Early last year, a professional writer I follow dropped some serious truth on her Facebook.
Have I really started this book 16 different ways? No, that would be ridiculous.
17 now. 17 different ways.
This author, whose work has been published between the covers with household names like Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, admitted she was wrestling with some serious creative constipation.
Turning on the creative faucet and not getting a single drop is an awful experience, especially when you’re staring at a deadline. We’ve all been there: your research paper is due in 12 hours, the boss needs your quarterly report on her desk by 5:00 p.m., the contest closes to submissions at the end of the week. Some folks thrive under this kind of pressure, but many of us find ourselves paralyzed. Completely unable to perform.
I’ve been there, too. Creating content can feel like taking Sisyphus’s turn at the boulder. I reached out to see if I could help, familiarized myself with a wider spectrum of her work, and headed up to her neck of the woods for a consult.
It turns out, sometimes the story you’re writing won’t work because you’re trying to sell the wrong hero.
If George Lucas wrote Star Wars: A New Hope about Yoda’s efforts to overthrow the Empire, it would be a terrible story.
Not because Yoda is awful. On the contrary, Yoda’s expertise is precisely what would make him a terrible hero. The story would take about thirty seconds to tell. Neither the audience nor the storyteller would find his exploits compelling. There would be no adventure. Maybe you’re not a Lucas fan. Maybe fiction isn’t your area of interest.
What if next week’s issue of The Economist arrives, and the cover story is about Bill Gates buying a new car. You’d expect it to be a bit interesting, right? Perhaps he picked up a new Tesla. You flip to the article to find out about his car-buying journey, but instead of a shiny new electric toy Bill Gates has purchased a low-mileage Honda Element. The article sets forth his struggle to find the right vehicle at the right price. Maybe it delves into Bill’s research on his financing options. Maybe he almost buys one, but it isn’t the right color and so he passes it up.
What an awful waste of time. Not just Bill’s for researching his financing options, but also the column writer’s for researching the topic, and yours for reading it. We don’t care how hard Bill looked to find the best reasonable car in his area, because Bill can buy anything he wants. If Bill wants, he can buy every Honda Element in the state of Washington (and there are probably a lot of them there). Without a meaningful struggle told from the right perspective, the story isn’t interesting.
The whiny brat of Tattooine is elevated by his tiny green mentor. His struggle is what gives the story meaning.
If The Economist published a column about a car’s journey through the various stages of production, and the end of that column described the car pulling into Bill’s driveway, they might be onto something more compelling.
A reader’s journey requires a beginning they can understand, a struggle they can believe, and a resolution that provides satisfaction (or strong dissatisfaction, but we’ll get to that later). During our weekend consult, this writer and I discovered an unexpected hero. When we re-framed the plot around that character’s story, everything shifted.
Want to know what 16 straight hours of working with editor Amelia Bennett is like?…[It] ends with two books plotted and a huge writing block BROKEN DOWN, yo. Woo!
Struggling with writer’s block? Have you broken through a creative wall? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.