Getting unblocked

Have been writing solidly for the last month, meeting or exceeding my target of 20 pages a week. On Friday I came to a stop.

I’ve still got a bit to go – perhaps another 60 pages – but came to a point when I didn’t know where to go next. I’m sure that happens a lot, except that I’m working on a second draft – there’s already the first draft to go on with, to show the way. Except it doesn’t.

I wonder if it’s normal to get to this point of a book and suddenly have doubts. I’d been motoring on pretty happily. I had got into a productive routine sitting in front of this screen and churning out the pages. I rarely had a day off.

‘Churning’ gives an incorrect impression of the work I’ve been doing. Though I’m working on the second draft much is changed in the re-write. In places the plot takes a different turn, things are added in and taken out, and the writing itself fine-tuned. You get on a roll though, and while never easy, it always seems possible.

Then you stop. I don’t think it’s writers block. It’s a combination of two things.

The first is pretty pivotal. I’d got to a point where the plot I’d mapped out before seemed inadequate, especially in reference to the changes I’d made. When you live so close to a text you become intimate with it. You get inside of it. What from the outside seems reasonable can from the inside seem false and illogical. That’s what I found.

The other thing when you get so intimate with a story is that you can go stale with it. You grow weary of the characters and the story. You’ve lived it so closely that there no surprises anymore. It’s not fish anymore.

It’s wearisome, and it begins to create doubt. When you’re writing a story like I am, a mystery, then surprises are essential – but when you know it so well that you no longer feel the surprise you begin to question your judgement.

Like I said, I suspect these are not uncommon complaints.

I took a few days off from writing. I wanted to freshen up mentally, and I had to find a way – the right way – forward.

Yesterday I returned to it, but only in cleaning up some of the last bits I’d written before. I had thought hard in the meantime though, and returning to the work was akin to putting my finger back on the pulse.

I know it sounds pretentious, but I think a decent story has its own truth. It leads on, there may be twists and turns and unexpected surprises, but one thing leads to another regardless. Of course there must be an internal consistency, but it comes in giving life to the characters on the page. This is what they would do and think in this circumstance. This is the reaction. These are the range of possible outcomes. And somewhere in there is an unexpected pivot that veers everything off in a different direction.

I still don’t now exactly where the story goes next, but I know what the story as a whole needs, and know what is true of the protagonist – it’s he that pushes the story along. I’ll be back into it this afternoon.

For the record I still hope to have it done by Christmas. That’s the good news. The less good is that it will need another draft.

Assuming I get it done by Christmas then I’ll start in the new year on my next writing project. The time seems right for it now, the situation apt. Tentatively entitled Reconstruction, it’s a heavily fictionalised take on my own experiences unemployed and homeless – a sort riches to rags story, hopefully with a happy ending.

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