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I still remember the first time I heard the term Writer’s Block. It was on the show Golden Girls, an 80’s sitcom about four mature ladies living as roommates. Blanche Deveraux, a southern belle and very randy senior citizen, had decided to write romance novels. After sitting fruitlessly in front of a typewriter for hours she swept out of her room in her long flowing negligée and declared she had writer’s block. Estelle, the oldest of the bunch, sat on the couch witnessing Blanche floridly describing the difficulty of her situation: the frustration, the waiting, the straining! As Blanche waxes on Estelle slyly compares Blanche’s writers block to constipation.

It was a funny scene.

At the time I thought it must be awful to suffer from writer’s block but I was young and the writing compulsion was only just beginning to surface. I had no conception of what it might actually be like to be a writer. Since then I have gained a little more experience. Certainly I’ve sat in front of a blank page but there was always some avenue to coax a story out of me; some glimmering shard of a first phrase or sentence to build on.

More difficult is when a scene stumps me. Perhaps I don’t know how a character will react or how to make the scene convey what I need it to or maybe I just don’t know what happens next but never do I feel blocked.

If I don’t know what a character will do or say next I can do character exploration exercises or write possible options and revise as necessary. If I’m having trouble making a scene say what it needs to I start by outlining those things so I have a clear picture of what I need and then explore what elements within the scene will meet that need. If I don’t know what happens next I review what happened before and what that will naturally lead to. I may get stuck in a scene but there are always ways to move forward. And if I think that I need some time away from a scene to get it right then I use the time to work on the next scene or another project. And there is always another project.

I might get scene-block or even novel-block but writer’s block? I don’t believe in it.

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I have always been a pantser. When I get an idea it generally has an opening scene and one or more great characters. The story flows naturally from there. At most I would jot down the major points and a few scenes ahead but I figured the story might shift drastically so I thought that loose was better. It worked for me and the drafts that resulted seemed pretty solid.

Back in June I finished a first draft that I considered worthy of editing. It was wonderful, it was awesome and it was also an unholy mess that would need pain and blood and tears to turn into a “real book”. In other words it was a first draft and much as I loved it I needed a break. I backed it up in triplicate, closed the file and put it from my mind.

What to do in the meantime? All through writing that other draft I’d had a few stories try to tempt me away. I had been good, giving them no more than a few pages each just to make sure I recorded the idea completely. Now I was free to do more.

I decided to experiment with an outline. I figured, this isn’t my REAL book so I’m free to use it to learn new things. The outline took ages longer than the time I allotted it. Then just as I was ready to begin writing I realized I had pages of character outlining to do as well. It took as long to get to the writing as I had allotted for the entire project!

Once I began writing the going was slower than I anticipated. Slower than my last project in fact. And yet it was steady progress. Most importantly I was producing a cleaner draft than I ever thought possible. There might even be passages that could make into a final draft with little or no revision. Whoa.

What I have learned from this is the value of an outline in ensuring that my first draft is a clean and concise vision of what my eventual novel should look like and I guarantee that the amount of editing that will be necessary on this book is far less than that REAL novel I wrote (and still plan to return to). I have a new tool that saves me time and is making me a better writer. Shiny! I won’t be going back. I’m just too lazy not to put in that extra work in the beginning.

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In the wake of finishing my WIP first draft I was high on the rush of accomplishment. It felt great (to be honest it still does) and that first burst led me to set some lofty goals.

The July novel. The plan was to write roughly twice what is required by Nanowrimo but in half the time. Just two weeks. I know I am capable of 10k a day when I work hard so two weeks would give me an extra four days, weekends off if you will. I knew this was a nearly impossible goal but there was a sliver of possibility and I was high on success.

In those two weeks I wrote less than 1000 words of draft. But that was okay because I ended up using the time to write a detailed 16 page scene-by-scene outline, something I’ve never done before. I extended my deadline to the end of July and kept going.

2000 words later I was stalled again. I had my main character set up but it was time to introduce the supporting cast and suddenly I needed to know who they were. For the first time I needed to write scenes where multiple important characters interact. This meant being able to differentiate their voices and since not all of them would make it out alive and it behooved me to make them matter before I killed them. I needed to know more so once again I closed up scrivener, picked up pen and paper and got busy. I wrote 10 character sketches of varying complexity.

By this time it was the end of July. I looked at what I had and then checked a calendar and set myself yet another  goal. I would finish by August 15. Another “write a book in two weeks” deadline but this time armed with an outline and character sketches. How could I fail!

Today is the morning of the 11th and I admit it. It is just not going to happen. This book is different in tone and content from my earlier works and writing it has been a painful struggle for each word and sentence. With every step and detour I have tackled new techniques and learned new skills. I have struggled to meet my impossible goals and have failed.

Except I haven’t failed. The entire slow, winding, painful process has exhileratd and excited. The draft I am writing is, so far, the best first draft I have ever produced. It is the most cohesive, it has the least amount of diversions or talking head placeholders and it already resembles a real story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still just a first draft but I can see already where I have improved between writing the last book and writing this one.

I am ready to push back the impossible goal to the end of August. At that point it won’t be an impossible goal anymore just a difficult one. If the draft doesn’t get finished by then I might even put it away unless I am very close to the end. This July Novel was never supposed to be more than something to do while the real WIP first draft simmered at the back of my brain. I have already gotten more out of the process than I thought possible.

Whatever happens at the end of August I know something else I’ve learned. Setting impossible goals makes me reach harder than setting easy ones. Impossible goals inspire me and that assures me that I am a writer. After all to write is to strive for the impossible goals. It’s a tough industry. Bring it on.

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Next post: That book review I promised.

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