Monthly Archives: June 2014

Research: An Antidote for Writer’s Block

The dreaded curse of every writer—writer’s block! Though definitions of the term vary and its actual existence is at times hotly debated, the writing community agrees at some level that sometimes a writer is just plain stuck. Your stream of inspiration has run dry, your once-nimble fingers have grown rigid and unwieldy, the solid road along which your characters were walking has become obscured and hazy. So, what do you do?

Sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.

Berate yourself for losing your mojo.

Beg, bribe, and cajole your muse.

Fake it ‘til you make it.

Well, there are many positive ways of pushing through that rough patch that, for the sake of this post we’ll call writer’s block, but there’s one in particular that’s been immensely helpful for me. When I begin to feel uninspired, unsure, or just totally lost, I often turn to research for help. I know, that sounds boring and academic and not-at-all-inspiring. But stay with me, I’ll give you an example by way of explanation.

My novel is set in a Victorian-inspired fantasy world. Early in the process, I envisioned my protagonist and his love interest meeting in a library where he worked and she visited often (because what’s more romantic than the dusty, silent stacks, right? *sarcasm*) Anyway, I kept bumping into one wall after another until I was at a complete standstill. I just couldn’t see a way forward for these characters. I couldn’t find the right pieces of their backstory that led them to this place in time. In short, it was an unsustainable idea, propped up on a very shaky scaffolding.

And so I went back to the drawing board and did some research. I tried to find out what kinds of employment were available for men of the age and station of my protagonist in historical Victorian society. What educational background usually led up to those positions? Were they available in rural or urban areas? You get the idea. To my surprise and relief, my protagonist’s past, present, and (a portion of his) future magically opened up to me, because . . . drumroll . . . I suddenly KNEW what the possibilities were for a person like him. (The old adage “Write what you know,” turns out to be true in its most literal sense.)

Let me add a caveat: in fiction, fantasy especially, we have the privilege and responsibility of making stuff up!! At times, that’s an ingenious way of getting out of a tough narrative spot. But there are many times when the problem is that you can’t write your way forward in a story simply because you don’t know what is possible or likely or available to your characters. In this sense, knowledge truly is power.

This tool works in so many ways, both big and small, across genre lines and in all kinds of settings. A tiny seed of an idea is sometimes all you need for the character or the city or that piece of authentic dialog to open up for you. And in the age of the Internet, all the knowledge you could ever need is available at your fingertips. So dig deep, get creative, and put on your research cap. Before you know it, you’ll breeze right past that block that was looming so large in your view; it’ll look no bigger than a pebble as you pass by.

 

How has research helped you overcome writer’s block? What other tools do you use to confront similar challenges in your writing process?

 

-Paige Duke

She Said, She Said… Getting Too Into Your Story World

She Said, She Said… posts are actual conversations taken place via instant messenger between authors. All names have been changed to protect identities, keep us out of trouble, and otherwise clear our names.

[On feeling a little loopy while writing]

Dani Nicole: Maniacal laugh.

Dani Nicole: Cackle cackle.

Dani Nicole: DIEEEEE

Dani Nicole: Haha sorry.

Dani Nicole: This book is making me crazy.

Paige Duke: That’s good! You’re getting into it.

Dani Nicole: Yeah but if I start burning blue-taloned birds just give me a talking to.

Paige Duke: Lol. Ok.

Dani Nicole: Dani… I think…

Dani Nicole: You shouldn’t do that….

Dani Nicole: Why do you have a canteen??

Paige Duke: HA

Dani Nicole: Are you wearing a headpiece??

Dani Nicole: STOP KISSING 17 YEAR OLD BOYS!!

One of Them

Image from myselfaswritten.blogspot.com

Image from myselfaswritten.blogspot.com

When I was a little girl I used to write stories and give them to my parents as presents. I’m not sure how they felt about getting paper instead of ties or necklaces, but parents usually like that sort of thing.

I guess it was pretty evident from an early age that I was a writer. It’s not really something you can just not be, when you are one. There’s a certain way you think and imagine things. Anyone can learn to write, and anyone can learn language, but I believe that some of us are simply called to it, as if it’s an irresistible force.

I was always meant to write.

And while my career goals shifted as I grew up it eventually came down to the truth that writing is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. I have enough interests to hold a career while I write, but in the end that’s what my existence boils down to: I have to tell my stories.

Having a dream like that isn’t easy, especially when you graduate from school and stop having people that tell you to write. When you don’t have to turn anything in for a grade or read materials that are selected for you. You’re on your own.

Over the past three years I’ve been working my way into the professional writing world. My first step was to start writing and seek out writing buddies like my life depended on it. I befriended a published coworker (shout out to Jennifer August), and found myself constantly lost in conversation with her.

When I found my primary writing group, things started to become more serious. I started growing as a writer and as a person. I started soul searching and observing and constantly staying in contact with my dreams and ambitions.

But for the past few years I have rested in the safety of trusted friends.

Until last week.

I attended two new writing groups last week, making my first true effort at networking with professional writers. I brought my work and had it critiqued. And to my delight, my fellow writers acknowledged my talent and supported me. They offered me constructive feedback, and they inspired me.

What I found is that I was one of them.

I was no longer the little girl who dreamed of being a writer, but the woman who was consciously making an effort to take action toward achieving a lifetime goal.

And that was incredibly rewarding.

 

-Dani Nicole