I’m a part of a fun little group on Goodreads known as Bisky’s Twitterling’s Scribbles, which is a forum dedicated to anything to do with books, except promoting them. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not. The group itself is sociable and friendly and besides meeting a bunch of other authors, you get to meet some potential readers too (win-win!).
In a discussion on breaking through writer’s block, one of the suggestions was to switch to writing another book or story—step away from one character, plot, scene, storyline. I was surprised at the suggestion, because when I wrote Butterfly Season, I was totally immersed in the book. It helped that I was off from work for a month, I suppose, as I didn’t have distractions, projects or clients to worry about. I wrote it in a semi-haze of sleepless nights, giant mugs of tea and the curious interruptions of my husband and three cats.
Things are quite different with book two. Not only am I back at work full-time, I’m now also marketing Butterfly Season, so where I was once writing non-stop, now there are huge gaps of time in between my writing sessions. My notes are no longer in my computer but on scraps of paper and notebooks and scattered throughout the house, because I write them down wherever I am and whatever I am doing. In the middle of a particularly boring client meeting, I wrote down approximately 500 words of dialogue on the yellow pad I had in front of me. I now have to go back and request minutes of that meeting and hope the client chalks it up to ‘flaky artist’ syndrome and not unprofessionalism.
Even though I’ve cut back on the number of clients and projects I take on (and I’ve actually stopped scheduling meetings/deadlines for Monday, just so I can participate in Monday Blogs!), finding that long stretch of uninterrupted writing time is proving to be problematic, and I wonder how other writers do it.
This is a much harder way to write. The breaks in concentration mean that I take that much longer to get back into the flow every time I come back to the book and am inevitably stuck on how to move the story forward. I’m also disorganized enough not to be sure what I was thinking of when I scribble down my notes. It takes me a while to think back and remember where my head was when I wrote something down.
Witness my brilliance, therefore, when I took up the suggestion from Bisky’s forum and decided to start a second book. Yes, I can tell you’re rolling your eyes. And it’s justified, because I didn’t just start a second romance. I started an epic fantasy novel. I have about 18,000 words of the new fantasy book, along with scattered notes and sketches stuffed into a bunch of file folders. I have pictures in my mind that I had to write down and they started coming so fast and so vividly that I was typing away on my computer every free minute I got. At the same time, I had to keep a log of all the characters I had started creating (no, I did not create character sketches this time around). So next to me were several single line sheets in which I was writing down characters, their place in the story, and their personality traits. My desk was a wild jumble of papers and pads until my husband, who’s ridiculously organized, couldn’t take it any longer. He got me printed cards for character sketches, selections of binders to store them, colored stickies to organize the binders and a whiteboard to map out the storyline.
I’ve realized from this experience, however, that the worst thing I can do to break through writer’s block is to work on another project. I need to keep my books and ideas separate, or they begin to overlap (as, sadly, this one did). When I went back to my half-written second romance, characters from my fantasy novel kept creeping into the dialogue and the descriptions. I had to force my mind away from that book, and remember why I had started this one.
It’s also becoming clear to me that the joy of starting a book is a psychedelic trip into another world. It is beginning to consume me, to creep into my thoughts at inconvenient moments (like at a wedding I was attending, where I was stupid enough not to bring any paper with me). I have started staring at people rather inappropriately, and annoying my companions by stopping to talk to every Tahir, Danish and Humair on the street. The bigger downside to all of this is that I have less time to read!
I understand that my problem isn’t writer’s block. It’s that I should have been doing this all along, and I don’t know why I waited so long to start writing. Now if someone could just bequeath me a million dollars or so, I could be a full-time addict instead of a part-time one…
Natasha Ahmed is the author of ‘Butterfly Season‘, a romance novella about a Pakistani woman who dares to go against her culture and traditions. Butterfly Season is available on Amazon, Smashwords and on Indireads.