When Words Stop Coming
By Sarah Noé, Guest Contributor
At the beginning of last summer, the words stopped coming. I couldn’t understand it. I loved my characters, but they came out on the page flat. My prose was clunky. The theme, which I cared about, wasn’t strong enough to hold up the struggling plot. I was devastated.
Since I took The One Year Adventure Novel—“OYAN”—as a senior in high school, I only completed one novel before the demands of college coursework took over my life. After four years of a rigorous music degree, this book was supposed to be my return to writing. I had graduated. I had more time on my hands. I had written seven chapters of this story, more than I had to show for any other half-finished project so far. I had joined a writing group. What was wrong with me? I wondered. I felt like a fraud. Was I just a musician and not a writer? Was it time to bid farewell to crafting stories?
I won’t lie. The first month or so after my book ground to a halt, I gave into doubt, self-pity, and despair. It was over. I couldn’t write anymore. Ideas come very slowly to me, so I had no other material to work with at the time. My brain felt blank and my heart felt empty. Why would God put a love of Story in me, but then leave me with nothing to say?
Only He didn’t.
While I was digging into old writing projects, a short story caught my attention. It was an attempt at steampunk, with airships, a Victorian/British flavor, and silly, made-up names like Jesradine Witticom-Branchester and Mairwen Gess. I had wanted to try a book with these characters for years. Maybe now was the time.
However, it would require some changes to my writing style. The main character was female. (I had not written a heroine in years.) The book worked best in third person limited. (I had not written third person since pre-OYAN.) Also, I quickly realized the story would delve into personal issues. (As an introvert, I dislike sharing my feelings in public.)
However, I ran with it. I had nothing to lose at this point. The more I turned over the story in my mind, the more I felt drawn to give it a shot. I even turned into a “seat-of-my-pants” writer to keep up my enthusiasm. I dove right into writing, with only some light research into the Victoria Era and a loose outline under my belt. Imagine my shock when the characters, new and old, sprang to life. Plot holes filled in. Vivid descriptions trickled out. It was scary to create without stricter guidelines, but also strangely freeing and fun.
If you’ve ever found yourself spinning your wheels in a writing rut like me: experiment. Try a new genre, change your point-of-view character, consider a new kind of character, or change your plot line. You never know what will make your writing take off.
A place that helped me was Pinterest.
I imagine some of you are giving me a funny look about now. Pinterest? Really? I admit that it can be a big time-waster if you’re not careful. Keep that caveat in mind. However, for a visual learner like myself, Pinterest was a huge blessing. Some of you, like me, may have a hard time describing things you’ve never experienced (i.e., translating your mental images into words on a page). My own prose tends to be minimal and unclear as a result. Pinterest changed that. Through careful searches, I saved hundreds of pictures of characters, locations, weaponry, and accessories. Having these images as a base, I was then able to create my own, unique world. Now, I receive compliments on my descriptions.
While experimenting can yield rewards, it also involves risk. My new story touches on personal issues of belonging and identity. I have wrestled with these things for years. It’s not easy to write about. I don’t even have all the answers to my own questions. Nevertheless, I believe stories are stronger when we weave in our own struggles and experiences. It can be painful, but the ring of truth will draw sympathetic readers.
I came to realize another thing through this. You can be writing the wrong story. Yes, you read that correctly: the wrong story. Sometimes ideas work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you have to shake things up and try something totally different. It is important to hold your stories loosely. If you find yourself constantly frustrated by one, stop. Set it aside. Save characters, scenes, or the whole document for the time being, but stop wasting your mental energy. Instead, give your time to write what you love. Take a risk and share a piece of your heart.
This will look different from person to person. Don’t compare yourself to others in this regard. Search out that idea that constantly fills your mind. Which characters delight and surprise you? Or what theme scares you just a bit?
Each of us has something important to say and only you have a unique way of saying it. I’ve found mine. It took some searching. It took some re-arranging, but I found it. You can too.
No matter what life throws at you, keep writing. Keep reading. Keep living life. Keep learning. Keep exploring new perspectives. And never stop asking of yourself: What if?
How have you experimented as a writer? Which of your own projects or characters have surprised you?
Music and Story have been a part of Sarah’s soul since childhood. She had the great privilege of taking The One Year Adventure Novel live in 2009 as part of the “Brightoneers” class. She also studied Piano Performance at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and currently works as a freelance accompanist. Sarah fills her spare time with handicrafts, nerdy TV shows, reading, and writing her steampunk novel. Over the years, she has been incredibly blessed by her time in the OYAN community and is thrilled to be back online as a forum Mentor, under the name of “Pippin.”
Wow, this sounded exactly what I’ve been going through, and really have been struggling with over the past few years, and am very slowly starting to get over. Pinterest actually helped me quite a bit, and learning to write “seat of the pants”. Thank you for sharing. <3
Hannah, just saw your comment. I’m happy to hear you were encouraged and are making strides with your own stories! Writing is such hard work all on its own before personal struggles “muddy the waters” further. At any rate, keep at it!