Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Those Imaginary Friends Won't Talk...

Today is the first Wednesday for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Go visit all the participating bloggers! I couldn't be happier about this "help group," because I find encouragement in seeing how other writers deal with writerly issues. (This would be a good spot to say that misery loves company.)

Since I'm in the process of writing a new story, I would like to discuss some of the challenges I've had in writing that first draft. You go from one finished product, and right back to the drawing board! (I have nightmares about the drawing board. It has fangs and tries to eat my hand.)

This was my most recent crisis, and I'd love to know if some of you can relate:
There I was, writing so fast I was proudly wearing down my keys, and...nothing. I stared at my computer screen for hours - days - until it started looking like a Magic Eye book, and I started thinking English wasn't my first language anymore. In fact, I didn't know if I had a first language.

Well, the above slogan was very timely brought to my attention by my good friend, Misty, who, in her infinite wisdom, reminded me that when I get stuck it isn't my fault.

It's theirs.

Now, I know we all write our stories differently. Many of you are pantsters, but I'm not. It stresses me out. I outline. Mind you, my outline isn't as exacting and precise as the blueprint for the Transamerica. Mine's more like a fence, but the kind of fence you can roll under, hang from, and climb through. I get all these ideas, jot them down with arrows and bubbles everywhere, offer them to Ben for ridicule, shape the "improved" ideas into an outline, and then write.

You'd think with a story already sort of laid out, I wouldn't hit any rock walls (pits of despair? an endless abyss? Sharks with lazer-beams attached to their heads?)

Rule #1: Never assume your Imaginary Friends follow directions.

Really. We should know better. We wrote them that way!

Sure, they smile and wave and tell you everything's fine, but then one day you wake up, and you can't find them anywhere. Instead, what you find is this:

Dear Tyrant,

We didn't like what you did to us in Chapter 19, and, quite frankly, 
we're tired of running from evil men in capes. We're on a beach on 
one of those islands you haven't named, otherwise we'd tell you where 
we were. 

Un-Sincerely Yours,

*I.F. = Imaginary Friends

They didn't like my outline, obviously, and I wasn't sure I liked it either, but I promised myself I would save the editing until the end. Finish that draft first! There's just one little problem:  you can't write a story without characters. *hits head on desk* So, after much whining and grumbling, I let them have their fun, and let the story "simmer" a few weeks.

And then I started getting impatient. (and scared and afraid that I'd lost them forever...didn't they realize what they'd done? They have a sequel to get through!)

Rule #2: You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it...with a club. (compliments of [info]starlit_grphcs.)

I set off for this unknown-island-from-my-own-imagination in order to find them. I read through all my journals, poured through all my notes and maps, studied all my character descriptions - anything to get an idea where to go. At some point I had to jump in the boat and start rowing. So I did.


Some days it was only a few leagues (three hundred words). Then a few more (five hundred). But eventually I saw them out there, laying on the beach drinking Mai Tais under a cabana. I did everything I could to lure them onboard - even promises of perfect endings! -  but none of it worked as fast as I'd hoped. Then I started playing music. I gave them each their own song and had it on repeat until they felt safe to open up to me again.

Story proceeded, and I'm writing fast. *wipes brow* And it really helps knowing it was never my fault to begin with :)

So, my weapon of choice isn't really a club. It's more like an accented half-note.

Ever go through this battle? If so, how do you get your characters to open up? What's your weapon of choice?


  1. Ha! This post is fabulous, Barbara! I'm laughing out loud at the vision of you tracking down those 'on-strike' ingrates! lol. Love the letter 'IF' sent you...
    I'd like to feature a link-back to this post when I post next, on Sunday.
    ~ Nadja

  2. LAUGHING. OUT. LOUD. This was great!! Keep up the good work :)

  3. Hehe, very good and funny description.

    I often have the story more or less ready in my head, but not making much progress. I'm going back to change and rewite all the time, because usually I don't like my own stuff when I read it.

    Cold As Heaven

  4. Nadja - OH, thank you! So glad you can find humor in my struggles, lol ;) They really do have minds of their own, don't they? And thanks for linking!

    Erin - THANK YOU! :D

    Cold As Heaven - Thanks for stopping by! I'm with you - I rarely like what I read as I read over it. I usually end up putting it away for a month or so and hack at it with a delete key.

  5. When I outline it is minimal. I like to let my Muse run mad. It knows better than I do. I just dive in with a general idea and let the characters live their lives-- with nudges here and there-- letting them act and react to the circumstances and setting that I put them in.

  6. Oh my God, I could have written this post! In fact, my post of insecurities is similar, though not nearly as eloquent, or humorous. It seems you & I are rowing in the same boat!

  7. Jo - I envy you! I freak myself out to paralysis if I don't have guidelines :(

    Nancy - Ha! I could totally use the company. Got any sunscreen? I've been floating out here forever...

