Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Writer's Block

WriYe blogging circle posts seem to fit a distinct pattern. There are the topics I look at and wonder how the heck I'm supposed to make up something halfway intelligent and there are the topics that give me the uncontrollable urge to release some insanity. Writer's Block fits into the second type of post, so brace yourself.

I've been poking at this for a while, because I've made a hobby of doing as many NaNoWriMo offshoots as possible. I've noticed that my mood throughout the month seems to follow a distinct pattern and I've decided to try to analyse it. Yes, this really does tie in with Writer's Block. Bear with me while I sneak away and create a graph.

Here's some cheap-looking fake fire:

No, that's actually a graph comparing words per hour, words per day and a guess at a value for my mood based on my FebNoWriMo personal progress thread. It might make more sense if I use the real graph:

Here's a proper graph of mood, wordcount and writing speed:

 I had worrying amounts of fun building these graphs, by the way.

Now, let's analyse the data.

Notice that as a general trend, the lines all go up and down at about the same times. If I'm increasing in optimism, my writing speed and the amount I write both go up as well. Depression, decreased wordcount and decreased writing rate all go together as well. In general, I'm fairly optimistic for most of the first week with a spike at the end of the week when I've finished setting everything up and I realise the whole story is there for the taking... and then it all heads downhill, not picking up in any significant way until the final week.

I just remembered I was supposed to relate this to Writer's Block. I know I had a point to all that graphing... Oh, I remember. I wanted to see if the data I collected was going to point to something I know is true - that in week 3 I almost always feel like abandoning writing and taking up a different hobby. Seriously, every time I participate in a NaNoWriMo-like event I follow the same pattern. I start out okay and things get better as I learn more about my characters and their world, but at a certain point during the second or third week I start to lose my motivation, only regaining it during the final week when the end is in sight.

That week 2/week 3 slump is the time I call Writer's Block. It's that time when I feel like I can't do it and things like this post get written. I don't usually add my ramblings on depression and futility to my blog, but that was a special occasion.

I have my ways of dealing with it, though. I've been writing this way for almost a year and a half now and I've learnt a few things about myself and how I write. I can come up with ideas and characters pretty easily. I can start new stories easily, although the beginnings are always a little tedious. That's not a problem - I can always fix them later. I can even write pretty good endings, riding that week 4 wave of renewed optimism to pull everything together at the last minute. Where I really struggle is in the middle.

The middle of the story is the part where I've finished introducing the characters and the setting, decided I've made massive stuff-ups everywhere and decided I'm writing irredeemable garbage. In the past, that was where I used to quit. I have literally hundreds of stories I quit writing when it was time to move into the middle section. Now, it's the time when I reach into my bag of tricks and pull things out.

I set myself timers. I go and plan for a while, or chat with my muse about what might be going to happen next. I write a rambling and largely pointless blog post. I read a second-rate e-book from the library and start thinking my story damn well isn't worse than this. Lately, I also start looking around for things to blame for my creative slump and end up changing software, upgrading my operating system and browsing ebay for typewriters.

The truth is, though, it's just the rhythm of writing. The only thing that really keeps me going is sitting down and forcing out words. Even if it takes me an hour to write another couple of paragraphs and then I have to shame myself by putting a writing rate of 300 words in an hour in my spreadsheet, I keep pushing myself. I keep writing, because I am a writer and nobody else is ever going to be able to tell me how everything turns out in the end. I keep writing because I know that the larger my total wordcount gets the closer I am to the end. I keep writing because I am a total writing addict.

To me, Writer's Block is what happens when you can't see the way forward. I fight back by deciding to keep blundering on anyway and hoping for the best. I figure I'll either find the path or fall screaming off the edge of a cliff.

I've never fallen off the cliff yet.

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