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What happens when the words won't come?



I'm not talking about something as severe as writer's block. It's the feeling when you're just not quite sure who your characters are yet, or where the plot is going. Once I have all that in place, it's usually relatively straightforward to get the first draft written - I proved that when I wrote one in six weeks just because everything had fallen nicely into place.

Tuesday was one of 'those' days. I knew I had pretty much a whole day to write. I was also aware that it was coming up to half term and I was losing Thursday because of going into school to help out with some writing. Therefore, it was essential that I got as much done as I could. I sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee and my breakfast and stared at the screen. I wasn't in the mood. I then realised that I'd meant to do some research the previous night and watch a documentary about the little ships of Dunkirk. In the whirlwind of tap classes and small people showers, I'd completely forgotten about it. I couldn't justify 'wasting' an hour of my writing day watching it, but couldn't get any further in that part of the story until I'd watched it.

I'm not one of these writers who can write bits and pieces of a story and then jigsaw them together. I have to write sequentially, otherwise I get muddled. One of the things I found most difficult about the last novel I drafted was piecing the various storylines together at the end. The thought of splitting a timeline up even further fills me with fear. Consequently, I wasn't sure what to do for the best. In the end, I went back to the modern part of the story and decided to add a bit more to that. I didn't really want to - I haven't quite got a grip on those characters yet and I'm not too sure of the finer details of the plot either. It felt a bit like those boxes you sometimes get in museums, where you stick your hands in and grope around in the dark trying to identify the object inside.

What I really wanted to do, was give up and read my book - far less effort required for that - and previously, that's probably what I would have done: accepted I just wasn't in the mood and left it for the day. I've also been known to write blog posts as a way of pretending I was still working! However, someone far wiser than me once told me that if i wanted to make a career out of writing, I'd have to accept that it wouldn't always be fun and there would be days where I wasn't inspired. Those were the times I had to grit my teeth and write it anyway. Tuesday was the first time I'd come up against this. Usually, it's life getting in the way that prevents me writing! It's not even that I don't have faith in the book - it's the second in a planned series and I'm looking forward to moving everyone's stories forward. New ideas come to me all the time for both book and series, which is why it's so frustrating that I'd hit a bit of a wall with it.

In the end, I adopted a technique we were taught on the MA - namely, stop worrying about whether what you're writing is any good and just concentrate on getting the story onto the page, one sentence at a time. After I'd scraped out a paragraph, something clicked and although the words weren't exactly flowing freely, I wasn't having to drag each one kicking and screaming onto the page anymore. By the end of the page, I'd been able to go back and fix the opening lines I'd written and it felt better. I finished the scene and then sketched out an outline of the next few for this timeline.

Sometimes, in the rush of enthusiasm, it's easy to forget that writing is only about 10% inspiration. The remaining 90% is hard graft. That was the problem. In my eagerness to get back to writing after weeks of editing other books, I'd forgotten the basics. Whereas when I first started writing novels, I was very much a 'fy by the seat of your pants and see what comes out' kind of writer, there was a reason why my writing had improved when I started to thrown in a little bit of planning as well. By taking a step back from things and taking the time to consider the 'stop off' points of the story (i.e. the major scenes) I was able to get about 2,500 words written in the end. It's by no means as much as I'm capable of in full flow, but at this stage of the book, it's a good daily total.

I've now got roughly the first 25% of the book planned in outline. The details will get filled in as I write and the remaining 75% will - all being well - come to me as I write. I know where everyone ends up, it's just a case of working out the finer details of their journey!

I don't very often feel like 'a writer'. On Tuesday, I did. The day's words didn't come easy, but they're on the page and that feels like a victory.




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