Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Writer's Block

I'm currently working on a humor project about writer's block. One of the characters is an agent. I'm just looking for some perspective as to how an agent might deal with a formerly successful writer that hasn't been able to write anything in a couple years. What would be the realistic way in which to handle this client, and what would be the way in which you'd really like to handle this client?

I think to a great extent I’d personally leave the client alone. Writing is a process, and not a linear one at that, and I don’t even pretend to know the first thing about how it works to write a book, primarily because it works differently for everyone. What some people might call writer’s block others will call laziness and even others will call process. My belief is that each writer is different and what you need to do to tap into your most successful writing self is different for everyone. I have to allow that to happen.

As an agent my income depends on my writers, but it also depends on the fact that my clients are writing good books, and sometimes that means allowing those clients to take the time they need to develop the book. I can’t shake a book out of a writer. I can’t even beg or cajole. All I can really do is be patient and wait, offer encouragement and advice when asked. And this is one reason it’s important for agents to have multiple clients. Trust me, it’s easier on my clients when I’m not depending on one to keep my agency afloat. If one of my clients is struggling through the process, taking a break, or exploring new directions, I have the luxury to let her be while I focus on those who are actively writing and submitting material. That doesn’t mean I ignore the client with writer’s block, I just give her the room she needs to discover.



CKHB said...

Ah, but what if the blocked writer has an existing contract with a deadline?

Andrew said...

Ingredients required.

1 Bowl (ceramic or glass)
1.25 litres water
1 word processor
Writer's left foot
Cattle Prod
Annie Wilkes

Problem Solved

Travener said...

I wanted to leave a comment...but can't think of so distracted...have no good ideas, Judge Judy is on...oh, and I need to weed the garden...I know I need to stick to it and come up with that comment but...maybe if I go for a walk it will clear my head...

Rick Daley said...

I echo CKHB's question, and I laughed out loud at Andrew's recipe. Nice!

Although, I believe you also need a block of wood and a sledgehammer. Although that may be assumed to come with Annie Wilkes.

Mark Terry said...

Oh, I don't know. Lawrence Block told a story about a writer who got in over his head with his bookie and claimed to have writer's block, so the bookie sent his thugs to the writer, locked him in his room with his typewriter and only sent food in when he slipped typed up pages under the door. It might be apocryphal, but there's definitely a ring of truth to it.

So is the one about Mickey Spillane living on an island and not being able to come up with a single story idea until his accountant called him and told him he was almost out of money. Then suddenly he was inspired with all sorts of ideas.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is a good question to ask an agent when you're finally down to the interview process, because I suspect that for each writer, there's a way that he or she would like to be handled.

Me personally, if you leave me alone and don't bug me, and I'm having writer's block, I'll just quietly go away and watch Criminal Minds re-runs. I NEED to be bugged. I NEED to be harrassed. I NEED someone to say, "Dude. Really. BICHOK. I need my chapter."

Yeah, that's what critique groups are for, but when you're in a critique group where everybody is pubbed, sometimes they're all busy with deadlines and they can't spare the time to harrass you.

And it's not like this happens often to me. But when it does, that computer becomes The Enemy, and I need someone to remind me that I can wage this war and win.

Heidi Willis said...

Jessica's answer is an excellent explanation of a real agent's attitude, but I wonder if this is really a book - and a humorous one at that - should it have an agent that's a little more colorful, and a little less realistic? A character in a book doesn't need to be (and maybe shouldn't always be) realistic to have readers buy into it.

I'd love to see this agent character be the Anna Wintour of the publishing world. THAT would be fun to read!

Anonymous said...

Funny! I see a connection between "bookie" and books....maybe cuz both are a gamble? LOL

I can't force it. When I get writer's block, I get up and do something else--physical activity or just getting out or seeing a movie or walking--a change of scene usually works for me.

Mira said...

Great answer, Jessica!

I'm in the unfamiliar position of having nothing to add. Everything you said sounds balanced, sound and practical.

I like what Heidi said as well, though. In a humor story, you'd probably want the agent to have an extremely exaggerated reaction: Like Mark's story, the agent could send thugs to intimidate the author; or send flowers and serenade the author; or stand on a ledge and threaten to jump unless the pages came in. Something along those lines.

DebraLSchubert said...

I love that you honor each writer's path and process. That's exactly what a good agent should do - be in tune with their writers so they know when to push a bit and when, as the Beatles so perfectly worded it, to "Let it be."

Lydia Sharp said...

You're answer to this is so professional. :) A couple years seems a long time to not write anything, though. That's just me.

For a humor story, I'd expect it to lean toward the unbelievable. Both the agent and the writer have some over-the-top quirks. Yeah. I would definitely read that.

Anonymous said...

