“Book As Event” aka Writer’s Block

By Linda Nagata
(this is an updated version of a post that originally appeared at Hahví.net)

Ketty: from The Dread Hammer by Linda NagataIf you’re a writer, you probably read a lot of books and posts on the art, craft, and psychology of writing. I know I do. There’s no shortage of writing advice out there, but the one piece that’s had the biggest impact on me in recent years is here at Dean Wesley Smith’s blog: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Book as Event

I don’t agree with everything in this post, but the majority of it makes perfect sense to me. The core thesis is, and I quote, “Myth: All books need to be events, need to be something special.

That had been my belief for essentially my entire writing career up to the point when I read Dean’s post. If a story wasn’t big/meaningful/ground-breaking/a potential home run, don’t bother starting it.

This worked for me for a while. I produced six novels that I’m still quite proud of. And then all of a sudden I wasn’t producing novels anymore. I started developing novel ideas several times, but either the ideas went nowhere, or I could see no way of doing the research, or the idea just wasn’t big enough to bother with.

Then in December of 2010 I read Dean’s post, recognized myself, and decided to try something new.

I spent a couple of writing sessions developing a plot for a story idea that had just popped into my head. It was an off-the-wall kind of fantasy in a vaguely medievalist setting. Given that almost all my prior work was hard science fiction, Editor-self was skeptical, sneering: “You have got to be kidding me.” But new Experimental-self replied: “Leave me alone. It’s just a story.”

My goal was a 60,000-word novel in three months, aiming at 1000 words a day. (FYI: words-per-day math follows its own obscure rules.) The rule was to keep writing, without going back to revise. Some writers do this by instinct, but I’m not one of those writers. Until this point, I’d always revised obsessively as I laid down each chapter, so this was going to be a new experience for me.

My first serious writing session was on December 21, 2010, but I only managed another couple of sessions before year’s end. In January 2011 I got serious, and started writing nearly every day.

I hit a wall on January 27th, when I simply had to call a halt to my forward progress, and go back to the beginning. I polished and refined my opening chapter and added some back story. When I felt confident that I had a firm foundation to stand on, I pushed on.

The next roadblock came on February 24. Instead of adding to my word count, I spent most of this day re-plotting the last part of the story, and by evening I had short, very sketchy versions of every remaining scene in the book. From there everything just worked, and by the end of February I had a complete draft of 60,300 words—so close to my goal it astonished me.

The final draft grew to 65,000 words, and I re-named the novel, The Dread Hammer: Stories of the Puzzle Lands – Book 1. It was published by the end of April, and its sequel, Hepen the Watcher, came out just a few weeks ago.

The point of all this is that by loosening up, trying new things, being flexible along the way, and just generally approaching the craft of writing in a different way, I got my writing mojo back, and I was able to write novels again. That’s a big payoff from reading one blog post. So if you’re a writer having problems getting words onto paper, it might be time to consider a different approach. It worked for me, and I have to say, thank you Dean Wesley Smith!

Hepen the Watcher by Linda NagataLinda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book Hepen the Watcher, is the second in a fast-paced mythic fantasy series featuring the antihero demon, Smoke.

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“Book As Event” aka Writer’s Block — 6 Comments

  1. Some authors produce much better miserable hackwork than serious literature.

    The real tragedy is when they really, really, really want the serious stuff be what’s taken seriously.

  2. Yes. Look at Arthur Conan Doyle, who always insisted that his historical novels were his Real work. I wonder if anybody ever reads THE WHITE COMPANY today.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Every book I really like is good literature for me. But as a writer, it’s a matter of finding the method to keep going. I like my new books as much as my old. They were just written in a different way, and only after I let the pressure go. We change as we go through life. There’s no reason why the way we approach writing a novel shouldn’t change too.

  4. “Leave me alone. It’s just a story.”

    Thank you! I keep forgetting about that. It’s easy to take the creative process way too seriously, and people are at their most creative when they allow themselves to have fun. : )