Ask Dayton 93 – Hitting the Wall
I want to ask some questions.
I like to think I’m a writer…. That is people say I write well when presenting poetry or some easily manufactured pen-to-paper bullshit that stirs someone else’s emotional state. That aside, I often find that when I’m writing a story I come to what I’ve hatefully termed “the wall.”
There comes a point, while writing, where even if I know where I want to go with a story, have notes, or just even continuing to type that this sudden overwhelming despair settles over what I’m doing. I have over 20 stories that I’ve never finished simply because of the unsettling despair that, even after letting a story sit for a time, just creeps back up no matter how much I may try to push through it. It’s enough to make most people mad let alone me, who wants to crawl into bed and cry for a solid week and wait to die of dehydration.
Do you ever hit “the wall” while writing? How many stories have been lost to it? Have you ever overcome it? Is “the wall” the same for all writers or is it different for each person? Is there anyway that I could overcome it?
With love from who?
I can only judge your situation based on what you’ve told me, but my gut reaction to what you’re describing is that you simply haven’t given your idea(s) sufficient time and space to “breathe.” That is, it sounds to me like you came up with the spark of what you thought was a really awesome story idea—and at this point we have no reason to think it’s not a really awesome story idea—and perhaps didn’t take the time to ponder where it might go once you started the actual writing. It’s a common mistake, and one we’ve all made at one time or another. We get excited by the initial idea that’s got a choke hold on our imaginations, and we run screaming into the night because we want to get all the words down before our brain purges them to make room for something really important, like keeping track of all the characters who’ve died since the beginning of 24 or The Walking Dead.
Have I ever lost a story because I just couldn’t find a way to make it work? Not really. I mean, I’ve had ideas that I eventually decided weren’t workable, or they just plain sucked, but I tend to figure that out before I spend any actual writing time on them. I have started stories and eventually figured out that they weren’t working. In my experience, hitting “the wall” usually is a result of my not having a damned clue where the story is supposed to go, and that’s normally a consequence of my not having done my proper prep work. Sometimes it’s because I thought I’d done enough but really didn’t, and other times it’s because I shouted to the writer gods, “I choose to pee into the wind!” before setting forth and pounding keys and just seeing what happens.
Well, what sometimes happens is that the wind blows that stuff right back.
I know you say you have situations where you have notes you’re working from, but what kind of notes are they? Backstory and character descriptions are great info to help flesh out things while you’re writing, but from what you’re describing, I have to wonder if you’ve taken the time to figure out your story’s plot from beginning to end. I’m not saying you should lay out every beat or write up a rigid outline from which no deviations are allowed; I’m just talking about a simple list of wickets you want your story to pass through, so that you have a defined starting point and some idea of how the frappin’ thing’s supposed to wrap up.
Yes, there are writers who can sit down with no plan or outline and just start typing, and just build their story as they go while shooting from the hip and just flinging words like a pack of rabid, caffeine-saturated chimps throwing their own shit at each other. I think we can agree those folk are freaks. They’re freaks we admire for their uncanny ability we wish we had, but freaks just the same. Unlike these evil geniuses, I need at least a general, bare-bones road map most of the time, to keep me from wandering too far off course. If I know how the story’s supposed to end, I don’t worry as much about altering the route or including some scenic detours along the way.
Okay, I think that’s enough driving metaphors for one day.
There’s no easy answer except to keep at it, and I know that’s easier said than done, but here’s the thing: It’s the “keeping at it” that makes you a writer. So, keep at it, and good luck.
Just be sure to check that wind direction.
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He is the co-owner of Busy Little Beaver Productions and is the producer and co-host for G & T Show and Gates of Sto’vo’kor. He’s directed voice actors, and produced and edited audio podcasts and dramas because he doesn’t have the face for video. He plays well with others and is always on the look out for the next project, the next thing, the next next. If he wasn’t working on something with a half dozen other projects waiting in the wings, somebody please check to make sure he’s still breathing.
During the day, he’s a mild-mannered computer repair man who dabbles in web design in his small, rural, Central California community. He lives with his lovingly dysfunctional family and loyal canine companion and spends most of his time in the closet concocting some hair-brained scheme or another. He’s got an unhealthy obsession with Lego video games, Klingons, and Star Trek Online that borders on the neurotic.
Despite all this, he still finds the time to write the words. Find out what he's doing here.
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