January 25, 2017

Too many ideas are (almost) as bad as none

I’m getting ready to have a serious talk with Hans the troll about how to tackle my persistent problem with writer’s block that paralyzes my fiction writing without affecting my ability to blog.

It’s the fourth week of January and after just a two-week-long break from writing fiction, the creative paralysis is there again. I should be writing my fifth novel (in Polish) right now. I have no less than eight different novel outlines all planned out, not to mention other, more sketchy ideas that I started working on at one time or another, seduced by the hope that a flash of inspiration will transform over time into a decent storyline. But no half-finished novel in the works. 

Over the past two years, I’ve begun several novels and discarded them after one chapter or so. It’s clear that something isn’t working. And the technique recommended all over the Internet as the one true remedy for writer’s block, i.e. “stop fretting and just sit your lazy ass down and write” isn’t helping in this case. Over the past seven months, this technique has led me to finish one novella, three novellettes and three short stories (all in Polish, of course).

Having six finished short works (well, strictly speaking, five; the sixth one still needs editing and some rewriting) is great in itself, but it’s not what I need.

I’m neither an outliner nor a pantser, but a combination of the two. To start writing, I need a very basic outline – I have to know who the heroes are, what the conflict is about and where the story is going. I always change this outline, sometimes very radically, as the story unfolds. I never write anything from beginning to end – I jump around, writing separate scenes, and stitch them all together later (some people call this the “Frankenstein” technique). I also find it MUCH easier to craft a shorter story than a long one.

Right now, I’m staring at my eight different novel outlines and for some reason I can’t bring myself to start actually “weaving” (the act of writing down sentences that create a narrative has always reminded me of weaving) any of those stories. My mind is somehow torn between liking all eight ideas and not liking any of them (if that makes any sense). Lots of second-guessing and not being able to choose one idea to seriously focus on. And zero enthusiasm.

Of course, asking Hans the troll to help me get a novel written is a joke – Hans is just an ugly plastic figurine my husband’s cousin bought during a trip to Sweden. However, the premise behind using a plastic troll as a motivational coach isn’t as nonsensical as it seems. How do I consult him? I find a quiet moment, sit down alone and say: Hans, the situation looks like this... What do you think? I ponder for a bit, and then I answer. The idea is that I need to step out beyond the thought patterns I’m accustomed to and view myself as a helpful but dispassionate professional might. It’s a very good exercise. I recommend it.

Anyway, it looks like Hans the troll needs to tell me how to rediscover the joy of working on a long-term project. We’ll sit down tonight and discuss this issue... and hopefully work out a solution.

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