field. But he cannot seem to win. His advantages cripple him as surely as his useless legs. His life changes, though, when he meets his idol: a world-class Nigerian marathoner. The fear that drives the Nigerian to run proves to be the key to breaking the prep school boy's mental block, but first the two must overcome barriers of culture, race and their very different ways of running toward a dream.

    (Donald Maas, Writing the Breakout Novel)

    So, turning cliches on their head can be done. Obviously I'm not that good yet, lol, but I liked Maas' example. It helped me see the thought process of how to not choose the obvious answer.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2016
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  12. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Hm, yeah, I've never had any of that. That's an interesting perspective, because for me, the only things I've encountered were exactly what was in the article, so for me personally, it wouldn't have occurred to me to write any other reasons for being blocked, because I haven't even come close to seeing them happen. Guess that's why the article felt so complete, though I don't really suffer from any of the things in the article enough to warrant concern for my occasion non-productive weeks.

    I find all I need to do is think of a character, and as soon as I have a concept, stories start pouring out of my brain. Or maybe not stories, but conflicts. I want to make an airship captain? Great, he's a drunkard who has a short fuse and he got kicked out of a military academy and had to make his own way in the world, so he became a sort of smuggler, and a deal from long ago is catching up with him right now, putting his crew in danger.

    Oh, a young woman living in a war zone as a camp follower (reminiscent of the Civil War Era)? Great, she should totally be living with her uncle and aunt and some cousins, and then there's a young soldier she likes, but he's sort of too cool to hang out with her, and then some people stir up trouble in the camp, and the soldiers leave the civilians behind. The girl has to either go home to her family and forget the soldier, or she can coax her aunt into sticking around, hoping the captains will reconsider?

    Neither of those are written, and in fact, they might not even be good ideas, but the thing is, as soon as I think up the very most basic elements of who a character is, the immediate conflicts and challenges start rolling. I don't know anything about world or character background, except those little snippets I come up with really quickly. Then, once I have the concept (in its rawest form), I let that stew in my brain for days, weeks, months, or sometimes years of doing nothing with them, until I get the right opportunity to turn it into something actually good.

    I know we all have different methods, but have you considered that perhaps you do a little too much planning? For me, the reason I get energized and excited is to explore the train of thoughts fully. I get inspired by one silly little thing, a name, a type of person, a trait, or a photo, sometimes. Then, I let the wave of thoughts bombard me for as long as it takes to subside. Then, I look back at those ideas that came as knee-jerk reactions, and I try to isolate anything that was actually good. Then, if I got one, I write it down. If not, I stew on it for as long as it takes. After all, there are a ton of other ideas I haven't turned into a story, so it's not like the loss of one will have any impact. Who knows, it might come back and bring reinforcements next time it comes knocking on my brain.

    I've never planned anything, so I imagine it takes a fair amount of wind from the writerly sails to have things totally mapped out. I'd find that kinda defeating to my personal process. Maybe you can find a few ways to write something that isn't planned? Like my seventh sanctum suggestion, crazy prompts and no planning, just writing, can really help you realize you can do anything! :)
     
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  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I just want to let these two things stew for a bit. :D

    I'm actually a little more of the stew type than the world building type. The world building for me happens largely during the period of stewing–more and more gets added during the stewing until the world is built, but I'm not very organized in the planning of the world building. I mean, I don't create volumes and volumes of notes building a world; mostly it's in my head. Same with characters. Eventually, I'm very well acquainted with both.

    And I usually come up with great story outlines, in my head, after considering many during the stewing process and throwing many out.

    So I think I have the story. But when I hit a block, I realize that maybe I've left off elements in the story–thought I had the story but discover that maybe I'd failed to fully consider parts of it.

    Now, the problem with the tried-and-true, recurring story archetypes, and with various common tropes, enters the picture because I realize at some point that I'm just recreating what has been done a hundred thousand times. This is even when I know that many particular elements are changed or made new. It's rather irrational. The sudden, "Wait. I'm doing a heist story. All these other elements may be new; but, still, it's just a heist story!" And I suddenly question it. Which is disconcerting. Maybe it's because I'm INTP. And actually, maybe this is #4 in the article linked in the OP: I'm striving for perfection. NOT reiteration of a story archetype, but a singularity.

