Feed the Story

By E.M. Youman

I have written 210,000 words this year. I may clock out at more by the end of December, but for the sake of this article let’s cap it at 210k. That’s not a lot of words on the face of it. Last year I only wrote 40,000 words. Partly because I was stuck in revision hell, and because I hadn’t committed to writing every day. I learned a lot about myself by writing every day. That’s the focus of this article.

When you write every day:

  1. I realized how many words I wrote was insignificant.

Writing everyday meant: writing on days when the house wasn’t quiet, people constantly interrupted me because they needed my help (how dare they), and simply not feeling up to writing. When you don’t feel like writing, telling yourself you must write until you reach a certain word count really makes me loathe the words. Note: When you loathe the words, your characters suffer for it.

Solution: Write until the scene is done. I sit down and tell myself to write down everything I know about the scene and I don’t let myself stop until the scene is finished. By writing in scenes, I get the nice check mark feeling that I have accomplished something, whether I write three hundred words or five thousand. As long as I can see the plot moving forward, I want to keep writing the story.

  1. It’s not always writer’s block and no, you are not lazy.

In a moment of desperation, I bought an e-course about increasing productivity. One of the things the instructor harped upon was that there was no such thing as writer’s block. The instructor suggested that if a writer was stuck in how to continue with a story, they were lazy. Kind of shocked to hear this. The advice was to take a deep breath and keep writing.

Here’s the deal folks, if you’re staring at the screen, writing and then deleting your work because you literally can’t figure out what your characters do next, that’s not laziness that’s called dedication. If you left the story in a huff and decided to take up whittling figurines and then gave that up because of splinters, that might be lazy. Through writing every day I’ve discovered there are two kinds of blocks, the one where you are literally sick of a story and the other where you need to feed your imagination.

  1. Your Muse will not work on Spec

Your imagination is a muscle, flex it and you’ll have an interesting story. But sometimes your muse goes on vacation or puts a will work for food sign on the front lawn. If after writing a scene I find I am at the dreaded block of not knowing what’s next, I turn to research. Normally I save research for when the story is done because I believe in the “write like there’s a five alarm fire coming”. But when I hit a snag in the story or I don’t know what they’ll do next I take this time to research the story. Herein lies the key to your block. Research gives your muse permission to come out from behind its protest poster.

I discovered this while working on a short story entitled “The Secret of Matches”. By the time I finished the story, I realized I had a series on my hands. The lead protagonist, Omar, had so much more to say. I envisioned a five part series and I even knew what the opening scene of the first book would be. Perfect pantser fodder. I sat on the series idea for months. thesecretofmatchesThe fear of not knowing what happened after the opening scene left me paralyzed. The story starts with Omar getting into an accident while sprinting thus ending his dream of being in the Olympics. I decided the issue was that I didn’t know much about running, besides the fact that both me and my doctor think I need to do it more. 🙂

I started researching college track and field. I learned things I hadn’t even been looking to know. For instance, a lot of players that under perform or get hurt are pressured to leave their school to make room for the next athlete. Ding! Do you hear the sound of a plot coming together? Once I had gotten over that hump the pieces of the story came together. Suddenly I knew he had issues with his father, a retired naval officer, and the first story in the series would revolve around them butting heads.

When I started looking up running I had no idea, his father was a naval officer. But feeding my muse, research helped spark new ideas.

If you’ve hit a wall in your writing take a step back and decide what type of block it is. Are you tired of the story? If so E.M. Forster is, a great resource for understanding what happened. Or is your imagination running on fumes? If yes, it’s time to do a little research.

About the Author

Once upon a time there was a girl who dreamed of a genie that took her on magical journeys, many of which may have included scenes from the Nancy Drew series (shh!!). Then one day she discovered Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy and became obsessed with heart wrenching romances. When she’s not watching tearjerkers, she’s usually writing them.

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by The Bowman’s Inn, Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.

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