I’m one of the “lucky ones”, I suppose. Although I hear writers from all genres bemoaning “writer’s block”, I’ve never been affected by the malady. I’m a writer; I write. It’s what I do. Sure, there are days when writing is easier than others, but even if I’m distracted, distraught, or downright puzzled over what to write next, there’s one sure way to get past the problem.
Sit down and write something.
It doesn’t have to be good. That’s what the editing process is for. The writing process is for putting words down, for capturing thoughts, exploring ideas, and moving forward.
Recently, I came across a little information about “Writer’s Block” that I found interesting. There are, I discovered, many different ways in which writers can be blocked.
- What do I do now? Sometimes we can write ourselves into a corner. Sometimes we give a character a huge problem to resolve…and find ourselves at a loss as to how to proceed. Or we have scenes where we’re unsure whose point of view might be best. Yes, there are challenges in writing, but the answer isn’t to quit writing. When I come to these procedural bumps in the road, I just pack up and skip to a different part of the story. I trust that my subconscious will figure out a way to get around the problem. Sometimes the process of writing a later scene — or an earlier one — will give my brain a jolt, and I’ll have one of those “Aha!” moments. By setting things up differently, maybe the problem will disappear, or by heading for a different outcome, maybe the problem will be more easily resolved.
- I’m all out of ideas! Sometimes the writer’s well goes dry — or so I’ve been told. We’ve all been told that there are only so many plots…and that they’ve all been used a thousand times. It’s simply not possible to come up with a wholly new idea. The fun of creating, I think, is to come up with fun new twists on old plots, to come up with new characters to act out those familiar storylines, to throw in random ideas and mix old stories together to come up with something that might not be completely new, but is totally different. If you’re feeing blocked creatively, check the web for random writers’ prompts. Open a dictionary and choose a word at random. Do the same with an encyclopedia, choosing a topic. Then look for a way to incorporate that into your WIP or into the story you’re planning.
- What’s the point? My writing stinks! Oh, yes, this block is a pervasive one in the writing community. No matter how great our idea, no matter much we love a story, no matter how much we sweat and toil to bring our characters to life, at some point during the process — especially when writing a lengthy novel — we suddenly hate everything we’re doing. The idea, we realize, isn’t so clever. It’s silly. It’s dull. It’s boring. Characters? They’ve suddenly fallen flat. Their dialogue is a joke. That noble theme? Our meaningful premise? Somehow they’ve all lost their lustre. It’s all because of us, of course, because of our inadequacies. We’re not good enough to write such a complex story. We don’t have the skills to create memorable characters. We don’t know how to catch and hold a reader’s attention. In other words, plain and simple, we suck. Our writing sucks. Yes, we all feel that way from time to time, but if we keep writing, those feelings go away. We suddenly find ourselves turning a different corner and coming up with new ideas for the story, or a minor character suddenly steps up and grabs our attention. The excitement returns! The crisis is over. Of course, writing is an art and a craft, and there’s much to be learned. Set aside time to study. Learn about how to create characters, read up on writing dialogue, master the principles of suspense, conflict, and other essential story elements.
- What’s was I doing? Oh, yes. Distractions. Sometimes it’s all but impossible to avoid them. Friends call. Family members need assistance. An unexpected sunny day can lure us away, or a gloomy day can put us in a dreaded funk that makes it impossible to do anything! There’s laundry to do, meals to cook, places to go. Most writers today don’t have the luxury of quitting their day jobs. Children need care, cars need tune-ups, there are appointments scheduled for doctors, dentists, and vision specialists. And…there’s more! Sometimes even the slightest little change in schedule can throw us off. We slept late. We missed our favorite television show. We spent a day in bed with a sore throat. How do we get back in the groove? And then, there’s clutter. Even though we usually might not even notice our surroundings while writing, there are times when something out of place can jar us. Oh, those magazines need to be straightened up. What’s that plate and fork doing on the desk? Well, those coffee mugs need to be picked up, and all those newspapers have to be thrown out. Actually, part of this is the creative process itself. Being creative usually does mean making a mess. Eventually it gets cleaned up. There’s no easy way to avoid distractions. It helps, I’ve learned, to laugh as much as I can, do what needs to be done, and yes, give myself an occasional break — after I’ve finished the day’s writing. The rule is “a sentence a day.” Some days, that’s all I write. Most days, however, I find that one sentence leads to another…and another…and another. When distractions happen, work around them. A sentence a day.
