by Ryan Lanz
For some, writer’s block is a very real and forbidding thing. I personally know authors who treat this as a superstition that no amount of garlic and rabbit feet will save them from.
There are countless blog posts on how to beat writer’s block–and yes, we’ll go over that too–although I want to also look at why a writer might encounter a writing block. Perhaps it’s not for the reasons you think, and it could be indicative of deeper issues. Let’s begin.
Is it real?
Of course it’s real. I didn’t leave much suspense on that one, did I? The reason why it’s real is because a person believes it’s real. Now, I’m not saying that writer’s block is a self-fulfilling prophecy per se, but how you regard it can affect how much it affects you. Deep stuff.
Personally, I don’t get writer’s block. At least, not in the way that it’s conventionally thought of. I have knots to unravel in the story, which can take time, but I don’t consider that writer’s block. I’ve found there are many occasions where a writer will subconsciously feel an issue in their story/plot/writing but will chalk it up to writer’s block instead.
Following this train of thought, let’s look at the roots of the issue, rather than the symptoms, to see if we can unstop the cork to your word bottle.
- I’m tired
- I’m emotionally drained (via a long day at work, life, etc.)
- I’m unsure of where I want the story to go next
- I’ve made the character do something that seems to conflict with his/her nature
- I’ve made a plot error and I’m unsure of how to fix it yet
- The particular scene I’m writing feels boring to me
- I’m uncomfortable (sitting position, temperature, hunger, etc.)
- I haven’t thought out the plot/character/setting before-hand as much as I should (or feel that I should)
- I’ve thought up another book and the current one no longer excites me like it did
- I feel discouraged in my writing for whatever reason
Personally speaking, if I’m feeling an impediment to my writing, it’s not due to an ethereal writer’s block; it’s due to one of the above reasons. There’s good news and bad news to that. Mostly good news. The good news is that every one of the above items are fixable. Huzzah! It felt empowering to come to the conclusion that it’s not a disease that I’m fearing will grab me but more so a process of elimination of what stands in the way of my productivity.
The only bad news to that, and I say this with a pinch of humor, is that there’s no cliché entity to blame my lack of productivity on. Let’s dissect the above impediments and talk about ways to plow through them. I’ll skip some of the more self-explanatory ones.
Take a nap! I absolutely love naps, and I find that they help my productivity greatly. I used to gripe about how it took time away from writing, but I find that the increased productivity after a 10 minute power nap more than makes up for the words I would have dribbled out had I wrote straight through. Plus, in the interim of falling asleep, I run through what I’m about to write.
Unsure of where to go next
One method I’ve found helpful is to go through a mental (or you can write it down) checklist of what you firmly don’t want to happen next. Often by listing what directions you don’t want the plot to go, the ways that you do will surface in your mind. Of course, the tried-and-true method of thinking of the worst case scenario for a particular character/scene has often done well for me.
Having a character do something that is in conflict with his/her nature is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a powerful piece of writing. The thing is, if it bothers you that you’ve just done so, then it probably means that you haven’t set it up right. One of the beautiful things about stories is that you can do literally anything that you want. You can make chocolate covered eyebrow hairs sprinkle from the fingers of a 100 foot tall anteater if you really wanted to (not recommended though) and if you set it up properly of that being the sort of thing that might happen in your world/story.
Go back and look at the mannerisms and decisions that have led your character up to that point. Think on how you could introduce external pressure to prompt the character to move in that new direction.
The scene feels boring
If a scene feels boring, it could be because there isn’t enough conflict in it. Try to avoid tossing in conflict just for the sake of it (as that can be spotted easily), but try to think of some ways to make things more difficult for your protagonist. How can you push your protagonist further from his/her goals, for example.
No longer feeling excited
If I stopped writing a book when it stopped feeling exciting, then I would honestly never finish one.Personally, when I feel a new, exciting idea come on, I calmly write it down in my idea book, then I intentionally put it aside. If I allow myself to focus on that new idea, it will leach away my enthusiasm for my current project. I remind myself that at one time, my current project felt like that, and that it’s still that good of an idea.
Let’s face it, for the professional author who wants to be published and live off the results, writing is work. Notice, though, that I didn’t call it a job. Of course, writing is immensely artistic and freeing, but (in my opinion) at times you have to view it like work to be able to complete it. In the last Ten Quote Tuesday, I shared a quote that said:
“If I have anything to say to young writers, it’s to stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work.” -Paddy Chayefsky
I don’t know that you need to think of your writing like that all the time, but sometimes it may be necessary to. To those of you writing a full length novel, a book takes a lot of long-term effort and energy. When I don’t feel like writing, I write anyway. It may be complete dribble that night, but that’s okay. My motivation is not a prerequisite to doing what I know I need to do.
In the near future, I plan on writing a blog post on criticism, so I’ll go light on this for now, but I feel it’s important to address. A writer can feel discouraged for many reasons. It could be criticism, lack of motivation, lack of self-esteem, etc. Even if you produce a stack of rubbish in the form of a finished manuscript, finish it anyway. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process that you’ll carry into your next project, and you’ll have a huge boost in self-esteem to know that you finished. The only thing worse than a bad chapter written is no chapter at all.
Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
Image courtesy of Ben K. Adams via Flickr, Creative Commons.