Monday, March 29, 2010

Constipation of the Imagination

I'm not like some authors. I don't have characters screaming in my head, begging me to write their stories. I do have a long list of possible premises in my files, each one associated with a set of potential characters. However, I find that characters don't really become real to me until I begin writing. At that point, they unfold, revealing themselves to me chapter by chapter as they find their way through my fictional world.

Lately, I've been suffering from what I call "constipation of the imagination". This condition manifests itself mainly by the difficulties I'm having getting started on new projects. I have three projects lined up, two with hard deadlines, but until this weekend, I hadn't written a word on any of them.

I had done some research. I'd spent several hours (collectively) on the elliptical trainer, blocking out scenes and considering plot details. I even sat down and wrote a free story, trying to get the words flowing. Deep down, though, I knew that I was simply procrastinating, avoiding the point where I'd begin a new work.

This weekend, I got out my figurative whip and beat myself into submission. I tried something that other authors have recommended but which I've never attempted, namely, creating some formal character profiles. Usually I know only a few facts about a character when I start a book. When I need to know more, I ask them. In this case, I wrote down every detail I could dredge up about my hero and heroine: their appearance, socioeconomic background, education, strengths, weaknesses, strongest desires, greatest fears. I did mini-profiles for the secondary characters. Then I sat down and forced myself to write that first sentence.

Once I actually started, everything became much easier. I wrote 5000 words in two afternoons. Now I'm eager to push the story forward, but the real world is interfering! I won't have a chunk of writing time until the end of the week. Meanwhile, scenes and conversations are whirling in my mind. I'm praying that the inspiration stays fresh for the next few days, until I can get back into the story and my characters' heads.

Meanwhile, though, I feel a tremendous sense of relief. I worried, as all authors do on occasion, that my talent had deserted me. I was facing some kind of psychological barrier--I don't know why and I guess, ultimately, I don't care--but now I've pushed past it. The story is unfolding, and it's going to be deep and hot, the way I like it.

I'm looking forward to finishing, so that I can start my next project.

For those of you who also write--what do you do when your creative pipes are clogged? What are your strategies for freeing your imagination?

6 comments:

Ginger Simpson said...

Great post, Lisabet! Even with screaming characters, the noise is sometimes so overwhelming it plugs up the creative juices. I just took a wonderful class given by Cheryl St. John in which she touched on the very subject of jump-starting your novel. I was stalled and one of her exercises got me moving again. I just need for Cheryl to come live with me for a couple of months and I could do wonders. I doubt I could convince her to come though. :)

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Lisabet,
Nice article, I know what you mean about whipping yourself, I often do, but sometimes it doesn't help so I have to hed for the chocolate.

cheers

Margaret

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Lisabet! Great post. The times I've been blocked, I've realized that I don't really know where I want the story to go. So, I sit down and start listing possibilities... this list could take several days to accomplish. Always I try to think, "What if...?" Sometimes I'll have to study the list to see which possibility I like best. Sometimes the answer pops right out at me. Either way, I've got a direction to go in. The end result may not be what I started with, but the process usually gets the word flowing!

Maggie Dove said...

Hi Lisabet! I really enjoyed your post. I understand what you mean about not being able to get started. I just finished my second novel and started my third. I finished the prologue and the first chapter and I'm real happy with it and I know that I want to write the story. Right now I have the time to write and I have the story in my head and my characters all set up to "do their thing," but I just want to take a break between books. But then I feel guilty for not writing when I have the time...Ginger, can Cheryl come live with me too?

Maggie

Victoria Janssen said...

Usually if I'm stuck like that, it's because I'm tired - either I've just finished a big project, or my non-writing life is being particularly busy. To get out of the rut, I've done what you did - research, character profiles - as well as reading something to get my brain going. If it's a good thing I read, I'm full of story and inspired. If it's a bad thing I read, I get full of energy because I want to write something better!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks to all of you for your excellent suggestions! I just got a call for submissions for an anthology from an editor I really admire, so now I've got yet another project to ponder!

I've always said that I could never write full time--the stress of having my income depend on my creativity would completely dry up the imagination pipeline. But having only limited time to write has its own dangers. If I waste a day, I feel totally awful.

Anyway -- thanks again!

Warmly,
Lisabet

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