Because it’s Nano time, I’m thinking about the writing process a bit more than usual…
There is a lot of mystery around writing that isn’t necessarily good for those who are trying to learn the craft, I think. Learning how to write is full of cliché, bad advice, myth, and superstition. One of my biggest pet-peeves, one I see all the time, is this idea that Writer’s Block doesn’t exist. Or to quote Terry Pratchet (sigh: I like him so much – why does he have to be so wrong?) “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”
I think it’s not just silly, but actually harmful to deny the existence of Writer’s Block. Although full disclosure: I do live in California.
Oh good, I’m glad you asked. Here is the answer: If we pretend that there is no such thing, then we never learn how to overcome it and/or may feel like a failure if we do experience it. Let’s be honest. The creative process doesn’t need any extra help in making us personally feel like failures.
Learning how to overcome writer’s block is a fundamental part of being a writer. There are always going to be times when your story isn’t working and you have no idea what to do next. The blank page is sometimes the most anxiety-inducing thing you can encounter. Being a writer is mastering that fear and angst, wrestling with the inability to do something, and to win.
Incidentally, I think this is why seasoned writers claim there isn’t any such thing. Because they’ve become so adept at tricking themselves out of it that writer’s block doesn’t matter much anymore to their output.
So… How do you, a fledgling author, win against Writer’s Block? Like much writing advice, it’s different for everyone. But here’s a host of things you can try that might do the trick and snap you out of it, and most of these have worked for me.
1) Lock yourself in a room with nothing but your writing implement of choice (pen and paper? Laptop?) and don’t let yourself out until you’ve been in there a couple of hours. This is the one that works best for me. It only takes fifteen-twenty minutes before I get bored out of my mind and start putting things on paper. Eventually, the stuff I put on paper gets good and starts to feel like regular writing, as opposed to the forced kind. This DOES NOT work if you bring in anything else with you. No smartphone, no internet, no games, nothing.
2) Work on something else. I don’t know about you, but I always have 12 billion ideas brewing half-formed somewhere. If I’m stalled on whatever I’m currently writing, I will often find that something else is just flowing prettily along and I can get a lot of writing done on that other thing. Don’t be afraid to swap back and forth as long as you’re still finishing what you start eventually.
3) Take a break and live some life. Ever gone to a museum and suddenly felt like creating a whole slew of things? How about a hike, or a picnic, a walk, or seeing a show? Get out and do something that isn’t writing and you might find that your well of words has filled back up again.
4) Take a close look at your story. Maybe it isn’t something missing in you, but something missing in your work. I once couldn’t move forward on a story for months before realizing that the character had behaved in a way totally unauthentic to herself – which is why nothing came next. A quick re-write solved it and got me going again. Joss Whedon swears by cutting his favorite scene and seeing where that takes him forward. I had a professor who was huge on rearranging paragraphs and chapters when stuck. Keep the original if you’re worried, sure, but fiddling with things is never a bad move.
5) Ask yourself what WOULDN’T happen next. Sometimes it’s easier to see where the right path is when you’ve taken some of the other wrong paths off the table.
6) Skip to a part where you know what happens. There are no Fiction Writing Rules. There is nothing anywhere that says you have to write the thing in any kind of order. Sometimes if you skip to where you do know what happens and keep going from there, the middle you couldn’t write becomes evident.
7) Lower the expectations you are putting on yourself. Nothing you write will ever live up to what the story looks like in your head. That’s okay. In fact, that’s how it should be. The best news for you is this: you can write the worst prose in the entire world and it is just between you and that white piece of paper, if you want it to be. Being bad at something is the first step to being good at something, and that’s all you need to do right now. Take that first step.
Hopefully this post will help, at least a little bit. Writer’s block is only catastrophically bad if you let yourself imagine that because of it you can’t produce. Otherwise, it’s just an unpleasant part of the job of Writer. What it isn’t is a myth, or something else you should feel failure about for experiencing.
Best of luck on your latest work. I know I’ll need luck on mine – Nano word count as of this morning is 7522. For the first time this month, I’m behind. Time to take some of my own advice!