“One of the things you should know about me,” author host Susannah Charleson told the audience at the April meeting of Writers’ Guild of Texas, “is that I’m completely sympathetic to all aspects of the writing process.
Including the part where writers get stuck, the euphemism she uses for the dreaded writer’s block.
Charleson has written in formats as diverse as online fiction for AOL and radio scripts for NPR, and everything in between. Her first nonfiction book was the bestselling Scent of the Missing, the story of her work with search and rescue dogs. Her second book, The Possibility Dogs, deals with psychiatric service dogs. She is currently working on a young adult novel, After the Storm, based on her work with young survivors of the tornadoes at Moore, Oklahoma, and Joplin, Missouri.
She’s also spent 30 years teaching college students how to write for television and film as a professor of communications. She was at the Writers’ Guild meeting in Richardson, Texas, to share techniques for getting unstuck, techniques tested from her own writing experience and that of her students.
For those who have been stuck so long we can hardly remember what our book is, the first need is to get back on track. For that, Charleson urged, “Get thee to a bookstore. The bookstore is a testament that it can be done, a chance to see a book as a finished product. And if you haven’t done it already, write your dedication. Connect with the reason you’re writing and the people you’re writing for.“
Next, “Pull away from the keyboard and spend some time getting primary. If you have a character who’s mushy, go somewhere your character goes and look around. Sometimes from strangers you’ll see something and say, that’s my Danny’s, that’s my Molly, nine months pregnant.”
A similar technique is what Charleson calls “shopping without your wallet.” When we’re out shopping, let’s take a look around. What would our character buy? What would catch her eye? What would she turn away from? How do our characters furnish their homes? “Would they buy the 1,000-count sheets or the cheapest sheets possible, and sleep on them?”
Another method for getting unstuck is pulling ourselves out of the mud pit of linear thinking. “Because we write linearly, we’re persuaded that we have to write chapter 1, then chapter 2, 3, and so on. I think there is a point where, like Wile E. Coyote, we look down and realize that we have run off the cliff,” Charleson said. "Give yourself permission to write out of sequence. If you’re stuck at point C but you absolutely know what happened at point E, give yourself permission to write point E.”
And instead of "writing what you know," "write what you see. Writing what you know can lead to a lot of telling. Instead of writing ‘I’m conflicted, I’m sad,’ write how those things look. How do they sound, how do they smell? You are in possession of this limitless mind. Going into that sensory experience of being in a character may shake something loose.”
Finally, “when you come to that place of pain, all you have to do is decide what technique works for you. Look at it as an opportunity to explore.”
See http://susannahcharleson.com and Susannah Charleson, Author, on Facebook for more about Charleson and her work.
The Writers’ Guild of Texas meets on the third Monday of each month at the Richardson Public Library. See www.writersguildoftexas.org for more information about its upcoming programs.
(Next Monday -- direct from the DFW Writers’ Conference, its workshops, schmoozing, agents galore, and the dreaded but fascinating writers’ gong show)