  8. LOL. It felt like my characters were doing that to me recently--and concrete is just the word for it. My weapon of choice is perseverance.

  9. lol.. so funny. I have those days when I'm just uninspired to write. I spend a month or two plotting, outlining, world building, etc. then crank a draft out in a few weeks. It does take some of the fun out of a first draft, but it gets the job done because I know everything that's gonna happen... just not sure how it pans out exactly...

  10. Golden Eagle - Ooo perseverance. That is a good weapon. Want to get me one?

    Pk - A draft in a few weeks is AWESOME. I know what you mean, though, some of that high from seeing an idea for the first time is gone. But you've got a draft!

  11. I had this...FOR 2 YEARS!!!!
    >:| <---Angry face.
    Yeah. No one in The Orient wanted to talk to me...and now they're all happy again. idk what happened. I think I ignored them first (with school and everything). It was a bad 2 years. lol.

  12. Sometimes, it helps me to write about writing. In other words, write down what you want to write about, what the scene needs to do, how the characters are feeling. It often helps to kick start the actual "real" writing know where you're actually writing the book.

  13. I'm glad I found your blog. Love the imaginary friends not following directions. That's the truth!

  14. Fellow outliner! No way I could write a book without a plan. Never thought of my main character as an imaginary friend, but if he were, I gurantee he wouldn't talk much.

  15. " rowing through concrete." Um...WORD! That is so on the money it's not even funny, honey. :O (and she's a poet)

    I find that letting my characters talk, like...literally, out loud while I'm driving home, it sets me in the right direction. Oprah interviews them a lot--and it's amazing how much they have to tell me. Like you, I am a planner, but I try to just have a broad outline of a story--I give my characters plenty of wiggle room. And they take it, too!!

    Awesome post!

  16. Ashley - Two years? Oh, I'm frustrated FOR you! But it appears that things have turned out okay :)

    Kristine - Exactly! I've done something similar - definitely helps flesh out where you're going.

    Donna - Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Great to meet you!

    Alex - Haha! and yay for fellow outliners! :D

    Bethany - I laughed! Thanks. I love that you said Oprah interviews your characters. That's fabulous! Now, to get her to interview MINE...

  17. Loved this story! At least your characters leave you a note. Mine just up and run. *SIGH*

  18. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh Barb, you crack me up!! Seriously?

    Its not our fault. Its theirs.


    Can't stop laughing here!!

    You have such a unique way of blogging... its like blog posting bedtime story style! I love it!

    P.s. I also know what its like to both a) have imaginary friends, and b) have them walk out on me during the LEAST FREAKIN' CONVINIENT TIMES!! I like your method. I think I'll trying rowing, clubing and serenading next time...

  19. Love your rules. I've been hearing a lot about this lately. I hope it's not catching.

    I remember when Jo Rowling was interviewed while she was writing Deathly Hallows. She mentioned that she was struggled because Dumbledore wouldn't behave. That was good news for those of us who'd clung to the hopes that he was really still alive because it meant we'd see him again. But as a writer now, I completely understand what she was really saying. lol

  20. Hahaha! LOVED this! I think I have a fence, too. :) When my characters don't talk, its usually because I either havent gotten in their heads enough, or that my plotting needs work. I am so in need of going back to the drawing board RIGHT NOW.

  21. Krispy - Oh, NO! Hmm, maybe you could chain them up? Or is that considered abuse?

    Julie - Aww, thanks! *blushes* But if anything, it comes from awesome bloggers like YOU I have to look up to!

    Donna - Shoot...I hope it's not contagious! *passes you a vaccine* Thanks for sharing that about Jo Rowling! I'd never heard that, and it encourages me IMMENSELY. Saving it to my quote bank...

    Peggy - YAY fences! :) Watch out for that drawing sort of reminds me of the Monster Manual in Harry Potter - snapping teeth and ugly snarling *shudders*

  22. I'm new here. Great post. I'm totally a panster and STILL stresses me out. I keep trying to force myself into outlining but it takes all of the joy out of writing for me. I get to the end of my outline and think, Okay, there's the ending. Now I don't need to write the book.

    We are an insecure, lot. Aren't we?

  23. Hello, Emily! Thanks...and I completely understand how outlining takes the joy out for you. I'm always astounded by all the ways people write, and we all sorta stress out about it. :)

  24. Great post!!! I can really relate to this. You're right, just jumping in there and writing away will eventually get you out of the slump, and the characters will be all fleshed out.

  25. Quiet characters are annoying. But, I know that their usually being quite because of me. Maybe I'm not really listening? Or paying enough attention? Characters can be so sensitive. For me, writing and more writing usually works things out.

  26. Satta king Play Bazaar
    this is a good is a great idea to do business with a security company that has 24*7 hours monitoring


Thanks for stopping by! Please, leave a message...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...