- I don’t have time! This is usually a spin-off from the distraction problem, and sure enough, there are times when we don’t have enough hours in the day for everything that needs to be done. To be honest, though, such days are rare. We all have twenty-four hours in a day, and truth be told, we can always find time for the things that matter most to us. How important is your writing? If you can’t find time to write — a sentence a day, at least — maybe writing doesn’t really mean all that much to you. Harsh words? Yes. Life holds a lot of harsh realities, especially for writers. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. If you want to write, you’ll find time.
I’m writing this a 3:30 AM. It’s quiet around the house now, and for me, the middle of the night is an ideal time for writing. There’s nowhere else I need to be, nobody needs anything right now, and other than the mess I’m making, there’s nothing distracting me. I can focus. I can think. I can write.
Anna, the parrot, is covered and quiet. My husband is sleeping soundly in our bedroom, and a grandson is sleeping in the guest room. Last night, he and I watched Brain Games for several hours and had great fun learning about the tricks our minds can sometimes play on us. As we watched the program and talked about different things, we were also busy building things. Conner loves to create things with Lincoln Logs, Legos, and other building blocks.
He was awed when I told him about Ryan McNaught’s 190,000-lego recreation of the town of Pompeii.
Now, as I sit here thinking about writer’s block and building blocks, my brain is playing a game of its own, putting these two very different concepts together to create something different.
Why can’t writers’ blocks be used as building blocks?
I think they can be, don’t you? Look again at the blocks and what they represent. Look, too, at the possibilities they offer.
- Stuck in a plot hole? Not sure which direction to go? Why not use this block to try out several different possibilities? The more options we give ourselves, the more likely we are to find what we’re looking for. So, write, write, write. Write a scene where your character takes one action, then write another where the character does the opposite. Write a dozen different scenes. Try this. Try that. Nobody said it had to be perfect the first time. Nobody said you got only one shot at creating a plot. Use the “stuck” block to build creative freedom and try off-the-wall solutions.
- No ideas? This block is filled with possibilities. Use it as a reminder of all your interests, all the things that intrigue you, all the things going on around you. Grab a notebook and fill it with notes. What are your hobbies? What places would you like to go? Who are the most memorable people you’ve met? Jot down headlines from the newspaper that get your attention. Throw in random thoughts. Clip pictures from magazines. Use the “no idea” block to build your own Idea File and generate thousands of possibilities.
- Writing stinks? This might be the best block of all to have in your collection. Use it to build your skills and hone your natural talents. Sign up for online writing courses. Visit the library and check out books on fiction-writing. Join a critique group. Attend workshops. Subscribe to writers’ magazines. Writing is both a talent and a skill. There’s always room for growth and improvement. Use the “stinky block” to build your future by giving you a solid foundation in writing.
- Uh, what? OK, the distraction block is a tough one. It’s that one with the odd shape that never quite seems to fit anywhere. Consider it a block of challenge…or better yet, consider it a block that symbolizes your creative spirit. Make a special place for it. Take it out and play with it. Cherish it. You’re making a mess around you because you are creative. Celebrate that creativity. Use it. Keep writing, work around the distractions, and when you run out of clean socks, go do the laundry. Creativity is a gift. Honor it.
- No time? Although this can seem like one of the biggest problem blocks, you can turn it into one of the biggest building blocks. Schedule literal “blocks” of time for your writing. If you can’t write for eight hours a day, can you manage four? How about two hours? Sixty minutes? No? Fine. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes is all you can manage…today. What about tomorrow? Can you pencil in a bigger time block? Do you have extra time on the weekends? How about getting up an hour earlier? Or maybe you could skip that night at the movies this weekend and stay home to write instead. You’ve got twenty-four hours. No, you can’t use all of them for writing, but use the “time block” to remind you that there is always time to do what you really want to do.
Now, it’s time for me to move on, get my day started, and turn my attention to my WIP. It’s going to be a very busy day. Later, we’ll drive Conner home, then we’ll head to our grand-daughter’s place about 40 miles away. She’s living in a house we own, and we’re in the process of fixing it up a bit. Today’s project will be moving a washer and dryer from the basement to the new upstairs utility room my husband has constructed.
Yes, it’s going to be a busy, busy day.
I’ve got cod fillets, potato salad, and mustard greens on the menu. I’ll be fixing dinner as soon as we get back home. I’d like to find time to watch the latest episode of “Project Runway Allstars” — it’s recorded on the DVR — and I’ll need to straighten the house a bit. We still have Lincoln Logs, Legos, and assorted building blocks scattered all through the living room.
But, that’s all right. Picking up those blocks and putting them away can wait. Right now, I have a job to do. I’ve got a new romance novel to write.