Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Technique versus Subject Matter

I've been stuck. Lately, everything I write seems pointless. This is a strange time for me, because in many ways, I feel like I'm at the top of my game. My writing technique has never been better. I'm feeling in control of the basic story building tools, and I'm even starting to pick up more subtle tricks. But, I don't have anything to say. And, it's frustrating.

Whether I'm in the research lab or writing fiction I feel put on the spot to come up with a "good idea." Right now, none of my ideas feel good enough. Not only that, but I haven't been too impressed by the ideas that other people are calling good either.

I'm writing, but not very much. My latest endeavor is the sequel to the little novella I wrote for my nephew for Christmas. You know, the one that bombed. This sequel is geared more for his mother and his aunt (my sister-in-law and her sister). Both of them are big readers, and both of them liked the story I wrote. So, I figure why not play around with writing a story just for them? I'm having a good time with it. It's a more mature story, and I'm making it scarier and more complex than the first. But it also feels like filler while I wait for my muse to come around. Where are you, muse? Did something suddenly come up?*

*Ten points for anyone who can tell me where that reference comes from. And, by points I mean, really, nothing.


  1. I go through periods, sometimes long, other times short, where I can't figure out anything to write. Not. A. Thing. Luckily, those periods pass - sometimes quicly, sometimes not so quickly. I no longer try to force the words to come. I just know that they will whenever Inspiration (she's female, btw, just in case you were wondering) decides to drop by and tap me on the shoulder . . . or slap me upside the head as She has done a time a two.

    And, there's nothing wrong with 'filler'. You're writing. That's enough. The writing doesn't have to be the sequeal to "War and Peace", it only has to be writing.

    I'm not always passionate about what I write. Sometimes, I'm just 'so-so' about what I write, but I'm writing, and, for me at least, that's enough.

  2. What's helping me at the moment is doing book reviews. I find I'm getting one done a week.

    They're short pieces and I started wondering how I could write 400 words about a book, but it was a challenge.

    Now I can do them fairly quickly and proficiently, enough to get them published in an online magazine anyway.

    Maybe you just need a break from writing 'your stuff' and write something else for a while.

  3. A very good writer I know once told me she was a muse atheist. It sounds extreme but her writing really is good. Sometimes I think good technique trumps good inspiration.

    And sometimes good inspiration trumps good technique. You're very lucky if you ever get both.

  4. Ah, the doldrums. Is that spelled correctly? Anyway, I never get them. I always have a head full of new ideas and never enough time to write them all down. Yeah, that's the ticket. Just ask my wife, Morgan Fairchild. OMG! What's happening to my nose??

  5. I'm working on a massive revision, but once it's done I'll be feeling your pain.

    I've had a few ideas for my next book, but when I start to explore them, something in my brain says, "That's been done" or "That's just stupid".

    I dread having to face the empty page, and that's not something I've ever been through before. Kinda scary.

  6. Scott, Yeah, I know you're right. And, I have been writing, slowly but surely. I guess I just wish I was in love with what I was working on again. I feel like I'm hanging out with good friends instead.

    Martin, That is a great suggestion! Thank you. I have been reading more, which is what someone else had suggested to me, and that also helps. But, I've always wanted to write a book review and never did. I will give it a shot.

    Taryn, I just feel like for a masterpiece a writer needs both to be working together. Maybe I'm wrong. Honestly, I don't know. I don't really believe in a muse, but I do feel that I'm lacking in brilliant ideas at the moment.


  7. Amy, Sometimes I love the blank page, and sometimes I get the same voices that you're describing. I used to like writing first drafts much more than revising, but now it kind of balances out for me. If you haven't done it before, try it. Maybe it'll be a great experience as it is for me half the time. :)

  8. Davin, you know my constant dilemma of having no ideas. If I ever say, "I just got an idea for a story!" you know that's a huge thing.

    And, sadly, I have always felt that my ideas are boring and not worth saying, but somehow, as I near the end of my projects, I see that I did have something to say, even if it was subtle. Still, if I get in your situation where I feel dreary about it all, I know it's time to stop writing for awhile and dig into the huge stack of books by my bed.

  9. I have the opposite problem, though it may just be hubris-- I have too many muses; too many good ideas whispering at me.

    Well, *I* think they're good. I guess we'll see.

    You can borrow one of my muses, if you want. No guarantees they're real, though.

  10. ...Just one little post from me: slooooow down, waaaaaay down. Then stop, look, listen. I find ideas all over the place, seeded because of the largest thing to the smallest. Many of my ideas come from nighttime dreams, which I can't control, but others come while I'm talking, while I'm carefully examining something in my environment, while I'm daydreaming. I ask, "What if...?" about something, and then I take it from there.

    As I've said to you before, you should be able to come up with ideas like this too (though of course I'm not sure because I'm not in Davin's Brain). Maybe relax more about it all, and an idea about how you, Davin, can generate more good ideas will come to you....

  11. Michelle, I have taken this opportunity to read more. I do feel like writing dry spells are a good time to catch up on the reading that I neglect a lot. And, I remember how much you have been reading too. That's inspiring.

    L.T., I know a few writers who seem to have tons of ideas. I always think that seems so fun. I don't think I've ever been that way. Even when I have ideas, they are pretty plain ideas. That's the material I'm drawn to, but it also often means there's not much to say. At least in my hands.

