Monday, June 2, 2014

Working Through the Doldrums

If you happened to be a sailor in the last century, relying on wind-power to speed your vessel across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean to any of the far-flung ports of trade around the world, the term doldrums brought dread to your heart. Crews went crazy, turned on one another, and death stalked the decks in the doldrums. Samuel Taylor Coleridge summed up these regions of windless stagnation in his The Rime of the Ancient Mariner this way:

All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody Sun, at noon, 'Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the Moon. Day after day, day after day, We stuck, no breath no motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.

For a writer, getting stuck might not lead to starvation or death by heat exhaustion, but it can kill the mojo you've got for the story your writing. There probably are a million prescriptive blog posts and websites out there telling the would-be author how to break through writer's block. Frankly, it's my opinion anyone saying they have the one sure-fire method to beat the mental logjam that keeps words off the page is selling snake oil.

Unfortunately the solution to your writer's block is just as personal as the reason you write in the first place. There is no formula, you've just got to figure out your own path. Now, I know this doesn't seem very helpful, especially if you've put a good deal of effort into a project only to run aground. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't be discouraged if you try those things that are supposed to work and you find out they don't. That said, I can share what works for me when I'm stuck.

Sometimes I find that the best thing I can do is walk away from my writing. Giving it a rest sometimes clears my head and gives the ideas time to fight it out in my subconscious. After twenty four hours or less I usually that I've got a path forward. If I don't, I'll switch to another ploy and jump to another part of the story, one I'm sure of, and write that scene. Sometimes I leave gaps throughout a story and come back to fill them in after the first edit. This tactic gives me a start and end point that I can connect easily enough. If nothing seems to work, I reach out to a fellow writer who can pose suggestions and help me think through things in a new way. And, if even reaching out to another author doesn't work, I start asking myself what I'm hesitating to write. There may be a good reason I can't put words on the paper - maybe the scene isn't right for the story or I'm trying to force the characters to do something that doesn't fit their personality.

Again, I'm not saying these things are the one way to fill your sails with wind. Your doldrums will require your own answers. The only absolute piece of advice I can give is don't give up on your project or writing, take a break or soldier on, go for a walk or watch a movie, take a nap or go for a run, whatever you do don't give up on your desire to write.

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