Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Writer's Block

February 15, 2011
(42 days ‘till the release of SECRETS OF A PROPER COUNTESS on March 29)
Writer’s Block

In the past few months, busy with activities for my second book and the promotion of my first, SECRETS OF A PROPER COUNTESS, I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block. One thing I’ve discovered is that writer’s black is seldom about the writing. It’s usually about other things in our lives that keep us from getting the words on the page.

I never have trouble thinking of things to write about, and if I don’t write for a week or two, or even a few days, the stories start downloading themselves into my dreams at night. I’m crabby and out-of-sorts until I get back to work.

But right now, my son is at university in Russia for six months. I worry if I don’t hear from him for a few days, and that affects my ability to concentrate on writing. I know he’s doing fine (thank heaven for Skype), and loving every moment of the experience, or I’d hear more often, but mothers always worry.

Learning how to promote my debut release (and myself, a very shy writer) has been fun, but stressful. There are so many ways to get the news of a new book out there, and I’ve had to learn things like Twitter, and blogging and how to use Facebook (a work still in progress, but coming soon! According to a recent survey by my publisher, Harper Collins/Avon, 70 percent of readers said they look for new book information on Facebook first, so look out, social media, here I come, and we’re going to find each other quite a challenge!)
 It’s always been hard for me to ask people for things, and setting up a blog tour was torture from that perspective, but it’s nice to get to know the reviewers and romance readers out there! I’m looking forward to my first set of reviews, positive or negative, though I hope readers will love reading SECRETS OF A PROPER COUNTESS as much as I loved writing it.

Ah, back to writing. I haven’t had a whole day to simply sit and write for several weeks. I squeeze in an hour or two here and there, but the luxury of knowing there’s no one looking for me but my characters has been absent. No wonder I’m grumpy, and grumpy is the polite word for it. 

 In addition to doing publicity for SECRETS, I also have a big volunteer commitment coming up. My husband says my arm is defective—when someone says the word ‘volunteer’, my trick arm shoots skyward. For me, volunteering is a complete commitment to the best of my ability. If I offer, I follow through. Unfortunately, I have an unusual ability— I can build almost anything out of cardboard or paper mache, which is only useful when it comes to things like decorating a cavernous high school gymnasium for a dinner dance. One year I built a 14-foot lighthouse for this event because someone said it couldn’t be done. This year the theme is New York, which is terrific, given that this year’s RWA National Conference, my first, is in New York this year. I’ve decided to build some ‘windows’ to hang on the gym walls. Each will be 3-D and lighted from behind. One will be a brownstone window, complete with a fire escape. The second will be a jazz club, complete with a neon sign made from glow sticks, though I won’t know if that will work until I try it. The third will be the front of an old fashioned cafe. All the how-to’s are percolating in my mind just like a story plot. Did I mention each decoration has to be collapsible so I can transport it in the back of my small station wagon? It has to go up fast, and come down easily.

So at this moment, more than anything else, it’s all these activities that are blocking me from writing. The story-telling part of me is growing impatient. The heroine is nagging me in my sleep to get on with it. It’s not you, I tell her, it’s getting past the housekeeping activities in a writer’s day and getting to do what I love, which is of course, writing stories.

It’s not that stories spring into my head fully formed and ready to fall on the page in graceful piles of elegant prose.  I usually haven’t got any idea exactly how the story is going to end when I start writing it. It’s like walking in the dark. Beyond the beam of the flashlight lies an unknown world. Yet with each step forward, more is revealed, until you finally reach your destination. That, by the way, is one of the most important lessons I ever learned as a writer. I have dozens of unfinished manuscripts in my basement from years ago. When the going got tough in each story, I flitted off to the next idea, instead of working through the darkness and getting to the next step. When I learned to persevere, to think it through and keep writing, I got books written, and eventually, published.

There’s no point in sitting at the computer and staring at an empty page. I do some of my best work while I’m walking my dog. Our favorite spot is down by the Bow River, a wild strip of land between a gravel pit, and the river itself. There’s pair of bald eagles that perch in the same tree every day and supervise the people and dogs that pass beneath them. There are crows, wild ducks, Canada geese, pelicans, and coyotes, and even a rumored cougar. It makes a perfect place to think, a bit of peace and fresh air away from the computer and cell phones. There’s nothing to do except walk and think. I’ve worked out some of my most tangled story problems on our walks. Kipper (my chocolate lab) doesn’t mind. He does his own reflecting and discovering.

As we go, I can imagine what if, and work on plotting. What if my hero had a secret he couldn’t share with his family? What if they secretly knew? What if they didn’t, but the heroine did? I can wander down each potential story path as we, well, wander down the path under our feet. Solutions always come, and some days it seems like magic.

So tell me how you handle writer’s block, because no two writers are the same. We’re like snowflakes, each of us unique. Can you tell it was snowing when Kipper and I went out today?