    FP, intuitively, I think I've been trying to calm myself down. Usually at night I'll feel anxious if I haven't written anything. Sometimes I'll stay up way too late trying to force it. Lately, if the end of the day arrives and I haven't sat down to write (or been in the mood to sit down and write), I just turn off my computer and get in bed with a book. It feels like I'm on vacation.

    Funny that you should mention dreams. My dreams have gotten so boring lately, LOL. I dream of the most mundane things, like going on a job interview or going to a barbecue. I think even my subconscious in on vacation!

  12. Okay, I can't help one more, you know me....

    Don't despair. Use what you've got.

    What if you had to go to a job interview at a barbecue? Only you're allergic to wood smoke, and your eyes keep watering, barbecue sauce keeps dribbling all over your shirt, and because you can't see too well through your watery eyes, you fall over a big plant urn containing a rare prized plant, and then the family dog pees on your new shoes instead of the fallen urn. As you're cleaning up your humiliated self and wiping your eyes, you finally see that your potential employer's wife was your very first love who'd jilted you at the altar.

    ...Okay, maybe that's a bit extreme, but it might become a good screwball comedy. Generating connecting ideas is the real point.

    I think there may be a story in every scenario, event, or thing; a writer just must pull it out, in the way Michelangelo would say his figures were waiting inside the marble and he just chipped off around them.

  13. Sometimes I notice that the one thing that keeps me from writing is usually the one thing that gives me ideas for writing: LIFE.

    And by LIFE I mean the day job, classes (which are over for me now that I graduated, which is a pity), going to the market, working out, going on meetings, going out with my grandmother, taking the bus and being stuck in traffic, dinner with the husband, etc. Not all boring stuff, but most of it, yes, boring stuff. When I'm home for too long (and considering I work at home and only go out for work twice a week, that's what usually happens), my ideas tend to go and hide. Or disappear.

    Then I need to forget about it and go about my business (LIFE, that is). Ideas come back. Little details: the way someone looks at the window on the bus, a cockroach crossing the street without ever getting run over (that did happen). It can all be used, and I guess that's where the muses are. In those details.

    That make any sense?

  14. I write flash fiction a lot because even if the idea sucks, I haven't lost much time writing it.

    The ideas'll come, good sir. Feed your muse some hallucinogens. You'll beg bagloads of ideas....

  15. I think that what's happened with you is that your writing is moving to a higher level, not just technically, but in the realm of ideas as well. You're just no longer satisfied with the sort of things you've been writing about because now you have the skill to write beyond that, if you take my meaning. I truly believe that if you just keep writing, you will find your new subjects.

    In the introduction to his collected short stories, John Cheever wrote about a night when, late in his career as a writer, he yelled out the final line of one of his stories, loud enough that his wife and kids could hear him; it was a moment of excitement and triumph for a man who had all the technique he could use and had already won a bunch of awards and nothing to prove to anyone. So those sorts of moments are still out there for us, no matter how much we accomplish.

    You're pushing up and away from a plateau, Big D. Expect a bit of disorientation and frustration, and keep writing.

    I don't recognize the reference, but I claim my share of nothing anyway.

  16. Uh, fascinating. I just read a post on belly dancing that could have used the same title as your post on writing.

    I like what Scott said. Sometimes getting to a higher level in our craft makes us less satisfied with what we're used to creating.

  17. I seem to have the opposite problem. Thing is I'm still learning the writing curves and techniques. If I could be the storyteller without the writing, I'd have it made.

    I think someone else already mentioned LIFE, as a wonderful tool to kick your muse into shape.

    One thing I do is take an ordinary theme and give it an extraordinary circumstance. Say take a gas station - what if multiple gas stations were bombed at the same time all across the country? Events and circumstances could take off from there.

    As for the phrase, "Something suddenly came up", would that be Marcia Brady from the Brady Bunch?

    At the end of the day, my recommendation would be don't try to force it. It'll come in it's own time. (Hugs)Indigo

  18. Trust yourself! You've had a rough go of it the past 3 months with notes, comments and rejections from agents, editors and a certain ungrateful 6-year old. It's tough when you put something out in the world you have given years of blood, sweat and tear to...only to see it greeted with indifference. That would make me question myself and my process too. I think you are spending too much time waiting for the world's validation and spending too little time listening to yourself.

  19. Seriously???

    Nobody but me got the Brady Bunch reference??

    Marica dumps some guy (I think it's charlie) to go out with Doug Simpson and Greg tells her to say "Something suddenly came up." Then when Marcia takes a football to the schnoz and it gets all swollen and horrible, then Doug dumps her because "Something suddenly came up."**'s called Karma, Marcia.

    I am sure your muse is far more kind-hearted and wouldn't break up with you without having an "It's not you, it's me"* conversation.


    *ten points if you get the reference.

    **Dang it! Somebody just got it before me! Oh well. What do I expect when I can't go online until 8 at night?

  20. I've a laundry list of ideas, partials and completes needing edited but I'm stuck on book number three. And lately I've been having that "Whats the point" feeling. But I keep trucking on: chapter eighteen to edit.(Insert monotone and unenthusiastic, bordering on sarcasm, woo who.)
    Head voice one: (Trying to be optimistic and failing)Only eight more chapters to edit.
    Head voice two: (Cursing the current lack of vodka) Quick where's the gun. I need to be put out of my misery.

  21. Davin, we all have our slow periods. Use it to ruminate on what direction and/or experiment you want to do next. When a new story's burning feverishly in your head, go for it.


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