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Thursday, August 6, 2015

When The Muse Is On Vacation: How To Break Through Writer's Block

I I love writing when the muse is in me, and the story just pours on the page. There I sit, playing Miniature God, my palate of colors shimmering, a whole world coming alive through my words. 
Then there are the times when the muse is on vacation. Of course, beginnings can always bite me--anybody working on their 67th version of chapter one? The one that can intrigue the reader in an instant, prefigure the entire thematic heart of the novel, and start at the exact right instant in the plot? 
But usually, Musie heads out of town when I'm trying to tackle something in the middle, a chunk of plot, how to get the character from here to there. 
At those times, I sit down and spew my frustration on the page, sometimes several days in a row. (See earlier post, Prune Juice For Writer's Block.) Here's an example: "I just can't figure out this idiotic character. My readers keep telling me she's depressing and not spunky enough, and they just want her to leave already, but what I'm exploring is why abused people stay, and what makes them leave. How do you make such a victim "spunky? Grrrrr. Obscenities. A verbally abused karate master. A verbally abused sky-diver? A verbally abused verbal abuse expert? No,no no no. The only possible answer would be to figure where this person used to have spunk before they were broken down. If she did, what did it look like? And where does that spunk still rear up in her life?" 

Often, that kind of free-flowing mind-play will break me through a small blockage.Sometimes, though, when the muse is really out of town, even day's long spews won't won't set the story free. For those days, I have to break out another tool, I have to write it badly. 
I know, I know, I"m not fond of it either. I dislike the stick figure characters that show up. I feel clunky about manipulating characters via sticks up their puppet behinds. It's not sweet and it's not fun. It's certainly not the "flow" feeling that can make writing almost an escape, another world, the long-missed equivalent of playing pretend with my very best childhood pretend friend. 
And yet, this clumsiness, this awkward ditch-digging, will soon enough set me free. If I keep on hacking at that rock-hard dirt, something I write will lure the muse back to me. 
Soon, she'll be peering over my shoulder, breathing further life into my tale. And then, once she's interested again, I can rewrite stuff, turn those sticks into sketches, the sketches into full-blown life. I can insert dialogue-only people into bodies that sweat and pulse and creak. I can tweak that stock character, shading him with parts of somebody I know,  in real life. I can change everything, move the whole scene elsewhere in the novel or short story, even cut it entirely. 

And once I've made that pass, I can go through again, (and sometimes again, and again, and again) but each time, that muse will be a little more interested in what I'm doing. Until, at the end, I will edit out every extraneous word, make sure each "he said," and "she said" is absolutely necessary, and lay in those last little bits of light and shadow, and hopefully, wind up with, well, don't we all dream of a masterpiece?

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