Sunday, August 7, 2011

Writer's Block

One of my friends in SWAG says that she doesn't believe in writer's block.  She says it doesn't exist.  I think that's rather an extreme view.  I will say, though, that I don't hold with muses, or waiting for inspiration to strike.  I think that there's this lovely feeling where the words are flowing from one's fingers, and they're all the right words, and every sentence makes you laugh when you put it down, and it's all a masterpiece.

For me, that's fueled by too much caffeine and staying up until 3 AM to write.  Inevitably, when I go back to edit those words of sheer genius, I find that I was floating on pure delusion.

So, instead of waiting for that inspiration, or wanting to feel that oh-so-right feeling of Being A Writer, I put my butt in the chair, and I get to typing.  That doesn't mean I'm always typing out words that will stay, or even that I'm being productive.  But, if I feel myself stuck for a very long time, there are steps I can take.

This trick was taught by a high school English teacher, and it's the most effective method I have of breaking out of a rut.  It works especially well if I'm having difficulty getting into a character's head, or if I'm just getting into a story.

I set aside a short period of time, usually 30 seconds to 2 minutes.  I set a timer, and then I start writing.  This works with freehand or typing, but the idea is to keep my hands moving, producing something.  The words that come out are not to be used in whatever I'm working on, though it can be related.  Usually it's whatever pops to mind, but sometimes I manage to keep pace with my writing well enough that I can plan what comes next.

What the freewrite exercise does is, it gets me working without the inner editor telling me what I'm doing wrong.  The early stage of writing is about exploration, seeing just how much you want to cover.  You can narrow it down in rewrites, but, when the idea is to get words onto the page, there's no place for the inner editor.  All the inner editor does is nag you with self-doubt in the early stages.

Most often, I run into a problem in the middle of my writing because I've written myself into a corner.  When this happens, I go back a few paragraphs, a few pages, maybe even a chapter or two.  I see where I started to lose the momentum, or where it became inevitable that it had to lead to what I just wrote.

Sometimes, when I read what got me where I am, I'll remember where I was going with it, and I'll be able to go on from there.  More often, I'll have to scrap it, because I tried forcing the issue.  If I'm lucky, I only need to delete a few paragraphs, but I have lost chapters at a time to the realization that Character X wouldn't do Y, except that the plot demands it.  Then I have to sit back and figure out how else I can accomplish what I need, without shoehorning my character.

From time to time, I draw a complete blank, or my mind wanders while I'm writing, or I'm sick and tired of what I'm writing.  As I am not writing under a deadline, I then get the luxury of setting aside what I'm doing to work on something else.  I can write a short story about a character I want to know better, or about what happens after the story is over.  I can switch over to something else entirely.  There's nothing holding me to my current project, except my own resolve.  I know I'm disciplined enough that I will return to what I was working on before, and so I can feel free to flitter away to whatever I please.  After I've let it simmer on the back burner for a while, then I can tackle my original project with a whole new perspective.

I'm sure there are other things I do to keep myself writing, but honestly, the trouble isn't feeling uninspired.  The trouble is finding time to write, and I'll tackle that subject another time.  For now, I leave you with the question of how you feel about writer's block, and what you do to get through it.


  1. I get writer's block often so I call BS to the notion of no writer's block. Though usually I get writer's block more with my paid work than I do with my novel.

  2. I was going to write a whole bunch about deadlines and other writers' habits, but I decided that made the post way too long and rambly, and I'd already declared I was going to write only about my own experience. And, in my experience, I do have moments where I'm having trouble using my writing time efficiently.

    I don't know what published authors do when they're on a deadline to get those words in by a certain time, but I know what I do, not being under a deadline. Going by my working life, though, I expect I'd mess around until a week before the deadline, then furiously bang out my prescribed word count.