One sentence at a time

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Shaking off the shackles of writer’s block (as any writer knows) is not easy, but I’ve learned that anything worth doing is rarely as easy as it seems when you start out. Occasionally, just starting out is the difficult part.

I decided to use the strategy my own coach, Scott Lewis, taught me when I first complained to him that I wanted to write–knew I could write–if only I knew how to get myself to do it. He asked me to commit to two minutes of writing a day and report back to him the following week.

Two minutes of writing a day? “Are you kidding?” I thought. “Anyone can do that!” I took the challenge. The first night I stared at the computer blankly. What to write? Being one of those people who takes her commitments very seriously, I looked around my room and decided whatever my eye landed on at the moment would be good enough to morph into the opening, and probably closing, sentence. (After all, two minutes isn’t much time to write more than a couple of sentences.) From the second night, I was writing for 10 minutes, and after that, I was pounding the keyboard in oblivion for two hours, not two minutes, a night.

I wrote my way out of my block the last couple of days by just sitting down and writing the next sentence, and then another. I figured if I didn’t like the direction it went, I’d be revising it sooner or later anyway.

It worked. That and a little help from some tunes of my favorite divas of ’80s dance music–Tina Turner and The Pointer Sisters. Why not? I left my plucky boomer protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, in a quandry about pole dancing in public. All she really needed was some inspiration!

Yes, I can do this!

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I am writing Chapter 8 of my 30-day novel and wondering why I haven’t written a word of dialogue yet. Being an essayist and poet, I don’t have much occasion to write dialogue, so I consult one of several books with which I’ve surrounded myself in the past couple of weeks to “teach” me how to write a novel. Remember, I’ve never attempted to write a novel before. I’ve read plenty of them in the past 50 years, particularly in the genre I’m trying to write, but I’ve never thought I could pull off the feat of writing one myself.

So now I’m drowning in self-doubts. Maybe I can’t (I know, I HATE that word, but it keeps creeping up on me) write dialogue. I need immediate remedial dialogue-writing help. I don’t have any novels I’m currently reading and I’m in temporary quarters so my library of favorites is on the other side of the country. I don’t have TIME to read anything right now, anyway. What to do?

There is only one thing to do. Just write it. And so, finally reaching a point in the narrative where I feel comfortable putting two characters in a place where they might actually speak to one another, I am forcing myself to write dialogue…by the seat of my pants.

And guess what? I CAN DO THIS THING! I can write dialogue, and it’s not pointless. It moves the scene and gives additional dimension to the characters and showcases their emotional state and their relationship…and…and…

I’m exhausted. I’m flying. I’m sailing down the hill on a sled or a two-wheeler for the first time. I’m walking on two feet instead of crawling on hands and knees. I’m doing it instinctively.

Surprise! I guess I’ve been able to do it all along. All I had to do was start.