The Bottleneck

Of late, I’ve had a somewhat difficult time committing words to paper (okay, fine, words to screen). There are many reasons for this. Insufficient world-building, insufficient characterization, laziness… trust me, there’s a lot of blame to go around.

When it comes to finding time to sit down and write, if I have something to write about, this is fairly easy to accomplish. Whilst in the middle of a novel, I have no trouble getting my butt in the chair, since I’ve achieved momentum. Writing a thousand words a day for four or five months? Easy. Doable. If anything, the long haul is where I excel.

But what about before I start a novel? For me, world-building cannot be done sitting in a chair. World-building happens almost by accident, when I’m out doing things, having conversations, watching television, readings the news, etc. The spark of an idea comes quickly, but then it takes a while for the world and characters to form around it. These worlds have to percolate for months-dare I say, years-before novel-writing can begin.

It would be easy to label it a discipline problem, but I don’t think that’s it.

I can try to force myself to write before the pieces are in place, but I never get very far. I started writing my current novel back in the spring, then again in summer, and then again last week. Lots of false starts. I say, “I just can’t get going.” And people rightfully reply, “It’s because you don’t know your world/characters well enough.”

Fair enough. But just like in the real world, where it takes months and years to get to know my fellow human beings, it can take a long and unpredictable period of time for all the right world- and character-building pieces to fall into place. And, despite how I’ve described it, this isn’t a passive process. It’s active, requiring constant thought, rumination, deliberation… cogitation…

It’s possible that I’m just slow, that other people get through this conceptual period a lot more quickly than I do. Maybe this is just a symptom of not being a “discovery” writer. I’m bursting with premises, but slow conceptualization is the bottleneck that keeps me from becoming prolific.

I so badly want to be prolific.

Anyone else in the same boat, or is it just me?

5 responses on “The Bottleneck

  1. Cyndi

    Maybe that’s why I’m stalled – conceptualization. Certainly sounds better than writer’s block.

    Unfortunately, my lack of progress isn’t limited to my novel WIP. I haven’t written anything new (except the weekly blog post) in weeks.

    Frustrations abound –

  2. Brandon M Lindsay

    The way I get around conceptual problems is to discovery write. I may have one neat idea that isn’t enough to really support a story, but I just sit down and write a scene around it. That scene may be garbage and could get tossed out, but the process helps me to think about that idea and gives me direction. That’s usually how I figure out my characters. They usually start out as a conflict, and then I try to write a scene depicting someone who would be involved in that sort of conflict. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that we have to write, but we don’t have to keep what we write. Of course, I am to a large extent a discovery writer, but I think discovery writing can be a tool that writers who are not predisposed to such habits can use to get past this very bottleneck. You will probably have to go outside your comfort zone, however.

  3. KylieQ

    Evan, I wish I could offer you some words of wisdom but I’m a bit stalled at the moment too. I don’t so much have trouble with getting started though – it’s the middle that kills me. And the end. I know it probably comes down to not planning carefully enough to start with but I can never manage to stick to a plan. So unfortunately no wisdom from me today…

  4. Evan Braun Post author

    Cyndi, Kylie… misery loves company? Small comfort. 🙂

    Thanks, Brandon. The funny thing is that virtually nothing from my two false starts seems to have had any lasting impact on the story so far, and that’s as close as I’ve come to embracing and uncertainty and trying to “discovery write” my way through the problem. Maybe the benefits of these false starts will become evident later on. One thing’s for certain: I do, most definitely, throw out a lot more than I keep.

    All that said, I’m quite optimistic that my third attempt at the beginning will stick, so I’m well on my way — finally.

  5. Colette

    When I wrote Noble Ark the world-building flowed as the story progressed, but I had to do a LOT of re-writing because of it. Now I’m focused on world-building before I write and I’m having the same problem you’re talking about. It’s just taking me too long to get everything “ready.” I’m starting to think I need to do some of my world-building more like I do my writing. When I write a “story” that describes the world and the reasons why it’s the way it is, I seem to be able to get more information down on the page and it flows better. Then I can fill in the details. Anyway, that’s what I’m trying next. We’ll see how it goes.

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