After writing for years when everything seemed to flow out of me, I developed a health problem that required a medication that interfered to a significant extent with my ability to think (or even finish a sentence). I still TRIED to write, but nothing intelligible came out. After I no longer needed the meds, I continued to write but found myself rejecting as inadequate everything I wrote. I considered this to be a FORM of writers' block. I wrote but had lost my confidence and that crippled me. I've since recovered from that, am writing and liking what I write, but it has now been ten years since I've submitted anything for publication. I WILL complete the ms for the first in a proposed new cozy series and submit it within the year. I'm wondering, Jessica, if this "history" of mine will scare off agents and publishers. I'd be so grateful for a response to this question (from anyone).
By the way, writers' block is a very real thing for some of us and can have nothing at all to do with laziness or excuse-making. It's torture. I do understand how writers who've never experienced it can be skeptical, though, b/c I was one of them before it happened to me.
Sorry for the lengthy post, but as you can see, I'm WRITING!

Kate Douglas said...

Years ago I was in an online discussion with other authors about writers block and learned a fascinating "factoid" when one very prolific writer talked about the "lizard brain," that primitive part of our brain that's creative, that functions without rules. She said to try going for a drive along familiar roads where the adult brain is paying attention to the driving--that allows the lizard brain to function creatively without being blocked by the grown-up part. I know it sounds dumb, but for some reason it seems to work. When I'm having trouble working through a scene, I go for a drive and the problem always seems to solve itself.

Deadlines tend to keep me from getting blocked for too long--when you have a new book coming out every three months, the utter fear of not getting one done in time and thereby shortening the schedule for the next project is an amazing incentive to get the job done.

word verification: that like incest with a lisp? And it's not even Monday...

Sheila Deeth said...

Fun concept. Of course, the fictional agent can react one way, and the writer can perceive the fictional agent as reacting completely differently. Stop ignoring me. Stop assuming I'm over the hill. etc.

susiej said...

This makes me think of I Capture the Castle- when Cassandra and Thomas lock their father in the crumbling old keep with nothing but a bed and a desk full of paper.

I've never experienced writer's block, but I do know that a change of pace mixed with solitude is like writing magic for me. The beach, a forest, a sidewalk cafe sans cell phone- whatever the person's taste is- but ALONE and unencumbered is the key, I think.

Teh Awe-Some Sauce said...

Watch the first season of Californication, there are some hilarious scenes between a famous writer who hasn't written anything in five years and his agent.

There are also a lot of naked breasts and random sex, so be warned.

Elizabeth Lynd said...

I'm not sure if having my agent--or anyone for that matter--nagging at me would do anything to alleviate the blockage. I do know that when I am very busy, I get more done. So perhaps that is what would be best, a gentle nudge to take a class, volunteer, whatever. Hopefully when I am agented s/he and I will have the kind of relationship that will allow for me to ask for help if I need it, and for them to provide it.

By the way, Jessica, I linked to your Monday post in my blog today, the one about agent responses. You really got me thinking--and I'm still amazed at some writers' opinions on the matter of responses and rejections.

Anonymous said...

I think that that sounds NORMAL and not funny. I suppose the humor could come if the agent had a deadline and had to pull some drastic stuff out of their bag of tricks, but otherwise, a couple of years doesn't sound all that nuts. Or funny.

Juliana Stone said...

Kate Douglas is spot on, at least for me. I do this all the time. If I'm in the car driving, I'm constantly thinking about the scene, talking my dialogue out or truly helps me out big time.

WitLiz Today said...

To Anonymous 11:15am

When you get ready to submit your ms, try and think of it this way. I know I do.

You're at bat and you're starting out with two strikes against you, (which is where most writers with physical and mental disabilities typically find themselves. There are always exceptions, of course, but pretend you're not going to be one of them).

At that moment, you need to decide whether you're going to swing for the fences, or you're just going to try and get on base.

If you're going to swing for the fences, then all your fears about how agents/editors are going to react to this and that . . . need to get GONE.

Just hit your book out of the damn ballpark, submit it in a professional way, (ie don't include your life story) and let the chips fall where they may.

The publishing road isn't easy for any writer, or author, frankly. This biz is going to throw curveballs, changeups, fastballs, submarine sandwich balls, balls to the head, balls to the ass, balls to your ego, without prejudice.

The good news is, its also a business that will nurture you if you give back in kind.

So, it might be good to start thinking more about what you can do to make life easier for agents/editors and publishing as a whole, once you hit da homerun.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Since it's a humor project, if I was the agent and my client was constipated, I'd send a calendar page for the manuscript deadline and a bottle of Metamucil. Maybe that would inspire? :D

Chris Eldin said...

Author, I hope you're still checking in!! I don't come here that often, but your question caught my attention since I write humor too (for kids).

This part of the response stood out for me:
Trust me, it’s easier on my clients when I’m not depending on one to keep my agency afloat.

Oh, man, that would be hysterical!!! Sort of like Jerry MacGuire. An agent with one client. A client with writer's block...

Somebody else here said to make the agent colorful and not ordinary. Go with that! Sounds like a fun project!!

Anonymous said...

To WitLiz Today from anon 11:15: