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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

World Enough, and Time

Sherman, set the Way-Back machine to, oh, a long time ago...

When full-blown short stories started popping into my head, back in my misspent youth, I started reading about writing.  I snagged a couple of years’ subscription to Writer’s Digest, read a few books, and I ended up in sheer terror at the thought of Writer’s Block.

What do you do when the ideas quit coming?  What happens when you put your fingers on the keyboard and they take root, right there on the home row, and that movie screen in your head where the action all takes place is just this big screen of...blank...?

It didn’t happen often.  I didn’t have much of a life at the time, you see.  When I wasn’t at work, or playing Dungeons and Dragons, I was probably sitting at my computer anyway.  And my job wasn’t all that active, so I could sneak my trusty old Apple IIC in to work with me.  I was a military mainframe computer operator...which we defined as “when the computer is working, we aren’t.”  Especially on the night shift.

I came up with my own solution for writer’s block, before I ever even had to deal with it.  I decided that when I hit the dreaded block on one story, I could change tracks, dive into another one, and add more to that one while waiting for the first one to clear.

It’s pretty obvious where this ends up, right...?

Yes, in my “in progress” folders, I have at least a dozen novels, sixteen poems, and two or three scores of short stories, all waiting for their own time when I can get back to them and finish them.  Some of them have languished on their shelves for so long that I have no freaking idea what the point of the story was going to be when I started them.  They range from three or four scribbled-out sentences describing a critical scene to half-complete NANO novels in the 17k to 40k word range.

And through it all...I don’t know that I’ve dealt with any serious attacks of the dreaded writer’s block.  My limits on writing have all been general limits on my time--either imposed by someone else, or imposed by me.  I fixed the first with a divorce.  The second?  Well...let’s just say I’m working on it.  As much as I enjoy writing, and want to get stuff written and out the door to be published, sometimes other stuff takes priority.

And when you’ve got six kids, there’s always something that takes priority.  Just last weekend I blew off writing for an entire day to allow the kids to apply zombie make-up to everyone in the family--even though mom and the two youngest didn’t come along to the Lincoln Zombie Walk with me.  After all, even in this weird family, there is an age limit on surrounding a kid with blood-spattered brain-eating undead corpses.  Even the fake kind.  Fake zombie, that is, not fake kid.

I believe in priorities.  I have quit jobs because they interfere with real life.  And while I wish I had eighteen hours a day to write, and I sometimes regret writing time lost to work, I do not regret writing time lost to family time and functions--like the two hour drive to the Kool Aid Museum a few weeks ago.

The only thing I’ve found that works is to try and squeeze the writing time in around the edges, and work on whichever story happens to be pounding loudest on the inside of my forehead.  This of course means a very meager supply of completed stories, but every word counts, right?

And that’s one reason I keep coming back to the Friday Challenge.  Whatever the latest challenge is, it’s on a deadline.  I can’t just stash it in with the rest of the “in progress” library, I have to focus on it, and focus on it now.  There’s no time for writer’s block, and no luxury of allowing it to stew in my backbrain for weeks or months before I’m forced to finish the dang thing.

How about the rest of you?  How do you fend off writer’s block?  What are you up against that keeps you from writing?  What are your tricks of the trade?

Allan Davis is a writer and photographer hiding from the approaching zombie horde in the jungles of southeastern Nebraska.  And while other FCers might be waiting for their flying cars, Allan is hoping for time dilation technology that could add an extra twelve or thirteen hours to the standard day.
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