Kicking the can down the road

There is no better feeling than when the writing is flowing.  You are connected with the very essence of creativity. It flies out of you, faster than your fingers can keep up as you reach your limit of words-per-minute on your keyboard or notepad.

As a Christian author, you feel God is moving through you.  Your calling is not just obvious, it’s tangible.  You can feel it.

Then there are days where it isn’t flowing.  For me, that was yesterday.

It was just hard; paragraphs had a difficult birth and the words just didn’t seem to get along. My cursor flew forward and then slowly backtracked. My mind couldn’t get out of first gear and sometimes slipped back into neutral, and no amount of brow furrowing, under-the-breath prayers or glances at my CS Lewis quote on the wall worked.

You may have been there too.

I tried a number of things; getting up and walking away, gardening, reading inspirational blog posts, all the time fighting the urge to leave it all a huff questioning my ability to put two words together.

None of it worked. It. Just. Wasn’t. Coming.

Then I did something that I always do when it’s a struggle. I kick the can down the road.

I’ve actually developed a list of things to do when the writing isn’t flowing.  It still helps me with the story, pushes things along and doesn’t so much help unblock the creative pipes but does leave me feeling like something has been achieved.  I’m posting it here in case it helps you.

  • Improve one exchange in your dialogue. As hard as it is to develop great dialogue over a whole scene or chapter, you can set yourself a challenge to spend ten/fifteen/however-many minutes to rethink an exchange between two characters.  Look at how they reacted, how they jumped into the exchange in the first place or how they ended the conversation. I’ve found that even doing that one thing can improve that page immeasurably.
  • Tease another sense in one key scene.  I did this yesterday.  I looked at a scene in a megachurch pastor’s office and realised it was very visual.  That’s fine – I’m showing, not telling.  But after a while I realised (once I’d put myself in that scene) that there would be the waft of coffee beans from his coffee machine in the corner.
  • Follow a story arc.  I’ve done this before and this one really does free up your creativity.  I’ve storyboarded my novel so I can see how characters are coming in and out and so I can track their reactions to chapters in which they didn’t participate but would be impacted.  If you do structure your story this way (I’m a plotter for the big picture stuff), then it can help to step away from the words and have a look at how the story weaves in, out and around your characters.  Are there tangents which could push your story along?  Are there steps between A and D in which your character would benefit from a side jaunt into Steps C or C?
  • Go on a “said” hunt.  Have a look at a page or two (or a whole chapter) and rethink how your characters say things. By that, I mean their posture, their facial expression and the way they deliver their dialogue.  I don’t necessarily mean replace every “said” with “explained”, “replied” or “fumed”.  It could be removing “said” altogether and replacing that with “he folded his arms in defiance”.  You are fleshing out your character’s depth and painting with a wider palette.

What I do with this list is move the story along a bit more.  It’s kicking the can a bit further down the road and keeping the story moving.  For me, it helps to relieve the frustration of sitting with fingers poised over keys waiting for the inspiration to arrive. It means I’m doing something, but it’s still something that is productive.

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