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Posts tagged ‘War & Peace’

A chip off the old writer’s block

I never thought I’d write this but after more than 70 books, countless short stories, articles and film scripts, and as my friends are only too well aware, many terrible limericks, I’ve hit a patch where it’s an uphill job to put words together. I can blog (obviously), tweet, post to Facebook and write to order if needed, and the limericks keep coming (sorry!) But when it comes to writing new creative work I have to drag myself to the computer, and I delete words as quickly as I put them down.

Discussing this with a writer friend recently, she said my brain was taking long service leave. Is this the explanation? If so, it’s an extended vacation. In the last four years I’ve written four books, two of those anthologies where I was contributing editor. Now if the other two were War & Peace or even Twilight, I’d be more than happy. But they’re not. I’m glad I wrote my Superromance, With a Little Help, so I know I can still write romance, yet I feel no inclination to keep going.

This feels more like a time of cocooning, of waiting to see what writer I might turn into next. I’m not even sure if “writer’s block” is the right term. Writer’s pause? Writer’s drift? This last seems to fit, but drifting where? Toward what?

Last week I watched an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Starship Enterprise’s resident counsellor, Deanna Troi, lost the empathic ability that made her a success at her job. As a Betazoid she can sense the emotions of others. She advises the captain if she senses deception or evil intent from the different species they encounter. Losing her empathic sense was like a human losing their sight, hearing or perhaps a limb. She also felt adrift, angry at the loss, and had to find new ways to operate.

Without being overly dramatic, I feel a similar sense of loss. I’ve made stories since I was a child, been published in some form from the age of 14, and collectively written about four million words for publication. Finding myself sitting at the keyboard with no words there feels as if a key part of me has gone missing.

Deanna Troi’s empathic sense does come back, but not until she discovers new aspects of herself beyond those she’d come to rely on. I’m still waiting. Don’t get me wrong, stories aplenty still crowd my brain and I’ve written volumes of notes for characters and plots. So the words are there in the background, but not yet willing to let me shape them into something I can share.  Yet I know all the tips and tricks there are. I’ve written about them in The Art of Romance Writing and my other books on the craft, and taught them at workshops. I’m qualified as a counsellor, yet like Deanna Troi, the physician isn’t making much headway healing herself. All I can do is keep trying. When I figure out what this strange fallow time is all about, I’ll blog about it – then we’ll both know.

Have you experienced writer’s block? What was it about for you and what eventually broke the drought, if it did break? Your comments are very welcome below. As a writer, what do you do when the writing isn’t happening?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

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“You’re still not fired” – more ways to hook a writing contest judge

Last week Warwick Capper looked stunned to hear the words, “You’re fired” from Mark Bouris on Nine Network’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.  As much as his lack of fund-raising results in the car wash challenge, I think Warwick’s ego trip was a bigger flaw. Who wouldn’t be turned off by his conviction that he was such a big celebrity,  rules didn’t apply to him?

In writing contests and even in submissions to editors, there are always “Warwick Capper” type writers who think rules are for everybody else. I’ve now read nearly eighty entries in the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Still a long way to go before we have a short list but patterns are emerging. As few as one in ten entrants either knows or researched what a synopsis involves. My friend and fellow writer, Julie Cohen, says a synopsis should “show the editor/agent/scout/reader/marketing department that the story is structurally sound, that it has conflict and events and a suitable ending.” Does telling a contest judge that this is the greatest work since (fill in famous author) or is an allegory about (fill in the gap) meet any of these requirements? To avoid hearing “you’re fired” after this, the work needs to be extraordinary. Sadly, if the synopsis starts off so…I have to say it…arrogantly, the work all too often follows. Some entries rise above a poor synopsis. They just have a harder time doing it.

In Apprentice’s art challenge, the women’s team described their “hands” photo as “beautifully simple and all about connecting.” This also sums up the best writing. A clever idea that’s simply told and connects with readers is more likely to stay in the game than a showy piece full of big words, footnotes and obscure concepts.

I don’t mean you can’t tackle big issues. Would War and Peace be considered such an important work of literature if Tolstoy had taken a bird’s eye view of the French-Russian conflict instead of focusing on the lives of five aristocratic families? And entries in the WA Award do explore some important issues. But the most effective are shown through the characters’ eyes, rather than being told from the writer’s godlike viewpoint. Show, don’t tell, is a vital writing skill to master. As with Celebrity Apprentice, you need to paint word pictures that bring your story to life, letting readers feel as if they’re experiencing the events first-hand rather than being told about them by the author.

As I pointed out last time, we need to feel we “know” your characters before we’re involved in their dramas. On Apprentice we’re shown what really matters to the celebrities through the charities they’re working for.

Give us a sense of time and place before plunging into dramatic action.

Who's the boss? Mark Bouris, centre, with the celebs. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

It’s no coincidence that the boardroom set of Apprentice is a replica of “Mr. Bouris’s” actual boardroom, down to the Sydney Harbour views. Being in his familiar high-powered environment adds to Mark Bouris’s air of seriousness and authority. We know who’s boss even before he utters the fatal words.

Whether you’ve entered the WA Award or are submitting to an agent or publisher, you can dodge these words yourself by following some industry rules. As with the celebrities, luck plays a part, but a much smaller one than we often think.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

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