Friday, June 16, 2017

Speed Bumps

A popular post from April 2008

by Annette Lyon

There are moments when a writer feels blocked. No words come. The story stalls. You're staring at a brick wall. Every writer needs their own bag of tricks for overcoming Writer's Block. (One of the best: a deadline.)

Another writerly "condition" is similar to Writer's Block, but it differs in a significant way. We'll call it Writer's Speed Bump.

Writer's Speed Bump slows you down. It can make the words harder to come, but you can still write. This can take place during drafting or during revisions.

The trick, however, is that unlike with Writer's Block, sometimes you really do need to pay attention to the speed bump and back off. In my experience, the "bump" is a moment where you could keep going, but something doesn't feel right. However, you don't know what's wrong or how to fix it.

Worse, if you keep plowing forward, you may just run the story off into a ditch that will require a backhoe to get you out of.

I've learned to trust the feeling that I've just hit a bump. Over the last several days as I worked on a rewrite of my latest novel, I hit many such moments. While I was tempted to drive right over them (I was on deadline, after all), I knew I'd better stop and take a break.

Walking away from the computer at those points was the best thing I could have done. I'd go do something else for a while and let my mind drift and wander to the story. I wouldn't sit down and concentrate on what the problem was. Sometimes I'd pick my husband's brain for ideas. Other times I'd let the issue percolate and simmer.

Stories are like shy animals; you try to grab them, and they'll elude you. You have to wait for them to come to you. Hold out your hand as an invitation, call to them sweetly, and don't make any sudden movements.

Without fail, each time I left the computer and thought a bit about the story while doing something else (nothing exciting--maybe emptying the dishwasher or sweeping the kitchen), I'd have an "aha" moment and know where to pick things up next time I sat down. I ended up taking the story in directions I hadn't anticipated--directions that never would have occurred to me if I hadn't paid attention to the "bump."

The resulting manuscript is a tighter, more focused story that works far better than the original version.

A caveat: Part of the writer brain is hesitant and fearful. Don't interpret the messages from that area as Speed Bumps, or you'll walk away from the keyboard with your fears wrapped around you like a parka, and when you return, you won't have anything new to add to the table.

But next time you're sitting at your computer and you feel that gentle nudge that . . . hmm, something's not quite clicking into place . . . listen. Walk away. Think about it. The answers will come.


Karen Hoover said...

Your timing was perfect with this, Annette. I hit a speed bump five days ago and have tried to force it with no success. It wasn't until last night I realized I'd introduced an idea way to early in the story and needed to go in a different direction. Now I know that a "speed bump" is a valid prompting and you've given a name to the vague unease I felt. Thank you!

Rachelle said...

I've hit a few speed bumps in my manuscript as well. Lucky for me, my darling children make sure that I walk away from the computer regularly. Sometimes I feel like I'm driving in front of a store and there's a speed bump every twenty feet. :)

Kim Thompson said...

So that's what I just hit, a speed bump. I recently wrote what I thought was an engaging scene, but it didn't feel quite right.

I talked about it with one of my writing friends and they agreed. We brainstormed together and came up with several new ideas. I really like one of them in particular, so I'll try that out and see if it gets me over the bump.

Thanks for the great insights!

Karlene said...

I hit a speed bump last week--how to get rid of the parents without killing them off. My daughter suggested I break the dad's leg but that didn't fit. I put a pillow over my head and just laid still for awhile NOT thinking about it, just breathing, and after about half an hour, it came to me.