by Teena Raffa-Mulligan
We are fortunate enough to have Teena Raffa-Mulligan here today sharing her personal journey and expertise in dealing with the dreaded ‘mental block’. Much appreciated advice, thank you! 😄
What do you do when the right words won’t come? Most writers come up against this at one time or another. Some stories are hard to write. You know what you want to say but telling your story feels like trying to run uphill against a raging gale. You’re not getting anywhere. In fact, you’re going backwards, deleting and rewriting without making any satisfactory progress.
My newest children’s book was one of those problem stories. Ben Bumblefoot is about a wannabe knight who wants to prove himself worthy of a knighthood and a special name but can’t seem to do anything right. It’s a 10,000 word chapter book and I’m no newcomer to writing so I thought it would be an easy write. Wrong.
The beginning came together without too much trouble. I had fun naming the seven knight protectors of Castle Crag and working out what bravery they’d performed to earn these special names. There were lots of other things in Ben’s world I had also to name, from the people in his life to the foods they ate, the sports they played and his best friend Princess Moonglow’s contagious illness. This was the sort of thing I could do while watering my pot plants, preparing dinner, hanging clothes on the line or walking the dog. A writer’s mind is never completely off duty.
So Ben’s story got off to a relatively smooth start and I was sure it would continue that way even though I’m not a writer who plots and plans. I usually have a strong sense of who my main characters are and a fairly general concept of what happens in their story. Once I start writing, scenes begin to open out and conversations pop into my mind. My practice is to write whatever is clearest in my mind at the time, wherever it comes in the story and with Ben Bumblefoot, I wrote the final chapter immediately after chapters one and two. So I had a beginning and a conclusion but nothing to link them.
Then I got seriously stuck and it came as a surprise. I’m an experienced writer. As well as writing poems, stories and a range of books for children, I’ve worked in journalism for many years so I know I can write to order and regardless of whether I feel like it or not. And it wasn’t as if I didn’t know what happened to Ben and Princess Moonglow.
I buckled down, determined to finish what I’d started…and hit what felt like a brick wall. Nothing I wrote felt right. Everything I scribbled in notebooks got scratched out. The delete key on my computer keyboard got an extreme workout. Ben’s story was at a standstill. I couldn’t seem to get it moving again.
I could have abandoned it. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d decided an unfinished story was a lost cause. There were plenty of other ideas calling me to write them. But I really liked Ben. I wanted him to realise his dream of becoming a knight. There must be something I could do to get the right words flowing.
I’d already tried the write-anyway-bum-on-seat approach and got nowhere. I should have known from experience that giving myself permission to write badly and focus on quantity rather quality doesn’t work for me.
So I called on a few other tools in my writer’s toolkit.
Some nights before I drifted off to sleep I visualised myself effortlessly writing the rest of Ben’s story.
If frustration at being stuck arose during the day I mentally released it and imagined it floating away on the breeze.
I accepted that the rest of Ben’s story wasn’t ready to be written yet and went on with other projects. There was no official deadline to meet so it made sense to channel my creative energy elsewhere for the time being.
And while I didn’t write the missing chapters of Ben Bumblefoot, I did write about how stuck I was and how that felt.
Finally, the imaginary brick wall came tumbling down and the right words to complete Ben’s story fell into place. Reading it now, no one would guess this little book was such a struggle to write. I’m glad I didn’t give up and that I found a way to break through the block.
If you’re feeling stuck with a troublesome story, you might like to try what worked for me.
Teena Raffa-Mulligan is a writer, reader and daydream believer. Her publications include poems, stories, picture books and novels. Visit her website, Facebook and Twitter pages.
Ben Bumblefoot is available from Xist Publishing and Amazon here.
More information on Teena can also be found at her Just Kids’ Lit Directory Profile.