Challenge Journal, On Scene Writing

I don’t think I know how to write anymore and that is my current problem. A pretty pressing one for that matter since our project is due in TWO WEEKS. But it’s fine, I’m fine. I’m totally ok, and I’m not freaking out at all.

But, ok, I straight up don’t know how to do scene writing anymore. I can write academically with such ease. Having practiced it each semester in whatever comm class I was enrolled it, I’m not longer stressed about or challenged by it. But as I sit with my suggestions from workshop last week which were to paint vivid scenes so my audience can gain a sense of how I felt in those moments, I simply can’t do it! It takes me hours, I’m not joking hours, to write maybe one page double-spaced. Only 20 more pages and COUNTLESS hours to go!!! An otherwise enjoyable situation as I can just sit and write all day, the looming deadline is cranking up the pressure and consequently making these hours the longest and hardest part of my day. Not to mention that I don’t have the next two weeks to vacation from the rest of my responsibilities and focus only on this project. Ahh, finals.

Looking back on my previous writing, I found my English 125 literacy narrative. It was the first assignment in my freshman year writing class and ultimately the one I chose to repurpose for my gateway. In the essay I talk about the transition from high school to college and my evolving relationship with music. I take the reader through fond childhood memories, life as a theatre kid, and the rollercoaster of a ride up to Michigan. Looking back, I don’t mean to toot my own horn but I can’t even believe I could write like that, blending emotion, scenery, characters, action, and more so seamlessly. Re-reading this piece I hoped it would rekindle this kind of spark. But, of course it didn’t do that.

I searched and searched within the piece for a way it could help me now, but I simply couldn’t find it. Returning to work on my capstone piece after thinking maybe it subconsciously did something for me, I froze at my computer. In the coming hour, I remained stilted as opposed to at ease.

I guess my question would then be, got any suggestions? I’m paralyzed with fear that my project won’t become something I’m proud of because of the time required to craft scenes I barely enjoy re-reading. Any tips on how to do better than I’m doing right now?

3 thoughts to “Challenge Journal, On Scene Writing”

  1. Hey, Rachel. We seem to be kindred spirits this semester. I know exactly what you’re feeling.

    Luckily for you, I also have an idea that may help you.

    Sometimes, when I feel as though I’m drowning in my own writing, I find it useful to read a bit. Getting into another piece of literature can help me pull my head out of my ass and see my work more clearly.

    There comes a point when you look at your own writing, but you can’t even see it any more. Every time you try to read one of your own sentences, your brain auto-completes it and your eyes glaze over. I’ve hit that wall many times, including right now, which is why I’m reading and responding to the blog. My go-to for this situation is procrastination, but that’s not an option at this point in the semester.

    The second-best thing you can do is dive into a piece of writing that you loved when you read it, preferably one that made you feel as though you were a part of its world. Study how the text works to get you to that place, and then attempt to emulate that technique. Not every attempt will be successful, but trying, failing, and rewriting is a hell of a lot better than producing nothing new at all.

    Do you think it would be best, if you’re to take my advice, to read something stylistically similar to your project or something completely different? I could see merit it either method, honestly.

  2. Hey, Rachel.

    Like Keith, I am also in pretty much the same boat as you right now. Pretty literally, I think: I’m also currently sitting at my computer trying to pull perfectly constructed “scenes” from thin air with no idea how to do so. In fact, it was that word, “scene,” that made me click on your post. I’m writing a play for my capstone, and thus have also spent the semester repeatedly trying to capture everything that make up a moment into one scene, as it seems you have. Also in common we have the fact that it seems we’re both writing in new, less-recently-practiced genres. I’ve never written a play before, and it seems you’ve taken a break from the sort of narrative writing you’re doing now in favor of the more academic collegiate writing. I literally wrote a challenge blog post about genre discomfort last week. I see a lot of what I said there reflected here in your post.

    Thus, just know that you’re not alone at this point in the process; many of us are having the same struggles. Too bad you’re not in our Capstone class; you, Keith, and I could commiserate together.

    Okay, but group misery may not get us super far. You asked for solutions. As it’s only been a week since I wrote about this problem, I haven’t quite figured it out myself yet. BUT I did get some good advice from my teacher Julie, from my peers, and from my own attempts to figure out how to just write something, ANYTHING. Most helpful was the idea to go back to the genre that you’re most comfortable in and allow yourself to create the piece within that genre first. The idea here is that you’ll go back and be able to adapt it to the final form you’re looking for, but at least you’ll already have a framework down on the page when you go to do that. You won’t have to start from nothing. As an example of this, I’ve been failing at writing my script in a line-by-line format as a first step, as I’m not comfy getting my ideas out that way. Instead, I’ve been returning to my more comfortable genre of narrative nonfiction and writing out the scenes as prose first, then going back and adapting them into solely dialogue and stage directions. I’d been resisting working in this manner for most of the semester, as it seemed to be super roundabout and laborious, but, honestly, it’s better and more productive than sitting staring at a computer unable to write anything. I’d recommend starting by writing out the events and details you want present in your scene in a more academic way, whatever feels most natural, and then going back and re-manipulating them to be more “literary” or “artistic” or whatever aesthetic you’re going for. At least then you’d having some content down on the page; it may seem less daunting to start trying out a new way of writing if you already have something concrete to work with rather than starting from scratch.

    Good luck on your project! So excited to see them all at the showcase!

    Best,
    Hannah

  3. Hi Rachel!

    I feel you – it’s difficult when you have writer’s block but like super specific writer’s block. My writer’s block usually sets in with conclusions. I can zip through analysis and description, but figuring out the “so what?” of it all always gives me pause. Keith and Hannah have given very helpful options, but I’ll try to also offer my two cents.

    I’m a peer writing consultant at Sweetland, so I’ll tell you what I usually do with writers when they’re having issues with crafting scenes like this. I usually just ask them a questions.

    “Can you explain what it looked like to me?”
    “How did you feel in that moment? Why?”
    “What did it smell/taste like?”

    And then we go from there, picking out the interesting things or the things that excited us.

    It’s sometimes easier to explain things out loud to someone then have them tell you what really stood out to them. Or, if you don’t have a human to speak to, you could record yourself. A human may be less awkward, though. The thing about writing scenes is that all you’re doing is telling a story to a captive audience who can’t interrupt you. If you had all the time in the world and you wanted to explain something really thoroughly, what details would you focus on?

    -Regina

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