about those days when we fight with our words

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We try, don’t we, to make the words in our stories and novels flow smoothly like a languid river on a summer day. That seldom happens naturally; that smooth flow is often created with a lot of fits and starts before we get the words right.

There are days, though, when we fight with our words. On those days, smoothly flowing prose seems impossible.

If we don't relax, we'll never get the words right.

If we don’t relax, we’ll never get the words right.

That often happens when we go into a scene not fully decided what it’s supposed to accomplish. Or, if we do know, then something else is out of sync: the character’s motivations and beliefs, our background research about subject matter outside our comfort zones, or that we’re trying to cram far too many things into a scene–which, in reality–would play out as a very casual moment.

What do you do when this happens to you?

I glanced at my last post here which was about moonshine, and thought maybe a few swallows of white lightning would smooth out the words. As tempting as that may be, it seldom works.

Fighting with the words usually doesn’t work either because the longer it goes on, the worse the scene looks. Pretty soon, it’s real easy to think that one ought to just quit the writing business and do something more honorable like teaching or working on the railroad or beekeeping.

One way or the other, one needs to take a break from the words whether it’s for an hour or a day and think about something else. This is why so many of us surf the Internet: we’re doing something else so we can avoid looking at that messy paragraph where we’re temporary bogged down.

If I stay away from the manuscript for a while with things seriously divert my attention, I’ll sooner or later start hearing the words of that troublesome scene flowing like a river again. Then I go back to it and start typing, wondering why the solution wasn’t obvious from the beginning.

Knowing when to step away is, I think, an important part of the writing process. Since none of us quite know how the creative process works, it’s easy for a fight with words to turn into serious doubts about our abilities as writers: How can such a simple scene become impossible to write? Why don’t we know what the characters need to say and do here? Where’s that smooth-flowing river of words?

I’m guessing most writers know what I’m talking about. We might follow different prescriptions for curing the problem? Maybe you go to a movie, read a magazine, work in the yard, stop at a bar where your friends hang out, anything to take your mind off the words that aren’t coming out right.

If you have a sure-fire cure, tell us about it in the comments. Your secret won’t make you rich, but you’ll feel better about yourself for sharing it.

–Malcolm

selfeselect

Librarians: My novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat” has been selected by Library Journal for its national Self-e Selection listing.  If your library is not already part of the program, click here for more information.

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4 responses

  1. So true.
    Time outs are really important in writing.
    I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t post any thing on my blog or call any other type of writing done unless I wait a day or two and re-read and edit it.

    I do this for even the small number of things that I didn’t struggle with.

  2. Yes, time outs definitely help when the stream just doesn’t want to be pushed! I’ll often head out for a walk … with notebook, because inevitably, things start flowing. Sometimes it takes a day or so and that’s okay too. I know it’s there. 🙂