When the Writing Just Stops

It’s so weird how this happens. I’m beavering away, have lots of ideas, am all eager to work and then… something shifts. The momentum completely stops. And I find myself drifting about feeling like I have never written anything and will never write again.

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This morning I was up early, tossing and turning because I had inadvertently forgotten my phone at the climbing gym last night (Panic! Disaster! Missing limb!). I waited until a reasonable hour and then headed into town (brrr… it was -28C out there!). The climbing gym was still closed, but the very helpful (and sympathetic to my twitchy, desperate state) woman at the main desk at the rec centre took pity on me and let me in and – yes, there it was!

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I embraced the phone and retreated to a table in the still-closed coffee shop to reactivate it  (I had been able to lock it and add an ‘I am lost’ message remotely through iCloud) and then pulled out my laptop. I figured that if I was out and about I might as well sit for a bit and work until the library opened so I could pick up a book that had come in for me.

There followed a great spurt of solid work on a screenplay I’m busy with. I was feeling pretty good at this point. Then I went to the library, grabbed the book, and headed home.

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…and then a very entertaining squirrel sent my day sideways…

And then the wheels fell off! I checked email. I stroked my phone. I answered a couple of texts. Checked Facebook. Had a look at Instagram. Read a few blog posts. Watched a YouTube video about a squirrel trying to break into a bird feeder. I browsed through the library book (which is, ironically, about getting one’s social media footprint under control), and then decided I needed a nap before I could get back to work.

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Yes, I napped (and no, not just for ten minutes). I woke up all groggy and had vague thoughts about about yoga. About my physio exercises for my elbow and shoulder. About writing. And did none of those things.

I drifted around the condo, trying to find a good place to work. The couch was too soft. The dining room table too hard. My regular work space with a decent office chair too boring. I installed the new operating system on my Mac and made some space on the hard drive. That took ages and, conveniently tied up my computer. Work? Impossible.

We were out of bread, so I needed to bake.

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Not that the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house is a bad thing…

And that’s it!! Not much to show for the day!! The evening, which might have been a reasonable emergency back-up plan is shot because we have a Christmas party/bowling extravaganza to attend… So, yes, even bowling is taking priority over getting anything else done today.

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In other ironies, one of the projects I have on my to-do list for today is to work on another module for the Beating Writer’s Block course I’m developing for the online writing school! Maybe I should go back to the units I’ve already finished and do the exercises again myself!

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Or, maybe I should just accept that some days, a couple of pages on the screenplay is all that’s going to happen. And, maybe the fact I was done before the time of day when I’m usually finishing my breakfast cup of tea and arriving in front of the laptop is actually a cause for celebration. Maybe this was actually an incredibly productive day and what I should have spent the rest of my time doing was reading or going for a walk or calling friends or doing a yoga class or anything at all other than trying to work. Ok, maybe not the walk (you did notice the temperature, right?)

Whatever this day might have, could have, should have been, it’s pretty much over now. The good news is that bowling should be both fun and potentially inspiring (just think, what would The Big Lebowski be without bowling? And, yes, as it turns out, there is some bowling in my screenplay so maybe this evening will, in fact be all about research and not a write-off at all!!)

The Dude: Walter, ya know, it’s Smokey, so his toe slipped over the line a little, big deal. It’s just a game, man. —The Big Lebowski

**Most of the photos today came from unsplash.com – that’s how unmotivated I was. Couldn’t even get myself inspired enough to take a photo of my own fresh bread!

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Fewer Words, Longer Process

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                                                        Photo by Kaiyu Wang

Waaaaay back in 2014, my then agent (P) posted a link to an interesting NPR story about a woman bricklayer on Facebook. I can’t remember exactly what P said, but I think she mused that the article might provide inspiration for a story of some sort. I was intrigued and began to investigate bricklaying. At first I had no idea how to approach the subject – but as I was doing a bit of research, I was reminded just how beautiful brickwork could be. That’s when I thought a book about a bricklayer, a woman, might make for a visually interesting picture book. Except, of course, one generally wants a child protagonist in a picture book.

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                                                                  Photo by Tim Gouw

Right about the time I was doing my research into bricks and mortar, I was also listening to the radio and some coverage about Little League Baseball. One of the top pitchers at the time was a girl and members of the sports media were discussing whether or not the major leagues would ever see a female pitcher. I got to thinking that maybe my child protagonist might be a little girl and her mother a bricklayer.

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                                                       Photo by Kai Oberhauser

I have never forgotten a conversation I once had with an editor and the suggestion that a whole story could be written using only verbs in single word sentences. No adjectives. No adverbs. No helpful little words like ‘the’ or ‘and.’ And, all active verbs. So, a story might be told like this:

Skip. Trip. Crash. Bleed. Weep. Hug. Smile.

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                             Photo by Jordan Whitt

Both bricklaying and baseball have their own, unique vocabularies, so I decided to try writing an absolute minimalist text that told the story of this mother and daughter as they each worked towards achieving a significant goal – the daughter pitching in a championship game and the mother seeing a big construction project through to the end. The plan was for the two stories to run along one beside the other. I sent a draft to P not long after she posted that link on Facebook and she quite liked the general idea, but sent the manuscript back for a bit of tweaking. I mused. I tweaked. I sent it back. And so it went, back and forth – first between me and P., then between me and Amy (you’ve read about Agent Amy before). Each round of edits changed the shape a little bit – a more cohesive story developed, but I was determined not to use any more words than necessary and so kept to the uncluttered (concentrated) language of the first draft.

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                                                                                                                               Photo by Davide Cantelli

When Amy felt we were ready, she sent it off to New York and Holiday House acquired the manuscript. PRETTY EXCITING!

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Having a manuscript picked up by Holiday House is a pretty big deal! I am THRILLED to be working with them!

BUT, I wasn’t done yet. The editor there asked for some changes including adding more conflict and challenge to each of the character’s stories and I reworked the manuscript a couple more times. Then, as happens in publishing, the editor moved on and the manuscript landed on a new editor’s desk at Holiday House. This editor had a slightly different (and very smart, as it turns out) vision for the arc of the story. Instead of having the two stories develop over a long time span, she suggested I try condensing the timeline to a single day. She also wanted more striking parallels between the mother and daughter as they made their respective ways through the day.

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                                                                                                                                    Photo by Jon Eckert

So, I reworked it all again a couple of times and – voila! A WAY BETTER story emerged at the end of all of that! Which, of course, is only really step one in the whole birthing-of-a-picture-book process. Now comes the tricky challenge of finding an artist who can bring the visual side to life. I am SO glad I don’t have to do any of that. Thankfully, the publisher, designer, artist and editor will do the heavy lifting as the book moves forward from here. I cannot wait to see the next stages as they unfold.

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                                                                                                                           Photo by Robyn Budlender

Of course, it’s quite possible that this next phase will take just as long or longer than the development of the text, but for anyone out there who thinks that just because there aren’t a lot of words in a picture book that writing one is a snap, think again! In the time it has taken me to get this far with that book, I have written half a dozen other, much longer books. Though I love the picture book format as a unique art form (and really, the very best picture books are exquisite works of art), I tell you, I think twice about embarking down the long and winding road of writing one!

 

**All images used in today’s post are from the do-what-you-want-with-them photo site, Unsplash.com