The Literary Pause

I’ve hit that point in ♥My Book♥ where I’m going to slow down. I’ve done 43,000 words in about 40 days. It’s nice progress for me, about half a novel.

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, meaning I give folks like Amy Deardon heart palpitations because although I know where I’m going, I don’t know all the steps I’m going to take to get there. Frequently I end a scene and think, “Okay, what do we need next? What follows naturally?”

At some point in every book I’ve written, I’ve hit a wall, at which point I take a pause. It might be a week. It might be a few rather intense days of banging my head against a problem. It might be a couple of years (oops.) What it generally means when I stop cold is that there’s something I need to learn before I can complete the book.

Ninety percent of writing takes place in your subconscious. Well, my subconscious; I can’t talk about those who devise a road map before they set down the first word. But a SOTP writer is whirling things in her brain as she’s writing, incorporating everything she sees into her story.

For example, while I’m still trying desperately to trap that injured stray cat, my protagonist reverberates against my heart as I’m calling “Kitty-kitty!” and I realize something about my protagonist and something about my little injured stray love. Abruptly it’s obvious that my protagonist needs to be feeding a stray, what that action says about her, and how the feeding of a stray cat is going to emblematize another relationship in the story.

Of course, you won’t read that directly in the text (only if you read it right here, or maybe in someone’s doctoral dissertation about me in fifty years) but your unconscious will pick up the subtext behind a pair of kitty bowls tucked behind the garbage cans.

What happens next needs to be very tightly-plotted, but more than that (I suspect) I need to learn something. My subconscious knows I’m not ready to write it, so it pauses.

I did this during Scavengers, when I took a two week break and wrote “The Girl You Remember” and “Mechanics.” I did this in between the last five pages of The Guardian, which couldn’t finish until I realized something about Tabris’s character; all it required to break that deadlock was to page back three chapters and retroject one very important conversation.

As I place my stray cat under the protagonist’s front steps, and as I fiddle with parts of what I’ve poured out,  I’m wondering what (either boogey-man or instructor) is going to leap out of the closet. 

Check back in a few days to see whether the progress bar starts moving again.


  1. Cricket

    I love the idea of doctoral dissertations 50 years from now.

    Remember when that meant getting the keys to the vault and putting on white gloves, to be allowed in the same room as the source documents? When the same five-word scrap on a beer-stained napkin inspired twenty different students to drink the same beer so they could come up with a new intepretation?

    In 50 years, they’ll type your name into google. They’ll see all your pseudonymns on wikipedia. They’ll read your blog, your other blog, your friends’ blogs, and the story you wrote ten years ago and some fan left online long enough for to grab.

  2. Pingback: The Literary Roadblock « Seven angels, four kids, one family