Writing through Writers’ Block

"What?" you ask. "How can you write through writers' block? Doesn't it mean you're stuck, and can't write?"

Well, yes... and no.

Here's how Cambridge dictionary defines writers block: the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

I'm currently in the middle of writing the third (and last book) in the Adventures of Viola Stewart, The Illusioneer & Other Tales. The first story rolled onto the page. In From the Depths, Viola is in Scotland, recovering at a beach resort after her ordeals in Eye of the Beholder.  Of course, she is swept up in a series of unexpected events. We meet a new character. This story ended up twice as long as previous shorts. I didn't want it to end.

I started on the next short story, Tomorrow, When I Die. This is a more convoluted story, requiring fiddling of ... (spoilers!) and some fun research on Victorian Christmas traditions. Then it happened. It crept up on me, taking me by surprise; the realisation that this was to be Viola's last set of (traditional) adventures. ("Gasp!" I hear you say.

Never fear, dear Reader, I have a few plans up my sleeve - but that's for another time, another blog.)

About this time, a late bout of dust-induced summer bronchitis hit. I felt like shite. Being ill is certainly not helpful when trying to build up the will-power to wade through the dreaded marshland I designate Writers' Block. I see it as a marshland as it is inconvenient, an impediment to moving forward and I must plan my way to proceed or sink further down.

First find the cause: why do I get writers' block?

I've thought about this in depth (perhaps way too much!). It seems to strike me at two different stages:

  1. When I'm staring at a blank page. I know the gist of the story. I can usually see the end scene in my head, the mood I want to create. But the words refuse to flow from my brain onto the screen. At this point, I am usually working pen on paper; words seem to flow better with a pen or pencil in my hand.
  2. when I am nearing the end of a story. I'm finally having fun. The characters are co-operating, even enjoying themselves. Then the penny drops; it has to end. I panic. I don't want it to end. I don't want to leave my characters behind. But I must. Perhaps if I don't write those final words...?

These are things I have to deal with. They are not new. In 2014, I had almost finished the first draft of what I thought would be my first novel, The Department of Curiosities. I had about four scenes to write. Crunch, the writers' block hit me.  What was I to do? I started on a short story, (reviving) a character from An Eye to Detail, short listed the year before in Australian Literature Review's murder and mystery short story competition.

The block shifted. I kept writing Viola's s adventures with gusto (There were minor blocks but nothing as long-lasting as that with DOC.)  I'm now ready - and can't wait - to return to The Department of Curiosity - my next project after The Illusioneer. 

How do I Tackle Writers' Block?

I have a box of story ideas. I keep getting them. Not all are worthy of a full story, but they are there. I usually have at least three (sometimes four or five) stories on the go. When I hit the wall, I redirect my energies toward another story and let the original one bubble away in the background - ensuring I move forward, and not wallow.

This time I was side-tracked onto a story to submit to a (absent) Sherlock Holmes anthology: write a story in the Holmes mileaux, sans Sherlock himself.

Bang! The main character was there. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I could see, hear, smell the final scene. This short is now being polished with final edits and about to be submitted. Wish me luck. (And another series is born. I can't wait to write another story with my new detective and her soon-to-be-drafted side-kick. Though I need to finish The Illusioneer and the DOC first.)

Short stories are fantastic. They give me a brief holiday from my main project, just enough time to let the original story gurgle back up to the surface.

April is Camp NaNoWriMo and I'm ready to plunge Viola back into her adventures. I hope you'll join the ride.

Photo © 2017 Karen J Carlisle. All rights reserved.

Re-imagining a Better World

Historical re-enactment is often accused of avoiding the real world, ignoring history's atrocities or hiding in the past. Sometimes all three. In my experience this is not the case. Most re-enactors (and historians) will tell you it is important to look back and analyse history so we can learn from past mistakes, to improve our future.

One of the most important reasons to look back into and analyse the past is to learn from society's mistakes. Steampunk looks into the past, but with modern eyes; it is a re-imagination of the past, not a slavish re-creation. Colonial England was all about domination and power, a way to fuel the economy of mother England. Instead, we can embrace the diversity of cultures. The 'punk philosophy' inspires us to question authority, society's ethics, politics and gender roles and encourages us to look for solutions for society's short-falls. Doing so allows us to embrace cultures and celebrate diversity.

