A Tale of Two Stories: Defeating Writers Block

It is the best of times and worst of times. As it was put to me by a trusted writing mentor, “The window is open.” I have sold some stories. I have engaged with some editors and have had interest in other stories. All of this is good for an up-and-coming writer. The window is open and I should take full advantage of that. On the other hand, I’ve now been trying to conquer the same story since January. Longer really. And it isn’t working. Fortunately, some clear-headed thinking has finally prevailed.

Let me step back. This is the tale of two stories. Let’s call one of these stories “London” and the other, “Paris.”

“London” is a big story, with a long and complicated history. It is s story built on the tradition of Campbell and Asimov and Clarke. I first got the idea for this story some time in 1998 (I could check the exact date, but I’m feeling too lazy at the moment.) It never really went anywhere until a few years back when I attempted to write the story as part of NaNoWriMo. I “won” NaNo, but failed at completing the story, or bringing it much beyond 55,000 words. I tried a second time the following year, and managed to completely rewrite the story, and get as far as 65,000 words. But then it died again.

I decided this year that rather than write it at length, I would write it as a series of interconnected stories. I wrote one story in the universe that was rejected by all of the major markets, for what I now see are sound reasons. But I’ve been trying to write this story, “London,” since January and is is really going nowhere. I have thousands of words in my deleted scenes files, perhaps even 10,000 words. And only about 4,000 that I’ve kept, and I still feel the story isn’t working well. It’s not that the writing is bad, but I’m not sure how to tell it. I keep wanting to change the voice of the narrator, the point of view, so many other elements that it is a constant mash of yuck.

But I’ve had this other idea for a while now. We’ll call it “Paris.” This story has the perfect title (it is not Paris, you understand) whereas “London” has no title. This story is much more avante garde (at least to my tastes), much more a child of the New Wave and beyond, as stylistically and thematically different from “London” as the cities really are from one another. Today, that story solidified in my mind. I wasn’t doing anything in particular. Just working at the day job. I heard the opening lines of the story and they were perfect. I started seeing other scenes and how they tied together, and they seemed to fit just right. I got home and immediately wrote 500 words of “Paris”, nearly completely the first scene. (I don’t expect the story to be much longer than 5,000 words, unlike “London” which was targeted at 12-15,000 words.)

It occurred to me that I was in a rut with “London” and so long as I stayed with it, I wasn’t going to get anywhere. I’ve had this problem in the day job before. I’ve worked on thorny software development problems and after hours of being unable to figure them out, I’ve put them out of my mind and done something to distract me–something completely different. My mind will work in the background, and eventually, I’ll emerge with an idea or two on how to approach the problem. That was how I felt today with “London” and “Paris”.

I set “London” aside and have decided not to worry about it. The important thing is to get out of the rut, to write a good story, and to get it on the right editor’s desk. I think “Paris” will be that good story, and I don’t think it will take me too long to write the first draft, given the enthusiasm I presently feel for the story. Once the story is done, I can revise it, workshop it, and get it in the mail. I can then once again test the waters with “London.” If it feels right, I can return to it, otherwise, I’ll move onto the next idea in the pile. I’ve got plenty. The important thing is to keep the writing going, and avoid the ruts. I’ll return to “London” when I’m ready.

The good thing about “Paris” is that it is so different from “London” that I don’t have to worry about dwelling on similar tropes, themes or settings. It takes me into a completely different mindset. The writing this afternoon came effortlessly, and I was pleased with the result.  And that is just what I need now.

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Stories: Defeating Writers Block

  1. I agree! I’m having the same problem with editing a piece…. no matter how many times I rewrite the beginning…. it’s always wrong. So I’m working on something else, and trying to reframe it in my mind. Hope it helps for you!

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