Giving a reader a great story that allows them to take time off from the work-a-day world isn’t easy.
Escapism requires work…a whole lot of work.
I’ve written a little over 30,000 words for SOUL SIGN, escapist literature and the third book in the Zackie Stories, and I’ve hit the 30K slump. And that’s okay. I’ve been here before with the previous two books, so this is right on schedule.
At about 30K words, we reach the point in the story where the author has completed the set up, created the mystery and the gnawing questions, and must now set the characters on the road to finding resolution. For writers, this is where you have to dig in and be disciplined about getting the story finished. Distractions abound and shiny, new ideas for other efforts scream for attention. For readers, this is the place in the novel where you are helplessly hooked and feel compelled to finish the story to find out what happens. But the compulsion to keep reading only happens if the writer has done their job.
Different writers take different approaches to doing their job, and it all comes down to personal preference. Some writers are plotters. They outline the hell out of the story and then commence writing, never stalling because the story is essentially written. Other writers are pantsers; that is, we write by the seat of our pants and we are as surprised as the reader to find out what happens next. [N.B. It is ironic that the term ‘pantser’ is a thing, since pants for writers are not. See item 3 in this article on buying gifts for writers. Also, John Cheever wrote many of his short stories in his underwear. ] The philosophy behind the pantser approach is that if we can’t keep ourselves entertained, we surely won’t be able to do that for the readers. Personally, I like being surprised. My characters do this to me all the time and I’ve learned to just go with it, allowing them to tell the story.
Each approach has its own dangers and shortcomings. For my personality type, outlining the hell out of a story has the danger of creating a fatal case of boredom that will make me lose interest in the story. There are plenty of other more interesting things to read or write about that will surprise me and give me that surge of dopamine I crave. In contrast to this plotter problem, pantsers run the risk of writing themselves into a corner due to an utter disregard for planning. This might result in having to rewind the story by 10,000 words or more and trying again. So far, I’ve managed to avoid this hazard by coming up with something that will allow me to scramble up the wall like Spiderman, rather than sit sulking in a corner.
So, what motivates writers when they hit the wall and can’t find any footholds? Waiting for the muse to make an appearance rarely works. Realistically, you need to hunt that fickle wretch down, a crazed Plott hound dragging you through the brush to find her hiding place. The best advice I’ve read on the author’s craft is to write drunk and edit sober. Nothing is written in stone and most writing is salvageable, even if it has to be saved for another project. The simple act of writing something, anything, gets the mental wheels greased and creates a path forward.
But the true force multiplier for motivation? Caffeine. Devoted readers of this blog might have thought pickle juice would be the answer, but no, it is definitely caffeine. The emergence of coffee houses in the 17th century and the advent of the Age of Enlightenment was no coincidence. I would call it cause and effect. Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that emphasized reason, individualism, and skepticism, and specialized in questioning traditional views. Great thinking begat great writing, since all the profound thinkers of that era needed to capture their ideas before the caffeine wore off. Similarly, pants-less writers need to consume vast quantities of caffeine to produce the kind of escapist stories that give readers a break from our dystopian reality and keep them turning the pages.
Escapism requires caffeine…many, many cups of liquid motivation.
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