A Writer’s Saturday Night In

Last weekend, I canceled all my Saturday night plans.  I did all my errands in the morning, got back into my pajamas while the sun was still high, closed the curtains and lit the candles.  And then I pulled out my laptop to write.

It was the perfect environment – music, candlelight, coffee (it sounds more like a romantic evening in, I know) – but I couldn’t write.

My mind was bursting with ideas, lines, character quirks, but I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t even type a well-formed sentence.  I tried the outline approach.  I tried short writing prompts.  I even tried taking a coffee break with chocolate.  But it didn’t help.  I needed wine not coffee.

This afternoon led into an evening of depression, anxiety, and self-pity.  If I couldn’t write now, would I be able to write in the future?  Would I accomplish anything in life?  Would I ever find fulfillment?  The drama – like in a well-written novel – built until it all climaxed in something not unlike a breakdown.

And it was all because my expectations had been too high.  Sentences didn’t work, so I threw them out in despair.  I didn’t continue writing the rubbish, I panicked.  Panicked and stopped.  But I should have picked up the nearby issue of Writer’s Digest and flipped to a page titled “What To Do When Your Novel Stalls.”

Reading through each point now, it all makes sense.  But in my dramatic moment of writer’s block, I wasn’t thinking very clearly.  So in an effort to help you before your Saturday night in of writing becomes a poorly attended pity party, here are a few of John Dufresne‘s tips:

1. Put it in park.  “Reread a novel by an author you admire, if for no other reason that to remind yourself of the significance, beauty, and nobility of what you’re trying to do.”

2. Recharge the battery. “You have to be excited again by your characters and themes, and by the nut of the nascent narrative . . . Rejuvenate yourself.  Get back in touch with your captivation.”

3. Run diagnostics. “Now it’s time to dig deeper.  Ask yourself why you’re bogged down, and answer honestly – in writing.”

4. Take a test-drive. “Start reading your manuscript, beginning with your opening scene, and look for moments there that are begging for embellishment, exploration and resonance, for opportunities that you wrote into the scenes but have yet to exploit.”

5. Rev the engine. “Every novelist is a troublemaker, so make some trouble.”

6. Keep it running. “Now it dawns of you that writing a novel is itself very much a plot . . . You sit day after day.  You struggle and at last you finish your novel.  Plot’s resolved.”

Is it so simply done?  We shall see.