Clearing ‘writing’ blockages

Right now, I have two manuscripts that are “works in progress” to use a business term. By that I mean I’ve started writing the first draft of the manuscript, but have not finished it. In both cases, I’m probably 50 – 60% of the way to end, but I’ve stopped. For each book, the reasons are different.

The working titles of the books are Manpads and Hannenkamm. Manpads, when I started working on the outline was conceived as the last book in the Josh Haman series. It got its title from the acronym – man portable air defense system – or Manpad. In it, one of Josh’s sons – Sasha – is a Navy SEAL and is in Afghanistan hunting for the bad guys’ stash of man portable anti-aircraft missiles that Al Qaeda wants to use as part of a massive attack on the U.S. that shoots down airliners and disrupts our electrical grid to paralyze American businesses and disrupt everyday life.

So far, the plot is fleshed out, but in my writer’s mind, it is missing something. Where I stopped, Sasha and his cohorts have identified one of the bad guys, an Army missile technician with experience overhauling Stinger missiles. He became a Muslim and is updating the guidance software from Stingers acquired by the Taliban. Where I’m struggling is a role for Josh, who is now retired from the Navy.

Hannekamm is my new passion. It’s a stand alone novel with its own cast of characters. It’s a story about four men and the families. It starts at the end of World War II and will end during the years of the Vietnam War. That’s a long period of time and right now, I’m struggling with how to jump a few years at a crack. So what I think I’m going to do is use the narrative to provide insight into what’s gone on and then have some action or key dialog that further develops the character, creates tension or conflict. In my next blog, I’ll give you a short synopsis of the four families.

Getting through a block is easier said than done. There are mini-block which I can work through in a few days and then, there are the major ones like I am facing with Manpads.

            From what I’ve learned talking to other writers, we all do it differently. What I’ve found successful is I let my mind wander when I am either working out or when I’m walking our three dogs.

Over a few days, the next plot element or scene comes to me and then I sit and write it. The one constant is that the story keeps diverging from the original outline. To me that’s O.K. because I am letting the characters evolve and act out the story line.

The reality is that I never know how the book will end. That’s determined by the characters and what I think are their logical actions. They tend to take me where they want to go and as the writer, I have to make a judgment call – do I want to let them go or do I want to rein them in and bring them back to the original outline? The reality is that it’s both and sometimes, after I write the passage, I realize that it wasn’t worth the effort. Other times, it leads me off into new directions.

That’s, I’ve learned, part of the creative process. Stay tuned.

Marc Liebman

October 2016