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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Writer's Block vs Writer's Flood

As I watch the stream in my front yard spilling over, I think of one of the biggest challenges I faced when I started writing. This problem plagued me for years. Writer's Flood. I had so many ideas and flashes that it was difficult to stay on target. Characters ran away with tangents. Tangents turned into spillways. Plot holes deepened. My stories remained on the surface because I was so frantic treading water. We are talking waste water and I was up to my neck in it. I just had too many ideas and too many things distracted me.

I'd get into that creative whirlpool and while working on one story I'd wake up only to find a new story on my pillow. I hemorrhaged story. If you asked me "What is this story about?" I'd choke on all the ideas buzzing in my brain.

Learning to keep task on track has been a decade of struggle, but now I can do it. Picture my process as a stove top. On that stove top I have two burners in the front with two big soup pots bubbling away. Those are the two I'm allowed to work on. The next row back has three burners. These pots have lids on them. I'm allowed to take the lid off, throw in some spice, but that's it, then the lid goes shut and I have to finish one of the two up front. There's a third row back with four burners. I can only whisk off the lid, put in a little salt, and that lid gets slammed shut.

I told my agent (who sadly passed away) about this and she laughed and told me not to tell anyone about this. "Why?" I asked. "Because not too many people will understand this. You're high creative." I assured her I didn't smoke any of THAT and again she laughed. She repeated her caution and told me to be patient, that she was certain I'd get the tiger by the tail.

Getting my MFA has helped because it helped me deepen my ability to focus on character. Something else that helps even now is to find a favorite book and type into my computer the opening chapter. It's almost like doing warm-up exercises. It slows my popcorn brain and channels some of that excitement.

Someday perhaps I'll write about writer's block. Maybe.
But trust me, writer's flood can be just as much of a disaster. This morning when I woke up there was a girl sitting there and she told me her name was Harley Ryder. She lives in a trailer court. Her parents love motorcycles and she loves books. She's searched the trailer looking for adoption papers but hasn't found them. Yet.
She's on the fifth row back in a small stainless steel pot. The lid is on tight.

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