    Now, please understand, the above is just my attempt to explain the sort of block that can hit me, or at least what I often experience when I hit a block.

    A more precise example would be: Ok, I have this character in this situation and need to get him out. I can have X, Y, Z happen or have him do A, B, C. But A, B, C, X, Y, Z are all things that ten-thousand other writers have done in ten-thousand other stories! Argh! And really I know intellectually that it's okay if I use one of those strategies for getting him out of the situation.
     
  14. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I get it. I think this is part of the reason why I've found that
    1) I thoroughly enjoy writing for children
    2) I like my story to be funny and almost slightly lampoon ish.

    When I write for children I can remind myself "hey, this is new to them"

    And when I write funny I can include dialogue like:

    Trevor: "Hey, you are like our roper, and Piper is our Becker."

    Andy: "I have no clue what you are talking about."

    Trevor: "I looked up "heist" on TV Tropes... Teach is probably the Mastermind, but he's not handsome or suave so he ruins our Caper crew."

    Andy: "I'm confiscating your iPad."

    Trevor: "But I'm the Playful Hacker!"
     
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  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I have actually been considering going full-satire, I mean all-out lampoon/satire/parody. Just to have a little more fun.
     
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  16. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Well, that sounds familiar. It's an extraordinarily stupid way to think when I haven't written much at all and I'm not setting out to make a living from writing, yet I seem hell-bent on thinking that way nevertheless.

    Over the holidays, I didn't get any writing or drawing done. I did plenty--traveled, spent time with family, ate, shopped, read, watched movies, etc. Yet I came back from those two weeks with the nagging feeling that I had wasted them, because I had made no creative output. Writing is hard and infrequent for me, so the end result of this line of thinking is a feeling of dead weeks, dead months, and on the average, dead and wasted years. And then whatever progress I do make seems piddling, against the accumulated debt of squandered time.

    Yes, obviously, this is unproductive. But I can't just tell myself that what I'm writing is good and worthwhile if I don't actually believe it. Realistically, objectively, my writing is not that good. The suggestions in this article aren't particularly novel; it's more about identification than solutions, and I've identified those symptoms a long time ago.

    I don't know. I probably just need to get a grip and work through this mentality. Regardless of truth or objectivity, a pessimistic outlook is ultimately not going to result in a lot of writing. That's practical enough to pass the analytic brain, isn't it? Either that, or I'm never going write a thing. All things considered, it won't be that great of a loss.
     
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  17. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    You know, Nimue, I have the opposite problem. When I wrote to please only me and fill some lazy afternoon kiddo naps with some quiet activity I could do alone in my garden in the sun (besides pulling weeds, which is boring), I really enjoyed writing. Now that my goal has changed and it's no longer a hobby to pass some quiet hours, but a quality level I'm striving to hit like a bullseye on a target, I find it less enjoyable. I look back at the last four or five years, where I wrote every day, did hundreds of hours of critique for my writing buddies, and spent hundreds more hours here, chatting, learning, sharing, and whatever, I feel I may have WASTED those years, because if I'd maybe taken up kickboxing, I'd be half decent right now and enjoy a level of energy and health I'm simply not getting shackled to my laptop. I've turned a beloved personal hobby into some unachievable goal, and to quit now would make it a total waste of time. I'm pot committed at this point, to either publishing and investing in what it takes to self-publish, or querying endlessly till someone might give me a shot, or just calling it a wash and throwing away my pen for good.

    Time spent with loved ones and enjoying life is never a waste. A waste is being horribly depressed after you move to a new place, and living through only your laptop gateway to the internet world, and polishing your turd stories with no real goal in mind. Yep, it's time for me to shit or get off the pot, because I've totally wasted a year, editing a manuscript that critters still say sucks, and basically missing valuable experiences I should be having in the real world. I'm 35....too old to feel good about throwing away a whole year over depression and anxiety, and using that time to work on writing that still isn't good enough to get past the gatekeepers.

