Working through the writing slump: swinging at pitches

I’ve now written 2-days in a row, despite my slump and last night I managed a cool 1,000 words, and completed a scene in the story. I like the scene, but at 1,700 words, it is almost certainly way too long in proportion to the overall novelette. That’s okay though, it’s a first draft and cutting and tightening can happen later. Once again, chatting with writer-friends helped and this is proving to be invaluable to getting me through this slump.

I’m a baseball guy and I make a lot of baseball analogies–thus the slump. Even the best hitters in the world go through their slumps. The trick, I think, is to stay in the lineup, keep going out to the plate, and swinging at pitches. Try to make contact every time you can. For writing, this means facing that story every day, staying with it, and trying to get back that rhythm. For me it means not over thinking things. To that end, a fortuitous call last night from my friend Michael Burstein really helped out.

I don’t think Michael called to talk about writing specifically, but as we chatted, I confessed my troubles with my current work-in-progress. I’m over-thinking it, I told him. I’ve gotten to this point where I’ve had so much advice on what works and what doesn’t, so many workshops and critiques, that I’m concentrating more on technique than on writing the story.

I can always rely on Michael for good writing advice. And why not, since just about every story Michael has written has been nominated for a major award in the field. (He’s bound to win an award someday, but until that day, I like to think of him as the Bob Hope of science fiction.) In any event, Michael’s advice last night was more anecdotal. He told me about his own experiences with a workshop and how, toward the end, some of the instructors asked, “How are you supposed to be able to write when you have all of these rules go through your head?” Michael assured me that every successful writer goes through this stage and that once you get through this stage, you reach a kind of writing zen where you get out of your head and write–and things get better.

This was incredibly reassuring to me because that is my very problem. I can’t get out of my head right now.

Example: I’ll be working on a scene, writing a few lines, and then think: Hmm? I’ve described what he’s seeing, but I need to engage more senses, smell perhaps, or the sound of the rain falling. Then later: If I want this scene to end in a proper cliff-hanger, I need to go back a few paragraphs and plant a seed for x… Or worse: damn it, I’m using too many attributions. How many times have my trusted beta-readers chastised me for using too many attributions, and here I go again!

But Michael made this out to seem perfectly normal in the progression of a writer’s skill. It made me relax last night when I finally sat down to write, and while I was still in my head, the 1,000 words that I got out were easier than the 800 words the night before.

I am lucky. I have coaches like Michael, and Barry Malzberg, to say nothing of good role models for writers who have already reached that zen-state (or at least it seems to me) like Juliette Wade. With coaches (and friends) like these guiding me along, it’s only a matter of time before I break out of this slump. Already I’m beginning to make contact with the ball again, albeit just fouling off pitches. But my timing is coming back and it won’t be long before I get myself an infield base hit; a double; a home run…