Monday, November 17, 2014

This Writer’s Life 16: There’s no such thing as writer’s block (and how I deal with it)

I was hoping to make a joke about how I was trying to write about writer’s block and got writer’s block from attempting to write, and be all meta or something. (Is that meta? What is meta anyway? Is it meta to reference meta, or is it only meta when I reference myself referencing meta?)


The Myth of Writer’s Block

One day, you sit down (or stand at your standing desk) take out your pen and paper or open your laptop or take out your clay tablet and spike (I’m looking at you, writer of Gilgamesh) and you prepare to start writing but, horror of horror, nothing comes!  I can’t write! I have writer’s block! I’ll never write again!

Yeah. Right. Suck it up, Buttercup.

There is no such thing as writer’s block. It is a myth writers invented to give themselves an excuse not to work on their projects. (And won’t that statement make me popular, eh?)

The Brain Never Stops Working

Seriously, never. You are designed to have continuous brain function and to be continually observing, thinking and reacting.  Doesn’t matter how good you are at meditation, doesn’t matter how tired you are, doesn’t matter how much TV you’re watching. The brain is always going.

Which means you are always able to write.

If it’s not Writer’s Block, What is It?

It’s called being stuck and it happens. And the nice thing about being stuck is, whether is a car in the snow, a boot in the mud, or your story on a page, you can unstick yourself (and for those who want to argue about drowning in quicksand, that is not being stuck, that is being caught and yes, I am being overly pedantic).

Here are some of the tricks I use:

1. Start Writing Anyway

Seriously. WRITE. Write what your character is wearing. Write what room they are in. Write the weather for that day in the story. Write “ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY” a few dozen times (unless you and your family are alone in an isolated creepy hotel in the middle of winter in which case, better not). The very act of writing something can be enough to get your brain going and get you back on task.

2. Questions and Answers

Ask yourself questions about the project and write down the answers. How does the character feel about his/her mother?  Why is he in that room?  Why did you make her wear the red shoes with the green pants? What will the rain do to the fields? Doing this forces you to think about the characters, their world, their lives and relationships and helps you get into your project.

3. Do an Outline

I used to hate outlines. These days I rarely write without one because they act as signposts on the way to “the end” and get me there faster. Outline your story. If that’s too big, outline the chapter. If that’s too big, outline the scene.  Break it down into smaller and smaller pieces until you have something you can write. Then write it.

4. Edit

If I’m in mid-project and stuck, I go back 5 or ten pages and edit. I clean up the language; tighten up the character’s lines; improve the descriptions.  This forces me back into the world of the story, which can give me the boost I need so that when I get to that blank part of the page, I can keep on going.

5. Go Back and Read

When I get really badly stuck it’s usually because somewhere I’ve done something that makes it impossible to move the story forward. Maybe the demon was supposed to come to terms with its raccoon mother but I killed the kid already.  Maybe the matching pants and shoes will save the world but I made her wear red and green.  Maybe the rain was supposed to put out the small fire they were building but I wrote the driest summer ever and now there’s a grass fire.   Whatever it is, I’ve messed up the story. So I start reading from the beginning until I find the place where the story stops making sense. Then I fix it and get it moving forward again.

Need other Suggestions?

Hayden Trenholm (author, publisher, and all-round smart man) wrote a great post on Writer’s Block  that is well worth reading. There are also (according to Google) 13,570,000 other articles on the Internet about writer’s block.  Search through and you’ll find something that suits your process.

But no matter what, write.

Next Time: When is a project dead?

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