Choosing what to write

Landscape 2 by Emmi VisserLately I have been struggling with what to write. Eleven years ago I came up with a story for a novel and in the 10 years after that, I wrote it all down in Dutch. Then I realised I wasn’t happy with it. After I had determined that I was unhappy with the book I stopped to consider the project and decided that the story, the major plot, wasn’t half bad and I wanted to give it another go. So I stripped down the plot to its bare essentials, crafted new characters, a new structure and new voices and started again, in English. Taking Camp NaNo as an incentive, I wrote 20k words on ‘Six‘. And then I realised it was still bothering me. Still not right.

And that is very frustrating. It’s a kind of writer’s block, I suppose. Being me, I simply spent my time on other projects for the next month. Creating the first chapter of an educational method, starting a short story in Dutch, creating a couple of art works, writing for this blog, and then of course the 3 days working in a museum and the other 2 days working for my Etsy shop (now sadly closed). But the writing urge kept nagging me. Even if I have no time to write (as my still very short story proves), I want to have a plot ready for when I find the time again. I like having good ideas waiting for me. I have at least 4 ideas for art works and 2 for films, so where are my writing ideas?

After about a week of even more frustration, I found my way of getting out of writer’s block. First I tried making a list of all the things that were bothering me about Six. But that was too hard to determine. So then I made a list of things I liked about it. And another list with things I like about The Grand Asylum. And that suddenly gave me a whole new perspective. I found that there are several aspects to a story that need to be ‘right’ somehow:

  • The genre. Fantasy and sci-fi isn’t me. But a post-apocalyptic story is me, even if dystopias aren’t particularly popular with agents at the moment. Also, I really like magical realism.
  • Depth. I have a very strong urge to add some kind of depth to my stories. I don’t want to write a simple, one-dimensional story. I like layers. I like different worlds. I like magical realism even more.
  • The character(s). I had 3 main characters in Six. I found that I care nothing about 2 of them. The third, however, I have grown to love very much: Zoe.
  • The themes. Again, depth seems to be the key. My stories (and thus themes) are young adult, I can’t help it. I think that is because I am still a YA in my mind (I am 14 and 64 years old). But I don’t want to write chick lit YA (even though I read it). Romance is fine, but it needs to have some kind of depth.
  • Perspective & voice. They need to match and they need to ‘work’, whatever that means. 😉

So, that is a lot of factors that need to be right! Somehow I got them all right in The Grand Asylum, and without effort, too. I am not so lucky this time, and so I struggle and learn. 🙂 The most important thing I learnt from my list above is that I don’t want to abandon Zoe. She is so entirely different from myself, yet so intriguing. I want to know more about her and so I will now create a story especially for her. And that is my next challenge, which no doubt will bring a lot more frustration (and blog posts about that frustration) before I complete it!

So, have you ever had to deal with this kind of frustration or writer’s block? I’d love to hear your story!

7 responses to “Choosing what to write

  1. Sweetie, i think that you’re being way to hard on yourself. Why not just let it go a little, relax about it and don’t try to analize things so much. Your muse will come back to you, and you don’t have to do anything for that to happen. I think you’re way to strict with yourself. X Sz

  2. Some stories take time to steep and come to maturity.
    In my current work in progress, I hit on the main theme: Finding a home and family after losing everything. Once I had that, I had the depth to carry the story. While the novel itself has taken a different shape, the theme is a firm, underlying layer.
    I can’t imagine switching between languages, though. Does it change the characters and narrative much?

    • That is a good point, some stories simply need time to mature. Your current WIP sounds very interesting. I like the idea of taking a theme as the basis for a story and working from therre. I do feel that switching languages influences the characters and narrative. It’s hard to explain, very intuitive. A simple example would be that in English I can have a character say ‘I love you’ to a parents or friend or lover and it would be quite natural. In Dutch, saying the same thing (ik hou van jou) is much, much heavier and would only be said after considerable deliberation. So characters definitely talk (and think) differently in different languages, and that influences the story and characters as a whole.

      • The initial draft was concept based. As I mentioned, I needed the theme to dig into why the story mattered.
        Also, thanks for answering my question.

  3. Pingback: Doing research: volcanoes, landscapes and teenagers | The Grand Asylum·

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