What happens when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you?
October 7, 2013
It troubles me when I read or hear that novelists are suffering from that strange malady called writer’s block. I’ve read that writer’s block is when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you, when you come to a crossroad, don’t know which fork to take, and nobody has put up any signs. It is a miserable feeling.
Writers sit down at their word machines.
They stare at a blank screen.
They re-read their last chapter.
They are dialing their Muse on a cell phone.
They are desperately searching for inspiration.
And all they draw are blanks. The cupboard is bare.
No words come.
No scene comes.
No story comes.
It’s an affliction that, sooner or later, catches up with almost everyone who is cursed with throwing sixty thousand or more words into a manuscript.
So what’s the answer?
Prospecting for ideas is no different from prospecting for gold.
Just start diggng.
I have found that a writer can jar loose a new thought or a new dash of inspiration by researching, whether it’s on the Internet or back among the musty, dusty shelves of a library.
What you find may not work in your novel, but it can kick your mind off dead center and, in my case, provide the grist for another story in another book.
Over the years, I’ve packed a lot of these ideas away in my filing cabinet. I clip from newspaper, magazines, and wear down my toner before its time by collecting and printing odd little pieces of information I discover on the Web. I may never need them. Then again, I may need them tomorrow. But at least I have them.
For example, did you know that Adolph Hitler played chess every day, whether the war was being won or lost. He always played the white pieces and insisted on always replacing one of his bishops with a second queen. Who in his right mind was going to sit up, and say, “No, mine Fuhrer, you can’t do that.” Being in charge does have its privileges.
Gustave Eiffel designed the French tower that bears his name. Created as the entrance to the Paris World’s Fair in 1889, the iron lattice Tower stands 1,063-feet tall. In fact, Gustavo Eiffel became one of the country’s most successful architects even though he had dyslexia and suffered from a paralyzing fear of heights. He could draw high as long as he didn’t have to climb it.
While her husband was President, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom for her study, and she swore that she could feel his presence when she worked there at night. In fact, Mrs. Roosevelt was so convinced that the White House was haunted that she kept a vial of holy water on her nightstand. She may have gone to Lincoln’s bedroom. He never visited hers.
The famed Red Baron was not a heroic airman committed to Germany’s cause during the war. He would have never even considered himself to be a patriot. He was little more than a daring young man who wanted to fly an airplane, anybody’s plane. . He applied to the British Royal Air Force as well as the German Army Air Service. Germany accepted him and gave the Red Baron a plane. Britain didn’t. It was a mistake that Britain would live to regret.
When the Greeks got together to build a temple in honor of the maiden goddess Athena, they found the perfect patch of ground, a high rise overlooking the city of Athens. The trouble was, they had to clear it first to make room for the Parthenon. It seems that the land was covered thick with hundreds of dinosaur bones. What happened to the bones? Were they buried somewhere in a prehistoric landfill? Are they still around? Sounds like the makings of a good mystery to me.
I always thought that the fine art of shrinking heads was a sole practice of a feared and isolated band of primitive tribes in South America. I was wrong. The storied Knights Templar who rode away from Jerusalem with gold, jewels, perhaps the Holy Grail, and maybe even the Ark of the Covenant, shrank a few heads themselves. But where did they learn the macabre art? Did they teach the primitive tribes, or did the tribes teach them? Now there’s a story worthy of print.
I ran across one little nugget that won’t make it into any story of mine. But it is a perfect example of how one writer’s decision can make or break a character.
When the first draft of Raiders of the Lost Ark was written, Indiana Jones didn’t have his trusty bullwhip.
He carried brass knuckles instead.
Whichever screenwriter had the good sense to strike through the brass knuckles and add a whip saved Indiana Jones – the man and the movie both.
So if you have writer’s block, just think about your primary characters. Maybe they have grown stale because you haven’t written them right.
Maybe they would feel more comfortable in a pickup truck than driving a Porsche, or vice versa.
Maybe it would have been more natural for them to escape to the beaches of Mexico instead of the mountains of British Columbia, or vice versa.
Maybe the young man at the front door is not a long lost love but a long lost son.
Shake the story up.
See what fits.
Dig through a few piles of research until a new idea crawls into your mind and settles down to stay for a while.
Only one thing is for certain.
If your lead character looks good with a bullwhip hanging on his or her belt, for god’s sakes, don’t stick a pair of brass knuckles in a pocket or a purse.
There has never been a story written that couldn’t be changed for the better. It may not heal your writer’s block. It cures mine.