Golden Heart finalist Sharon Lynn Fisher (www.sharonlynnfisher.com) writes sci-fi romance and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne (not always in that order).
I live in Seattle. There used to be this spooky old abandoned school next to I-90 East, and every time I passed it I thought how sad it was that someday, someone was going to tear it down and build condos. Because the place just oozed personality. It looked authoritarian and cranky.
But, lo and behold, the city held onto it and transformed it into the Northwest African American Museum, and it looks pretty much the way it always has, without the boarded up windows.
I took the following photo this past spring, and over the course of this post I’ll explain how the picture – or rather the process of taking it – helped defeat a particularly nasty case of writer’s block.
Just before my birthday this year, I found out my science fiction romance manuscript, Ghost Planet, was a finalist for RWA’s Golden Heart award. Shortly before that, I had signed with an agent. Soon we’ll be submitting to editors. This is a terrific place to be.
But it’s also a hard place to be. A celebratory, hopeful sort of limbo. All your dreams tied up in a much-loved manuscript you are DYING to share with other people, if someone will pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top-and-did-I-mention-I-will-name-a-child-after-you give it a chance.
With each step in the writing and publishing process, there is waiting. And more waiting. And extra helpings of waiting. The best thing you can do to maintain your sanity is – buy whole cases of wine so you get the 10% discount. But that’s not so good in the long-term, so eventually you have to sit down in the freakin’ chair and start again.
Most people, I think, write their first manuscript(s) in a vacuum. You follow your passion and write what you feel because that’s what it takes to produce a great story. From the time you e-query your very first agent, you are no longer a virgin. Really, from the time you start reading publishing industry blogs – which is hopefully long before you e-query your first agent – you are no longer a virgin.
Your head starts getting filled up with stuff about trends and marketability and what editors are and aren’t buying and OMG DROP EVERYTHING AND WRITE STEAMPUNK NOW … And pretty soon every idea that comes to you sounds like something someone else would write. You notice your muse has started collecting moving boxes.
The thing is, you STILL have to *follow your passion and write what you feel because that’s what it takes to produce a great story*. How do you do that when your head is full of all this educational but distracting noise?
I researched writer’s block for days. (HOW did we survive before Google and Wikipedia?) I wrote 30 pages of a new story before I realized the heroine was the same person as my last heroine, with shorter hair. I stared out the window. I shed tears. I got so desperate I made myself try freewriting … and it worked.
I’m not endorsing freewriting per se (mine was peppered with four-letter words and self-abuse) – but when you’re in that cold, dark creative void, you MUST do something to get out of your normal head space. Draw sing walk travel knit dance meditate. Make cupcakes. Eat them until you’re sick. Read other people’s books.
For me, freewriting led to the vaguest spark of an idea, and an intriguing setting – a cranky old ghost of a building I’d passed a hundred times on I-90. Armed with digital camera, I set out to find my characters, and the rest of my story.
I took a zillion pictures, playing with light and angles to explore the moods of my setting. I ate catfish and cornbread in the little cafeteria. I talked to the cook about the bright, collage-style artwork hanging in the dining room. I strolled through the museum exhibit not really seeing any of it, because in my world – in the new world my brain was creating – the building was going to serve a very different purpose.
When I pulled out of the parking lot on that sunny day in April, my whole outlook had changed. Everything I encountered seemed to fuel this new spark, from the deserted chapel in the park across the road, to the random CD playing in my car. I had a vision of a man stretched across a narrow bed, out of place and time. Dying. Yet still lethally dangerous to the stranger hovering over him.
That unreliable hussy of a muse was back. (I love you, sweetheart, but you’re gonna be the death of me.)