Tag Archives: Writer’s Block

Writing at 20%

I have a weird writing pattern that seems to carry through just about any project I work on. I write about 20% of the book (maybe the first 40-50 pages), put the book down for six months, then write the rest in a flurry. The times and specifics vary slightly, but the pattern is the same.

It took four years to write my first novel, but most of it was in the last year. Every revision cycle of Surreality has had this ebb and flow, and right now I’m trying to push through it on The Sky Below.

Starting a project is never a problem, and ironically finishing it isn’t either. But there’s this bit in the middle where the pull of other things is strong, or you hit your first real roadblocks and suddenly it can be a slog.

The act of writing regularly isn’t so tricky, but writing the same thing day in and day out is.

Admittedly a little of why I was stalled on this specific chapter was dreading to read what I had written after two Diet Dr. Pepper and Maker’s doubles. I shouldn’t have worried. Sure in my haze I used the word antiseptic completely wrong, and there were some run-on portions, but generally speaking I liked the passage better than some of things I’ve written sober.

Now I’m not advocating for drunken writing all the time, but I do think that sometimes the appropriate action is to relax and just do it. I’ve had sections that were like squeezing blood from a turnip in rough draft, that become so much easier in revision because I’ve got the bones of something to work from.

20% is a spot where you stop and think if you really want to finish something. You’ve invested enough to get a real sense of what you’re doing, and hopefully where it’s going, but not so much that you’d feel like it was a waste to put it down. That’s what comes of writing hundreds of thousands of words, throwing away 20K seems pretty commonplace (and is actually a goal when you revise).

But generally speaking anything I’ve written that’s reached 20% has called out to me at some point and demanded to be finished. It may be a spot where I think I can stop, but I never really do.

The one nice thing about stopping at 20% instead of 50 or 60 is that it isn’t that hard to get back into the swing of things when you finally pick it up again. There’s only so much you have to read to get going, and there’s less to keep in your head that you have to remind yourself about.

That being said, I really want to try to write a book in a year that I can be happy with. So chapters may be late, but they’ll get done.

Chapter 9 should release tomorrow or Friday and hopefully it’ll really be two weeks till we see Chapter 10.

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The Writer’s Survival Kit

Not everything fits into your duffel or laptop bag, but the items listed below should be able to get you out or through most writing scrapes.

1) Your idea notebook with 2 pens – Mine’s a thick, small lined notepad I picked up from Half Price Books. Carry this with you to jot down any plot idea or scene snippet immediately. Two pens are for if the first one fails.

2) Laptop, tablet or other small computer that can go almost anywhere – For me the netbook is the obvious choice, though my next one might be a Surface. Small in size and light weight is best for carrying to more places, though notepads work just as well if you’re not a tech person. Since publishing will eventually involve typing I start there.

3) An electronic copy of most of what you’ve ever written – Leave out anything particularly painful. Having this material around proves that if you’ve done it before you can do it again, and can also show you the ways in which you’ve improved, or are committing the same mistakes.

4) The current book(s) you are reading – Whether it’s related to your subject matter or not, seeing another writer’s words can inspire, and get you out of your head.

5) 20 hours of music, with an hour or so set as a playlist – I select about 20 hours of albums and random tracks for any new project and listen to that music over and over. It helps me to focus on the work, while drowning out other things. It can be a mood setter, and a way of controlling even the most chaotic of environments.

6) Small headphones that block out most but not all sound.

7) Coffee you can brew yourself and diet caffeinated soda – Caffeine is the creative person’s drug, and for me coffee and soda are the best delivery systems, often both at the same time. Red bull and energy drinks on the other hand get me jittery and out of focus. There’s a pace to caffeine use that is most optimal. Find yours.

8) Beer, whiskey or tea to cool down – A fierce writing session can be exhausting. Relax with your favorite beverage or small snack to reward your work and empty your head.

9) A small pillow for hard coffee shop chairs.

10) A bag with extra room for books you might buy afterward.

11) A writing prompt book – I like The 3AM Epiphany but there are countless others.

12) Writing busywork – Things like Writer’s Markets, cover designs, anything to get writing work that needs to be done out of the way, if the creative part of you is not working at the moment.

13) A pet – Works better than the beer for relaxing.

14) A measurable goal for the evening – Something manageable but substantive. Metric for this is, does it feel like you got something done?

15) A WiFi/3G OFF button.

16) Something that makes you feel like a writer – A favorite jacket, a good pen, a fancy notebook, something you buy for yourself that epitomizes your image of what a writer is. Try not to buy a beret 😉

What else would you put in the kit?


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