    My personal take on it is that if you have writing in your heart, that's great--a wonderful dream, a challenging goal, and potential legacy--but live life to its fullest first. Not only will it make you a better all around human being, who has interesting things to say to people who actually care, but it will also enrich your writing experience. So what if you don't write two books a year, or even one? So what if you took a six week break from writing, to pursue something else? (none of this is aimed at you, Nimue, but just me expressing my own internal conflicts over the times I've felt I should have been writing rather than doing other things) So what if you just spent 100 hours playing Skyrim. Did you enjoy it? Did it help clear away the cobwebs that develop in your brain when you sit in that one little corner of your creative mind to the detriment of all else?

    I start each writing session by cleaning up my kitchen, maybe doing some laundry, or playing video games for a couple hours. Or coloring with my kids, or baking something. I found that when I woke up and began writing, and then I wrote all afternoon, and then talked about writing with my friends, and then researched covers, and found helpful writer blogs, and sketched maps, etc. that my overall personal level of contentedness and joy plummeted. Life is bigger. Grander. More fulfilling than a story completed. I've completed tons of things, yet I have no satisfaction from them, because with each hour I pass in silent typing, my loneliness grew. My isolation. Writing is meant to be shared, and if you can't share it with those you love (as I didn't and still haven't really, just with my beloved writer friends, not my family), share yourself. I lost that. For years. I withdrew (for a number of reasons, not just because I was a writer), and I missed out on years of living, throwing all my focus into my own personal projects, whether they were sewing, research, or most of all, writing. And I can't help feeling it was a terrible waste of the best years of my life, because I accomplished nothing tangible. I have nothing to show, but a hundred stories no one but me sees.

    My goals for this next year are to spend more time loving people, to connect deeper with the people I respect and care about, and to limit the amount of focus and energy I spend on my "selfish" pursuits, as in, those that only exist in my mind. I don't have writer's block. I can always write. I can always put good words on the page. But my guilt manifests over the time spent not achieving anything. I think the psychology of writer's block is applicable in a broader sense. For some people, like me, guilt and regret are just the evil voices inside that will never shut up. Whatever I'm doing, I've noticed that the thing that most upsets my self-loathing, is being good but not great at everything. I'm "good" at a whole lot of things, but no matter how good I get at anything, I feel this ultimate pit of despair, and over the last year, I've had to do a lot of soul-searching. My husband is my psychologist, really. When I talk to him (in our no holds barred sort of way), I learn more about myself and my own personal limitations. I discovered that most of my anxiety and disappointment with myself stem from a very simple problem (that's an inherent part of my personality), no GOAL. HA! So simple, but I'm terrible at setting small goals and big goals, and working toward anything. I sit down, I write, I have no goal. As soon as I get fed up with one thing, I switch to something else. I'm always working, but never toward anything tangible. And so, I'm unhappy. Deeply remorseful, because when I look back over the last five years, I didn't achieve any goals. I did plenty, but I didn't have a defined goal and an expectation to meet it. Instead, I had expectations that if I "did stuff" I'd feel accomplished at some point. But without a goal, I cannot reap the reward of that feeling.

    I think for me, it goes back to my childhood. I never lived up to my parents' expectations, and I knew it. I fell short of pleasing everyone. And it hurt me. I turned into a quitter because it was easy. Now, as an adult, I still have the same problem. Some days, I'm all kinds of inspired to be a real estate agent and do the right kind of work to build that business. Then, a few days later, I think to myself how close some of the books I've written are to being publishable. I send out five query letters and then forget about that. Then, I look at my sewing projects and think how wonderful I'll feel if I can only finish a few of them. So maybe I hit a snag and quit that, or maybe I finish a garment, toss it into a closet full of costumes, and still don't feel good about finishing a project.

    I have the opposite of writer's block. I have endless discontent and self-loathing, no matter what I do and no matter how much I accomplish. I hope there's a cure for my condition, because I'd desperately like to get off this ride that's making me sick, and go back to the kiddie rides that I at least enjoyed!

    I mentioned it in another post a year ago or so...I am in it for the chase. The hunt. That's what I live for. Like an addict hungry for a fix, I'm always chasing that first high of feeling energized and enthused about what I'm doing. I think that's why I'm good but not great at so many things. The newness wears off and then I don't have a goal. So I endlessly run, but there is no finish line.

