Putting those first words on a blank page is never easy, no matter how long you’ve been writing.
Despite my 30-odd years of writing experience, I still find myself slipping into the old habit of avoiding writing because I don’t know what I’m going to write. Okay, I resist even when I do know what I want to write. The difficulty of getting past that initial barrier can sometimes have me procrastinating for days.
I’ve read Steven Pressfield on Resistance and I’ve read Rachel Aaron on writing more and writing faster, and most lately I’ve read James Scott Bell on writing a novel from the middle. Of all the studies and theories I read on the process of fiction writing, these three have resonated with me more than others just lately.
My current preferred method of attacking the blank page is with a version of morning pages, a concept I first came across in the book The Artist’s Way. My version is more a deliberate muse tickle than an undirected spilling of ideas onto the page. I don’t have a fixed direction, although I am writing with a purpose.
I start with an image from a scene, even a scene that so far has no place in the story, or a character situation, or a setting. The words that come are most definitely ‘muse words’, and these words are often amongst the most precious I ever write. They’re usually not words that find their way into final drafts (or even first drafts) but they solve plot problems magically, timely and very often perfectly, in ways I’d never otherwise imagine.
I’m deep into my novel WIP, a fantasy that pits three opposing but linked factions against each other. A few of the threads in the story have stayed stubbornly out of reach, smirking in the shadows and dancing around the edges of my imagination. This week, I’ve returning to writing my muse-tickling pages to try and herd my imaginative cats, and I’m amazed at the revelations.
Yesterday, for instance, I discovered a major plot turning point that the story needed but that I hadn’t been able to find. And this morning I realised the reason why I needed to keep a concept that, until now, I thought created more problems than it solved. Because my plot hinged on this problematic concept, the possibility of a massive rewrite dismayed me. I didn’t want to lose the plot events, but I needed to find a way to turn my concept from problem into solution. This morning my muse revealed the big ‘why’, and far from being problematic, the idea now makes perfect sense and gives the plot added scope.
Muses are tricksy things. They’re full of good ideas but they don’t like revealing everything they know all at once. Giving them a tickle now and then seems to put them in a good mood, persuading them to drop a few more hints.
Image credit: Victor Habbick on freedigitalphotos.net