I know the popular lore is every writer does. Not true. My problem is too many things to write about. We can call that focus, but I really don’t have a focus problem either.
I find writing strenuous. Always thinking through someone else’s head (my character). Living in a virtual world where stuff happens that I’d never face in real life. Not being me. There are a couple of things I do about that:
- I start with a solid outline. I go through it with a nit picker, to be sure I include all the steps, transitions, plot twists. Is there logic in what’s happening? Or dislogic where required? My outline covers only plot, but it must integrate each character’s traits so it becomes their actions and reactions. If I get stuck writing the outline, I force my size ten feet into my character’s shoes: I sit back, stare at something far off over the horizon and invoke that imagination the world has relentlessly tried to drum from my cerebral skillset. What would my character smell, feel, as she’s walking the corridors at 10pm on a moonless windy night? Stale food? Cigarette smoke? I’m thinking she’d be frightened, all alone, footsteps echoing off the bare walls.
- I also start with a solid character fact list. I put everything down about the character that I would know if it was me–background, history, past traumas, foibles, passions, speech quirks, what drives them, their strengths and weaknesses, what their typical day would be, their part in the story, etc. I need to know them as I know myself.
- After the character fact list, after the outline, while I’m struggling through the Writing, I pay attention to Point of View. Sometimes, I realize I’m writing a narrative, not the believable story of a single mom with money problems whose computer is being hacked by terrorists. I back up, find the spot I fell out of character and start over. Some people can work in an omniscient Point of View, but I can’t get involved enough in the story unless I’m in my character’s head. I have to think like her/him, feel as they do so I can write their parts authentically. It takes a long time, but along the way, I get a better understanding of my story. I believe it’s one of the significant reasons why I don’t get writer’s block. It’s also the reason why many good writers say the story “just unfolded” for them. Well, it did, because it was real.
If my imagination takes me somewhere I know nothing about, I…
- Research. God I love the internet. If I’m trying to imagine what the Hudson River smells like in summer, Google has an answer. People blog about stuff like that! If I’m wondering what stores I’d pass walking down Amsterdam in New York, Google Streetview takes me right there. It took me to the front of my character’s apartment (which turned out to be a factory, so I had to move it–thank you Streetview)
If you find the traditional cures don’t work (write through it, try another topic, take a break), try these.