    Sorry to dampen the mood. If anyone knows a fix to this very weighty problem I can't seem to overcome, I'm all ears. I really REALLY want to feel alive again, when in reality, all my hobbies are crutches for the self-despisal I can't seem to shake.

    Last night, I was at a fencing practice, and I was painting with my friend. I thought I'd go work on my painting for my cover, since my sword was being repaired, so I couldn't sword fight. Anyways, about a dozen people told me how awesome my work looks, and I know they meant it as complimentary, but to me, it feels awkward, and I just say, "Thanks. Thanks very much." Inside, I feel anxious about compliments, like they're expectations. When someone reads my work now, I get nervous, because even though I know I've done my best, I always feel like I fall short of "my potential" which was the unattainable goal I never met in my childhood.

    Writer's block may be solved by word count goals, or typing "the end" or any number of other quick fixes, but the psychology of the greater sense of self-fulfillment is defeating me at every turn. My last truly joyous writing moment was when my friend (from this site) hooked an agent for her book. I felt really proud of her and was thrilled for her success. But I don't feel any measure of success for myself, no matter how many words I have, or how many editing passes I've done.

    I have happiness block. :(
     
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  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Yeah...I'm quoting myself. Actually I've been in a little funk, because I stopped one project to start another that takes place in the same world, and even concurrently with the first book of that stalled/planned trilogy, but that would be smaller in scope, a standalone novel. I had this world already, many "epic" features of the original story that could be explored individually (the smaller scope of the new project), a set of discrete characters I wanted to use in the new project, and, I thought, a basic story–an idea story, a la MICE: basically, a detective/mystery novel set in in this fantasy world.

    But then I began to realize, "Where am I going?!?!?" and also, "Excellent. Yet one more detective novel." Plus, all those epic-related ideas from the planned trilogy began to leak through to this new project, so some warping began to happen. The basic standalone, smaller-scoped story began to feel petty as such; but the epic features/ideas simultaneously intruded and began to push it beyond its scope, so that I kept getting this unwieldy, blob-like hybrid–which doesn't work. At all. The result: a block.

    That's a problem with my stewing process. Having multiple, conflicting ideas solidify that, within the scope of a whole world/setting, are very cool; but settling on a single story is not so simple as just picking one story idea out of the hat. Mostly this is because whatever story I decide upon remains informed by all that will not be included in it, at least in this case. I know the whole story of this world is much larger than this one, standalone story.

    But I recently bought The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby, and although I'm barely into the book (and therefore can't really review it or recommend it), the simple reminder early in the book of the importance of having a premise has helped to break up my block.

    Basically, Truby says that having a concise, one-sentence premise for a whole script/book is the most important step in the writing process:

    One last reason you must have a good premise is that it's the one decision on which every other decision you make during the writing process is based. Character, plot, theme, symbol–it all comes out of this story idea. If you fail at the premise, nothing else will help....You may be terrific at character, a master at plot, or a genius at dialogue. But if your premise is weak, there is nothing you can do to save the story.​

    A more concrete way of describing this importance: Once concisely stated, your premise guides every other decision you'll make for telling the story. Or put more bluntly for my particular case, the premise helps to narrow down my focus, eliminating so much else in the hybrid-blob that was forming, while serving as an inspiration to explore my telling of this story more deeply because it is the focus.

    I've dumped the above here although I've been thinking of starting a separate thread to explore this idea more fully. But that's because, although I also sometimes/often (?) suffer the type of psychology-related issues mentioned in the article linked in the OP, I think that often a block may be more related to the processes of creation than to inherent personal psychology. Well, one feeds the other, so maybe not. But maybe looking away from the self and toward the nascent product is a way to get beyond the issues mentioned in the article.
     
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  19. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Fifthview, the idea of the one sentence premise, or even the paragraph synopsis is something that I have read A LOT. Like, in every single writers book I have read. It has come up again and again and again that the one line premise, the 'log-line' the paragraph synopsis is something that should be written before you start writing the book. This has also been very helpful for me, because, again (a trend I'm noticing?) I'm exactly like you! I usually start with a huge concept. A world, a pack of characters, a character arc… something HUGE. Trying to narrow it all down into one premise, or theme is very challenging for me, and, like you, "whatever story I decide upon remains informed by all that will not be included in it."

