it’s hard to walk the highwire with no tension

So every now and then when I write I hit this… mode. It’s not writer’s block, because I’m still writing, but it’s like pulling teeth.  I know where I’m going, what happens, why the scene is important, I just can’t write it. I sit and I stare at the screen and I can’t write. This is my least favorite part of writing, even worse than writer’s block. Because I KNOW what I’m supposed to do, I just can’t, for whatever reason, do it.

Every single time this happens, I panic. First I blame myself: I’m being lazy, I’m a horrible writer, etc. Next I blame my book: it’s the plot’s fault, I didn’t plan this well enough, etc. Finally I blame things like the weather, being sick, on and on and on. Lots of blame, lots of hair pulling, and no words worth keeping.

This panicking is so stupid, because it always happens for the same reason: tension, or, rather, the lack there of. Tension is anything that draws a reader forward. It can be conflict, mystery, or something as simple as an unanswered question. When it comes to story telling, tension is the water that drives the waterwheel of a book. If there’s no tension, you can still have a story, technically, but it’ll suck. No one wants to read a book with no tension.

Same goes, apparently, for writing one. If a scene is lacking tension, I have the worst time writing it. I think this is because writing a scene is still reading it, only very slowly. If there’s no tension, the reader part of my mind gets bored, and the writer part can’t go on alone. For a long time I thought this inability to write was because I was a bad writer. Now I understand it’s my subconscious’s way of making me a better writer by refusing to let me write scenes with no tension.

All of this wailing is a long winded way of saying that, this morning, I cut 10k worthless, horrible, painful words out of my manuscript. Two bad scenes and a lame character also wound up on the floor. I have never been so glad to see something go. In their place, I have new scenes full of tension and a cool new character. They serve exactly the same purpose as the old stuff, but that’s not the point here. Just because the suit fits doesn’t mean it’s the right one to wear.

(Editorial note: Of course, even though the reason is always the same, I never realize tension is my problem until AFTER all the panicking. You’d think after 4 books I’d have learned the signs by now. No dice. I apparently refuse to learn, either that or I have the memory of a goldfish.)


3 Responses to “it’s hard to walk the highwire with no tension”

  1. October 17, 2009 at 11:24 am

    I think I’m wrestling with the same thing in Book 3 at the moment. For the past week I’ve found it harder and harder to write; I think the problem is that it’s going off the tension rails again. Since I already cut 30,000 words from this book at one point, I’m reluctant to cut more… but I think I may have to do it. -_- Just a few this time, though, and it’ll be easier to write when I resume, at least.

  2. 2 rachel aaron
    October 17, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    I feel you, Nora! 30k is ROUGH. Sounds like me on book 2, where I threw out the entire middle of a book. That hurt, but it had to be done.

    Everytime I’ve had to pull teeth to write, the scene hasn’t been worth keeping. That may be just me, but it’s so much easier to write things I’m excited about, and I can’t get excited about dragging tension. Good luck with cutting! I hope you don’t have to do too much.

  3. October 19, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Sorry you had to cut so much, but it sounds like it will make for a better product in the long run.

    Who knows, maybe the cut scenes and character(s) will marinate for a while in the back of your mind and then emerge newer, better and more tension filled!

    Goldfish actually have been proven to have a rather decent memory. However they aren’t very good writers (probably because their word processors keep shorting out in the underwater environment…)

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