Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Auntie Deborah's Advice to a Young Writer Suffering From Writer's Block

As a young writer, you’re probably grappling with learning many different literary skills at once. One is how to write a story, any length story. Another is how to determine the best length for a story idea. When I started selling professionally, over 30 years ago, the conventional wisdom was to begin with short stories and master craft issues at what was presumed a more manageable length, then go on to novels. (And this is what I did.) Since then I’ve met (and become friends as well as colleagues with) writers whose natural story length is long. Novels. Trilogies. Series. After years of writing at a pro level, most of then can write short as well, but it would have been a bad choice to begin with. Most, however, are just the opposite.

So one possibility is that you’re attempting a novel before you have all the necessary literary tools. You may have a solid beginning idea but not the skill to develop it into enough substance to sustain 100K words, so you’re running out of steam, as it were. Perhaps you don’t know where the story is going and have written yourself into a dead alley, but don’t yet have the critical eye to see where you tied yourself into knots.

Another possibility, as I indicated above, is that a novel isn’t your natural story length. You may be trying to stretch a short story-sized idea over 500 pages. Or you may have insufficient twists and turns and whatever nifty stuff lights you up about writing so that all the fun has gone out of it.

Whatever you do, though, don’t give up. I can’t tell you how many of us who’ve gone on to successful careers writing novels have trunks of unfinished novels. If yours isn’t a source of joy, set it aside. Or steal the juicy bits and weave them together with new! improved! sparkly! bits. Try writing short or short-short. Try poetry. Write journal entries. Blog. Keep at it — and notice when you hit your stride. In other words, go where the fun is. The fun and the heartbreak and the adrenaline. That’s what will sustain you page after page, novel after novel, for an entire career.

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