I can’t make up my mind

writersblockI don’t remember if I mentioned this to you before but I have finally finished writing Children of Chaos — book two of what I have taken to pretentiously calling the Chaos and Order Trilogy — and have embarked on the last book, called The Chosen One.

And it suddenly occurred to me that if my prayers are answered (well, not really because this isn’t the sort of thing I pray about) I’ll be back in school in about eight months. I know from experience that when I’m in school, I write at about the rate of one sentence each calendar quarter, so now I’m under a certain amount of self-imposed pressure to get as much of it done as I can before I move.

… because there just isn’t enough stress in my life.

Fortunately, at this (very early) stage of the game, I am not battling with a severe case of writer’s block or anything like that. Sometimes, I get a little stuck for a little while but that usually gets resolved as soon as I am able to make a decision.

I don’t know how many of you writers can relate to this but most of the time that I’m dealing with so-called “writer’s block,” that’s not what it is at all. I get stuck if I’m trying to decide whose point of view to tell this part of the story from, or whether to work this certain little element that will be important later into this scene or wait to introduce it at another time, or whether to bring in a previously used minor character to deliver that piece of information or create a new, equally minor character. Sometimes, I have to stop writing so that I can decide what a certain conversation sounds like inside my head.

So, for me, it’s not about not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s more about deciding how the next thing is going to happen.

That happens to me when I’m not writing fiction, too. When I used to write my newsletter, I’d take hours sitting around with my notes and my quotes and my references and all the facts at my fingertips, making up my mind how I wanted to tell this particularly story and what my point is.

This might not seem as important as deciding what happens next but I would argue that it matters at least as much and, in non-fiction writing, it matters much more.

In any kind of writing, you have to assume that someday somebody is going to read your magnificent opus. (Yes, you really do have to assume that or why bother writing it?) You need to always keep in mind what it is that you are trying to tell them at any given point in your story, because if you don’t decide what you are trying to tell them, then you’ll end up telling them nothing. And if they don’t know what you’re trying to say, eventually, they won’t know why they’re reading it. At that point, they’ll probably stop.

At least, I would.

I stopped writing in Children of Chaos for years due to indecisiveness. I reached a point in my story where I needed to make up my mind how a certain thing was going to happen. I knew that I wanted it to be something of a big deal, I wanted to write a set piece. Only I couldn’t make up my mind what spectacular thing should be triggered by this big deal of an event, should it be strange lights or dark portends or physical symptoms on the part of my hero? Then, when I decided that my hero would be standing outside the main action of this scene, so that this huge thing was going to happen but it would exclude him, I had to decide how he would know about it.

And in the end, I figured out that my indecisiveness — which is not usual behavior for me, by the way — stemmed from overthinking and complicating things that were not complicated. I stopped mucking around in my head and just wrote the scene, kind of let it happen, and was perfectly happy with it even though there were no heavenly choirs or erupting volcanoes.

How about you? Do you ever suffer from genuine, I-don’t-know-what’s-going-to-happen-next writer’s block? Or do you find that you only need to make a decision most of the times you get stuck with your writing? When you’re having trouble making those decisions, what do you do? Any advice for the rest of us on coming unstuck in our stories?

By the way, the chapter-by-chapter postings of Children of Chaos have made it as far as Chapter 14 and we’re close to the end with only a couple of chapters left. Not sure when I’m going to start posting The Chosen One but I’ll be sure to let you know.

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6 thoughts on “I can’t make up my mind

  1. I actually get stuck in both ways. Sometimes, I’m wondering how to do the thing, or who should be the one to tell that part of the story, or whatever. I know you watched me do that constantly when I was writing Something New. I’m sure I’m going to be doing it a lot with Within an Endless Night, too.

    Other times, I get to Point F and I need to arrived at Point G (which often happens to be at least a few weeks later in the story) and I have to decide what I’m going to have happen in between those scenes, because sometimes you just *shouldn’t* skip six months ahead. Those are my “what now?” moments.

    I don’t really have a method for dealing with “writer’s block.” I do what I do anyway – I open the document and I keep it open all day. Or at least until I decide that I’m definitely not writing that day. I’m not good at “just writing.” If I haven’t committed to what I’m going to do, I can’t seem to just start and go with it.

    I don’t like having to delete entire scenes or go back and edit things, largely because I post my chapters pretty close to while I’m writing them. And if I go back and edit something in chapter 3 after I’ve already posted up to chapter 6, there’s gonna be a problem. So my solution is to just not write until I know what I’m gonna write. Not very efficient, but whatever. Hiatuses exist for a reason, hahaha.

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    • Ah but you see, I would argue that your “what next?” moments are still about making decisions.

      Can you just skip six months? No? Then, where do you want to pick up the story? Three months? Six weeks? Day after tomorrow? And what relatively minor stuff is happening in this filler and what’s the point of writing it? Are you going to use this filler for some character development? Or maybe you can use it to illustrate the growing bond/relationship between these two characters? Maybe you can use this filler section just to sort of show the reader what these characters have been doing for the six months between the last important thing that happened and the next important thing that is going to happen?

      Once you have made whatever decisions you need to make, you can usually start writing … well, decisions plus your first line. Groping for that first line to get you started is where I have seen your real “writer’s block” hit — and it’s a very different animal from “I don’t feel like writing today.”

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  2. See, it’s been so long since I did any fiction writing I’m having problems even coming up with story concepts and plotlines these days. Now I can imagine in detail like one or two scenes at some point along the plot, and they’re great scenes, but I have nothing around it or no real idea of the point in the story it’s at and whatnot :’D

    My writer’s block is more like “Where the hell do I even start?” And this is the outline we’re talking about here haha. At least I’m still blog-writing….

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    • But if you’re having trouble coming up with something to write about, then maybe writing fiction is not what you need to be doing right now. First and foremost, we write because we have something to say — whether that’s a story to tell or a blog post to write (which is another way of saying “a story to tell”). Don’t feel pressured to write fiction that just isn’t there for you just because everybody around you is writing fiction, too. That’s more pressure than should be involved in amateur writing. This is supposed to be fun.

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      • I guess… but even if I turn away from fiction writing, I fell like I don’t really have much to tell people =/ I guess what’s frustrating me is that I really WANT to write! But I don’t know what.

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