Suna Dasi of Steampunk India is one example: "Transferring this and many other aspects of Victorian society to an alternate, Post-Mutiny India, incorporating native characters unhampered by traditional gender roles, seems an opportunity for fiction that is too good to let lie."

Through steampunk, and Steampunk Hands, I discovered Josué Ramos  award winning writer of science fiction, terror and historic tales. Josué is part of the Spanish steampunk community, organising the EuroSteamCon Madrid and posts regularly on (huzzah, for google translation) his blog Mundosteampunk. You can find my 2015 Steampunk Hands guest blog on Mundosteampunk here.

El Investigator is part of the Mexican steampunk community and has been involved in varied steampunk anthologies.

Beyond Victoriana is another blog celebrating multicultural steampunk. Its founding editor, Diana M. Pho, wrote the introduction for Steampunk World, an anthology published in 2014, and funded via Kickstarter. It contained stories from around the world, showcasing the diversity to be found. I'm eagerly awaiting the follow-up anthology, Steampunk Universe - also funded via Kickstarter. Stories highlight disabled and aneurotypical characters. Both have cover art by steampunk artist, James Ng.

The way we express steampunk is wide-ranging. Events range from family picnics, fundraising events and conventions to music events. Music style varies; rap, punk, folk, jazz, swing and rock are all represented in bands such as Professor Elemental, The Cog is Dead and The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.

At a local level, we also have participants of varied educational and vocational backgrounds. Even the degree to which individuals experience steampunk is diverse. Some dip their toe in the genre by reading books, watching movies, listening to music or wearing costumes to the local convention. Others delve deeper - creating alternate personas and joining forums. Some immerse themselves, living the steampunk lifestyle to the full or embarking on steampunk-related careers.

For me, the diversity of those who enjoy steampunk is one of its attractions. Steampunk is inclusive. I can be myself, part of a welcoming and diverse community. And it has made my life richer as a result.

A Sense of Wonder: Steampunk Hands Around the World #2

Bear with me, Dear Reader.

I'm about to tell you a tale - one that will offer you a glimpse into the circuitous route to my present mindset and how steampunk has made my life better by restoring a sense of wonder (1) to my life.

I'm a research addict. I crave it. I accumulate it. I hoard it. You can often find me spiraling down endless rabbit holes, in search of that one elusive fact, that last piece of a puzzle I've been chasing. The one thing that makes everything fall into place. It's the curse of a writer (or scientist, or quiz night-o'holic, or... ).

But there's more to it than that.

Imagine you're an explorer of uncharted lands:

Dust whips your face, lodging in your nostrils, scratching your eyes. You dig your fingers into the rock, ignoring the stinging pain as blood beads on your palm. You drag yourself up the precipice, thrust your arm over the crest of the mountain and spy the wonders of an undiscovered landscape.

Imagine the pure delight of such endless new discoveries. Researching my books is not unlike being an explorer. It starts me on my journey, inspires the landscape (setting) and encourages me to explore for new worlds, complete with wondrous gadgets for my characters to discover.

But there's still more.

It seems Sir Francis Bacon predicted our future: Knowledge is power (Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy,1597) . Everyone wants a bit of the action. No one is willing to share.

Let's face it. Life can be a grind: Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Sleep. Repeat. (Though waking up can be optional). Endless days of monotony, in a seemingly uncaring world where we are either invisible and insignificant or vying for control.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

The Empire may have wanted to plunder the spoils of exploration but we - the explorers - can revel in the pursuit of knowledge. We can search for understanding and inspire wonder for others. We can trek into the unknown, searching for the wonder and mystery of life, of people, of experiences. And we can share them.

So how has steampunk made my life better?

It has inspired my research beyond the confines of my writer's chair, beyond the internet, beyond the library. It has encouraged me to discover the wonders of a community of supportive people. It has inspired me to explore the wonders of my world - past and present. It has given me the courage to wrench myself (sometimes literally), from the safety of my comfort zone onto that mountain side, defying my anxiety - to try new things, a new career and to experience life as I search for the hidden wonders in our broken but beautiful world.

 

Photos copyright Karen J Carlisle and MJC


(1) Definitions of Wonder (Oxford Dictionary):
  • A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.
  • A thing or a quality of something that causes wonder.
  • A surprising event or situation
  • Having remarkable properties or abilities.