    Yep. Totally.

    I have literally spent the last few weeks just trying to narrow my concept down into a single premise. A single paragraph synopsis that will inform my entire manuscript. It has been very challenging, but what i have read from other authors is that it is supposed to be the most challenging part. Bleh!

    This is why I started the Logline post that you and Nimue and Devouring Wolf were so helpful with a few weeks back. I was able to find my story angle (Time travelling Blackbeard was going after the lost Aztec Noche Triste Treasure and discovered that it had been placed in the Dreamworld (Don't have a name for it yet) by the treasure's protectors, Monctezuma's dreamers, who had foreseen the coming of the Spanish (actually true) and hid the treasure away. Blackbeard manages to gain entrance to the dreamworld, but one of his crew mutinies against him, steals the treasure, but then both get caught in the time/space continuum and crash their ships in the New York subway system in 2016. My MC is a runaway who is living in the Subway who a series of events ends up teamed up with Blackbeard in order to steal the treasure, which has been locked away in a museum, in order to return it back to the dreamworld and thus save New York, and the world, from a terrible Aztec curse: Cue heist story satire and lampoonery, plus a lot of 'fish out of water' humour with Blackbeard trying the steal the treasure the old fashioned way, only to be schooled by a bunch of modern day street kids with cell phones).

    But I still need a premise. A theme. An overarching idea that will reign the entire piece in and inform it. I have been studying a variety of Middle Grade fantasy/sci-fi to see how they handle it.

    A Wrinkle in Time is all about Meg learning to love herself and her brother for being outsiders, instead of resenting everyone for not fitting in. The ENTIRE novel is informed by this premise/theme. Meg doesn't fit in at school. Her father is criticized by the entire community, her mother is considered eccentric and strange, her brother is slightly autistic… when they travel to space to find her father her entire journey is based on this theme of 'fitting in'.

    In Narnia we have the Pevencie children who have been tucked away from the war and are left with a sense of helplessness. They are transported to Narnia where they are the key to stopping a war, and in fact are allowed to take part in the battle, thus giving them the sense of worth and control over a terrible situation that they don't have in the 'real world'.

    In Alice In Wonderland we have a little girl who in the 'real world' is at the age where she still wants to be a child, but she is expected to behave more 'grown-up'… she is thrown into Wonderland where she has to constantly navigate between being 'too small' and 'too big'.

    In Peter Pan we have Wendy, who is also expected to be more 'grown' up, but still wants to be a child. She is transported to Neverland where no one ever grows up, and she learns that she doesn't want to be a child forever, and in fact looks forward to going home and becoming a woman and a mother.

    Uhg! So now I'm trying to discover what my premise or theme is, and it could go so many ways and they all seem so cliche!

    PS - A fantasy Detective novel sounds fascinating. I'm so done with Epic Fantasy or "boy goes to magic school" fantasy.

    I've never read any of the Dresden Files books, but I think that is what they are? Fantasy detective? But I think they are more contemporary, set in modern day Detroit or something? I would love to read a Fantasy detective series set in another world. I love detective stories! I also love heist stories, which is why I'm writing one for kids. I don't think I've ever seen a pirate/heist crossover for kids lol.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2016
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  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Yeah, Truby mentions the challenging nature of coming up with a concise premise:

    You start out with almost nothing to go on. That's why the premise stage is the most tentative of the entire writing process. You are putting out feelers in the dark, exploring possibilities to see what works and what doesn't, what forms an organic whole and what falls apart.​

    He even inserts the note, in a box to highlight it: "KEY POINT: Nine out of ten writers fail at the premise."

    Yikes!

    I'd gone back to review that thread that you started on the logline, just to make sure I wasn't confusing the two. But the premise is more a tool for the writer in developing the story than for putting out feelers to potential readers. (Although the premise can be used to sell a story, in Hollywood at least.)

    I think I'm also a big fan of absolutely making sure the premise is concise, only one sentence. At least, that has helped me, because even the alteration of a single word or phrase within it can push a story's focus one direction over another.
     
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