On the way to get dinner tonight (yummy pizza from the magic window that is Little Caesar’s), I passed the Charleston Lamp Company. The sign on the store only said “Charle”–the light bulbs were blown out on the rest of the sign. The only way I knew the store sold lamps was because I’d been that way before, in the daytime.
It occurs to me that my writing is often like that sign. When I’ve seen similar material before, if the story is based on something I’ve recently read or heard, or a tale that’s been with me since childhood, I know the plot and the characters before I’ve even put one word to the page. I’ve “seen it in the daytime”. But when it’s a tale out of my own imaginings, I only see a little bit at a time. Occasionally it seems I’m standing completely in the dark. Not even the first few letters of my shop sign are illuminated. A bulb’s blown out.
Often the story unfolds at a much slower pace than I would prefer, leaving me to fill in the empty spaces with material that never makes the final cut. I may only know what’s happening during the specific moment in which my characters find themselves. I’m not seeing the whole picture. Its during these dark times that I wonder if I have what it takes to make it as a writer. If I can’t read my own sign, so to speak, how can anyone else? And if no one can read my sign, no one will ever know how good my writing is. No one will love my characters, or wink knowingly when I say that Skippy spent the night in the bathtub.
When you’re writing and it seems your bulb has blown do something to change it. Step away from that one scene and move to something different. Or even set your current project aside for a little while and storyboard the children’s book that’s always been in the back of your head, or sketch your favorite protagonist (or antagonist, if you’re so inclined). If you use index cards to organize your story notes, take them out and move them about to see what would happen given a different situation (you are THE GOD of cause-and-effect in your story world). Or throw them up in the air and let the Fates decides what happens! If it doesn’t work for your story, you can always cut or rewrite it later.
Don’t be afraid to step away and make a cup of tea, pet the cat, or take the dog for a walk. Light some candles, bring out the aromatherapy oils. Change your clothes. Change your music and listen to something you don’t normally write to. The change doesn’t always take that trip to the mall or a visit to another city. Often it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference. Like illuminating a room just by changing a light bulb.