I have a dilemma. In between my new part-time job as a lawyer and raising three kids, I have been working on my third novel. I’ve been about 130 pages in for months now and stuck right there. The basic plot is sound. It’s driven by suspense and crime in a small suburb. And yet for weeks I have been staring at my white sheet of paper, drawing lines and boxes with names of characters and events, connecting them together, trying to figure out the next chapter. I am at a point where I need to decide where the book will end before I can write another page and there is the dilemma. I just don’t know.
This is new for me. I usually have an “aha!” moment after an hour or so of staring at my white sheet and then off I go, sketching out the chapters and then diving in to the writing of each one. There are always small changes along the way as characters take on more definition, but there is a force driving the writing.
Writers block is not a luxury I can afford. I’ve spoken to many writers who have other obligations like kids and second jobs and they all agree. When you have a few hours to write, they have to count. Something has to get on those pages, good or bad. Most of writing is in the revising. Bad chapters can be cut or reshaped. When you leave those hours to pick up the kids or make the beds or fold the laundry, there has to be movement. Ten more pages. More of the plot fleshed out. Something. Anything! Lately I have left those hours with zip. Zilch. Nothing. Ugh.
Being the practical person I am, I told myself to just keep plodding away. One more chapter, one more scene. No more time staring at white pages plotting. The plot would come. Some writers don’t know the end to their books until they are writing them. Plodding works for them. I have never been that kind of writer. Inspiration for me comes from the plot, from slowly moving toward the surprise, the revealing, and knowing that the words and pages I am writing will cause the reader to pick up the pace to get there – to get to that blissful moment when they might even say out loud “Oh my God!” Knowing that I am writing to get to that place is what brings the greatest satisfaction and ultimately what motivates me to sit down every chance I get and put the words down. I miss that.
So what to do in absence of inspiration? Plot or plod? I don’t have the answer yet. I have considered switching gears and writing the other book that is on my mind. I have considered writing another screenplay. I have a few of those in my head. And as I continue to live and experience and take in the richness of the humanity that is all around us all the time, I come up with new ideas. And yet it is so very hard to let go of the old.
My few hours are up. I have a soccer game to get to. Laundry to fold. Research to do on a new car (my minivan died – yes, the one I wrote my novels in). I have to plant the flowers in the window boxes and clean off the front porch. And I have three manuscripts to read and comment on for friends and colleagues. I am leaving these hours totally unsatisfied and perplexed.
And still I know I will find a way. It will hit me while I’m out running. Or driving the kids to school. Or maybe while I’m reading another book. It is one of those things that has to come in time, when it’s ready. This is not easily swallowed by someone who clings to the illusion of control!
So maybe it’s not plotting or plodding, but instead waiting, patiently, for the answer. The best writers I know always tell me to write the thing that can’t wait to be written. The plot or character that lives and breathes and grows. Luckily,the season for growing has finally arrived.