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Sticky patches

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This week has been tough. Not so much because of all the distractions going on in my day-to-day life (I’m having my kitchen replaced so, at the moment, I have no downstairs plumbing and there are boxes and bits of kitchen unit everywhere) but because work on Age of Oppression has become hard going.

Any writer will recognise the symptoms. Every time I start to write, my inner-voice kicks in: “This isn’t working. This isn’t right. Oh, no – what are you going to do now? Is this going to be another Balance of Betrayal.” (For those that don’t remember, Balance of Betrayal became so bogged down it took me years to finish). In fact, the inner voice becomes so intense that it gets in the way of figuring out what is going wrong with the writing. The most disturbing messages it gives me are, “I hate this. I’m a rubbish writer. I may as well give up.” That is never a good thing to be telling yourself when you know that writing is your life’s purpose.

So why is Age of Oppression suddenly giving me a hard time? When I write, I have specific plot points I am aiming for (right now I’m heading towards a big bust-up between my two main characters) and then I move from plot-point to plot-point with the linking narrative. It is one of those linking sections that isn’t working. Somehow, the narrative has got away from me and I’m not sure of its direction. There needs to be a gradual build up of events and tension and, in doing that, some of my characters have ‘escaped’ and are doing things I hadn’t anticipated. Characters do that sometimes – odd as it might sound to a non-writer, they do take on a life of their own and can go off on adventures you didn’t plan for.

So that’s my challenge. I don’t really know what these people are up to and I don’t really know where they are heading from a plot perspective. As someone who likes certainty and to have things mapped out neatly (in all aspects of my life) it is tricky to have my characters wandering off at tangents and leaving me unsure what I’m going to do with them. That’s why my inner-voice is giving me such a hard time and getting in my way all the time.

I’m not giving up though. I’m not the same writer I was when I got stuck on Balance of Betrayal, and I now know more about what it takes to get through these ‘sticky patches’ in my writing. I know that there are two key actions I need to take to resolve this.

The first is to keep reminding myself that this is just the first draft. Maybe this isn’t great writing; maybe it is leading down a blind alley; maybe it will slow the story and lead to a frustrated reader. Then again, maybe it will take me somewhere glorious. So, I will press ahead, keep pushing through and come out the other side. Eventually I will get to the next plot-point I’m aiming for and then writing will become a joy again. So persistence is what will deal with the plot going astray.

The second action is to address the inner-voice. I’m part of a coaching programme called Mi365 which has changed the way I view myself and how I tackle challenges like this. So, when I’m inclined to procrastinate because I don’t want to hear that inner-voice telling me I’m not a good writer, there is a technique I’ve been taught. Very simply, I just get started and I have a five-minute take-off. In other words, I only set myself a goal of writing for five minutes. That’s all. No more than that. As long as I do those few minutes, that’s enough. Now, of course, once I’ve got started, it always turns into far more than five minutes because I get into a flow. But, what this means is that, if I hit the stoppers again, I can simply stop and put my work aside without a feeling that I’m giving up – because I’ve done the five minutes, I set out to do, and usually more besides. As for the specific problem I’ve hit today? Well, I can now think about it and resolve in my head so that the next time I sit down for a five minute session, I’ll have a better idea what to do with it.

So I’m working my way through it. Bit by bit I’m crossing the swamp and getting closer to firm ground again. Any day now…

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