Tuesday, November 1, 2011

War of the Word Wall

In light of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, if you were wondering) and prompted by my own struggles this past week, I've decided to talk about every scribbler's worst nightmare: writer's block, or as I like to call it in the tradition of Adam Richman, the Word Wall.

It's your enemy. It lurks in the corner of your mind and waits until you're in the flow of creativity before it swoops down out of nowhere and snuffs out all those good ideas, leaving you frustrated, at a complete loss, and ten seconds away from ripping your hair out and throwing that stupid stupid manuscript in the trash where it belongs.

But there is hope. The wall of Jericho fell, and so will the Word Wall. I'm going to share with you a few battle tactics to employ when waging your war against this adversary. For the duration of this post, I am no longer your pal Angels. I am General A-P, and I'm sending you on a recon mission to take your story back under control!

Tactic #1: Get Your Mind in the Fight
Quit stressing over not being able to write, and instead think about why you're having this trouble writing in the first place. It could be stress, it could be you've got more on your plate than just writing, or it could be you're just bored with your own story. These are all just the outer defenses set up around the Word Wall, and they must be taken out first. Figure out why you're stuck, then plan a strategy to combat the problem. If it's stress, employ some of your own trusty relaxation techniques. I find a hot shower, some coffee, and my favorite music does it for me. If you're worried about more than just writing (here's where it gets harsh), you have to set it aside the instant you sit down to your writing desk. Here's my motto: Yes, it's hard, but suck it up anyway. You can't be thinking about anything but writing when you're trying to write. You might as well start laying bricks on the Word Wall yourself. If you think you're just bored, move on to my next tactic.

Tactic #2: Remember Why You're Fighting
Why did you decide to embark on this insane quest of novel writing to begin with? Was it for the fun of it? Did you just want to be able to say "I wrote a novel" to all your buddies? Do you really love to write, and couldn't do anything but choose to write a novel? Answer that big question: WHY? When you have that answer, you stir up the old blood lust in the troops. If it's for fun, then find a way to put the fun back in it! If it's to show up everyone else, then think about how they'll react when you tell them you finished (though if that's really the only reason you're writing, then you might want to reexamine your motives, IMO. Why would you put yourself through this just for bragging rights?)! If writing is what you love, that's the most iron-clad reason to keep writing in the first place.

Tactic #3: Reconsider Your Field of Battle
If you've been working in a noisy room, at a cluttered desk, or even in a room you're not at home in under normal circumstances, it's no wonder the Word Wall appeared on the horizon in the first place. It's the three L's of real estate and a key factor in battle: location, location, location. Remove the distractions, clear the debris out of the field, and set up base camp in an ideal place for your muse to drop in. For my part, I work best in a room by myself, either completely silent or with some plain instrumental music in the background (I get sidetracked when there's lyrics). Make sure you're comfortable, because you can't take cover in a vermin-infested fox hole and expect to keep your mind on the skirmish, now can you? If the Avon lady is banging on the door, send her packing fast. It's critical to avoid developing Jack Torrance Syndrome--a terrifying sickness caused by distracted scribbling and characterized by a snappish temper, a tendency to stare out the nearest window, and in some extreme cases violent outbursts. It's the Word War version of dysentery. When you find a favorable position on the battle field, hold it no matter what. It's your turf now!

Tactic #4: Implement a Schedule
Show up on the battle field at the same time, every day (at the very least five days a week so you have some down time). Decide on a set amount that you will write before you sound the retreat. I work on at least two pages or for at least an hour, whichever happens to be longer. You don't have to be too much of a task master here. The idea is to get used to writing every day. It goes a long way towards making it easier to write down the road, trust me. When you get into the habit of writing every day, it gets hard to break it. Consider it as undermining the Word Wall, digging beneath the foundations and burrowing out tunnels which you will later fill with dynamite. Light the fuse, and the wall will come down in a cloud of dust.

Tactic #5: Set Deadlines, Then Keep Them
Don't do anything too crazy! Five hundred pages in a week is a little overboard! All you participating in NaNoWriMo have one month to write a whole novel, and that is possible (especially when the whole shebang is for fun anyhow!), but don't set any deadlines you can't meet. That's like trying to eliminate an entire legion with a handful of platoons. You can put up a brave fight and go down in a blaze of glory, but you'll inevitably be overwhelmed and annihilated. Your writing schedule has to coincide with whatever other schedules you have (work, school, etc.). I just finished a novel of my own, and the most I could handle at once was a 15-20 page chapter a week with Sundays off. It ran smoothly sometimes, and at others even that was about all I could take, but I managed to pull it off and finish right on time. It kept me motivated even when I wanted to throw down my weapons and surrender. It's the little victory of keeping minor deadlines that will maintain morale until you reach the end!

Tactic #6: Keep Your Inner Drill Sergeant At the Ready
That little voice in your head that tells you when to keep moving and when to take cover? That's your drill sergeant, and he's your number one ally. Put another way, he's your common sense. He's the one who knows when the Word Wall is about to fall and keeps you pushing forward to finally bring it down and he's the one who can tell when you need to pull back and regroup, 'cause the wall ain't budging just yet. Sometimes you want it to be perfect on the first draft (which often serves as the building blocks for the Word Wall), and that's just not going to happen. Sometimes you're not really trying at all and what you're coming up with is sub-par even for a first draft--which happens every now and then. Fortunately, the drill sergeant is there to smack some sense into you! Look into a mirror and give yourself a pep talk when you think you're overworking yourself or slacking off. You can't beat the Word Wall without the drill sergeant!

Tactic #7: Think Of It As a Chess Match
It's you versus the Word Wall. Did you know boys training to be knights were taught chess to learn battle strategies? The main objective is to capture the king, or in this case, to finish that novel. Before you can take the king, you have to outmaneuver all the other pieces in the way. All those other pieces represent the sentences, paragraphs and chapters you have to beat into submission. They are the pawns, rooks and queens of the Word Wall. Which pieces do you go after first? The pawns, also known as the sentences! Instead of focusing on the big idea of writing the whole novel, zero in on writing that next sentence. You have to start somewhere, and it's best to start small. When you've got a few sentences down, evaluate the battle field and formulate a strategy for capturing the next biggest pieces: the paragraphs. Continue on down the list, removing all the obstacles a little at a time, until finally you take the king and finish the book. Checkmate!

Tactic #8: Allow For Recovery Time
Once you've destroyed the Word Wall, taken the field, and finished the novel, you need to step out of the campaign for awhile. Give yourself the chance to breathe at last. Bind up your wounds, repair your damaged weaponry, and bask in your victory! If you just jump in and man an attack on the next novel without taking time to rest and recuperate, you'll set yourself on the road to Waterloo faster than you can say "I surrender!" This in fact is what sparked my recent battle with the Word Wall. I finished my novel, and instead of taking some hard-earned down time, I continued on and came nose-to-nose with burn out. It's not pleasant.

You know the enemy. You now have a few tricks up your sleeve. So fall out, men! Go forth and conquer! Never give up, and never surrender! Ooh-rah! (I feel like I swallowed R. Lee Ermy for this post!)

Best of luck to those participating in NaNoWriMo! Hope I helped out!

Your pal,
General A-P Angels

No comments:

Post a Comment

Come on, talk to me! Don't be shy!