Liars Club

BIC: The Literary Aperient

by Gregory Frost on July 7, 2010

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Life

Okay, let’s start with this point of reference: There’s no such thing as Writer’s Block. It is a fishnet term that, like “plot,” is applied (or misapplied) to account for at least a half-dozen different phenomena.  I’ll put forth two of them.

There is the phenomenon of the fledgling who comes to the craft under the gross misapprehension that all real writers know everything about their story before they ever begin writing it and cannot begin until they do.  This is simply not true. Maybe there’s somebody out there who does know everything–and they are likely the sort of obsessive-compulsive constructionist who works out every single detail of the structure of her story before the first sentence is written.  But you’ll note here perhaps that said writer has done a huge amount of preparation–which is to say, has performed a structural first draft on the story before casting that first line.  So, sorry, but in fact she didn’t know every single thing before she started. You’ve merely misidentified what “started” actually means and are allowing that to keep you from ever starting yours.  It’s safer that way, isn’t it? You’ll never have to reveal yourself but you can pretend for years to anyone who asks that you’re gonna get started on that monumental epic Real Soon Now. (TM)  Here’s some advice: Cut it out.

Then there is what my pal Maureen McHugh terms the Dark Night of Despair.  This is a place that probably every novelist arrives at somewhere in the middle of their book-in-progress (and maybe more than once). Maureen describes the state thus:  “This novel is SOOO boring.  It’s got like, maybe two ideas in it.  There is some major limitation to the main character.  Famous (other) writer just published a novel along the same lines only their novel is so much more complex, innovative, interesting.  Or their novel is utter crap, but now everyone will think I copied….” Etcetera.  This comes because you look back at 150 pages and it’s all fractured and lumpy.  And you look ahead and there’s nothing there at all!  It’s fog.  Hypothetical.  Unrealized.  If I repeat that every professional writer has probably encountered this at some point on every book, does that help?  Do you grasp that, really, what you’re doing here is behaving like a real writer?  I hope so.

The solution, by the way, is the same as for the previous example.  Kelly Simmons gave up the formula in her post yesterday, and Paul Witcover reinforced it on Facebook with the Heinlein maxim, “Apply seat of pants to seat of chair,” but I’ll throw in my own mnemonic: B-I-C (like the cheap ballpoint pen).  BIC.  Bum-in-chair.  The act of writing is its own aperient. The beginning might be shaky and you might cross it out and try again, but the only way to punch through the DNoD is to write and fail, and write and fail, until you write your way out.  Experience will help you understand that you will always, sooner or later, write your way out.  Every successful novelist you’ve ever read has managed to do so. Why in heaven’s name wouldn’t you?


Author Gregory FrostGREGORY FROST‘s latest work is the YA-crossover duology Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet, voted one of the best fantasy novels of the year by the American Library Association, and a finalist for the James Tiptree Jr. Award, in 2009.  He has published over fifty short stories as well and been a finalist for every major award in the fantasy genres.
Currently, his short fiction appears in
Full Moon City, an anthology of werewolf tales (Simon & Schuster); in the YA anthology The Beastly Bride edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Viking), and in the Lovecraftian anthology Chtulhu Reigns (DAW Books). He knows a good dark night of despair when he sees one.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessie Mac July 7, 2010 at 11:22 am

I’m at the MBISB phase of writing – that is My-Book-is-So-Boring-itist. It’s lasted more than a month now and it’s hard to continue when you’re feeling this way. Just the other day, I wanted to add a vampires or space ships angle to a normal story because at least it gives the illusion that it’s not boring but I will refrain.

And you’re right about not knowing the story. You have an idea but you don’t know. It’s not a bad thing. I find if I know it all, I’d be too bored to write it.

Thanks for the post, Gregory.

DS July 7, 2010 at 11:47 am

I love this topic. Everything you said is so true. I had to read it twice. I thought I was the only one. Now I realize I’m a writer and that’s what we go through. This helped so much.

Kevin James Breaux July 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Thanks Greg! Great Post!

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