Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why I Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block and What I Do When My Writing Gets Stuck

I don’t believe in a mystical state of unwriterliness, some incomprehensible force blocking my words. In my experience, Writer’s Block is just the name we use for being stuck. And getting stuck has causes we can understand and overcome. Sure, you can call that Writer’s Block. But to me, Writer's Block was a mysterious and inevitable thing, something I just had to wait out. One day I said, “I’m stuck. I just don’t want to write this scene. Why?” And my whole approach to writing changed.

I figured out that I get stuck when I don’t know what should happen next, I can’t decide between a few different things that could happen next, or I’m dreading writing what I know (or think I know) needs to happen next. Here’s how I deal with these different forms of stuckness:

1) What happens next? What do I write? Aargh!

I’m not an outliner. I don’t like to plan the whole story ahead of time because I like to be in suspense just like my characters—and my readers. But I avoid the problem of not knowing what to write next by thinking about my story while I’m doing chores, riding in the car, in the shower, whatever. When I sit down to write I almost always have an idea how to begin the next scene, or finish the one I left off on.

Another helpful trick is rereading some of what I’ve already written. Often by the time I get to where I left off writing, the words just flow.

I’m also not afraid to write out of order. If I get a great idea about something that’s going to happen later on in the story, I’ll skip ahead and write it. I write whatever I’m most passionate about at the moment. It keeps writing fun for me, and I enjoy going back later and filling in the blanks, rearranging the pieces. It’s like a puzzle. It’s almost complete, and then—there’s that piece I’ve been hunting for all along! I stick it in that gap in the middle and the whole thing is complete!

Reading what I’ve previously written and writing out of order also help me with the dilemma of deciding between different ideas of what could happen next. As I read or write other scenes, the answer becomes obvious to me.

2) I know what I’m going to write, but I’m dreaaaading it. And you can’t make me write it! So there!

If I’m dreading writing a scene, I try to figure out why. Is it boring to me? If so, it will probably be boring to the reader. What else could happen that would be more compelling? Is the scene really necessary? Maybe I can just get rid of it. Writing out of order is helpful here too. Sometimes I avoid a dreaded scene only to discover the story’s better without it. What a relief!

What if the scene isn’t just boring? What if I’m actually afraid to write this scene? Is it emotionally difficult? Do I feel like I’m not good enough to pull it off? This is a tough one. I say a little prayer, grab some M&M’s, and plunge in. I tell myself to just get it down, and I can take a fresh look at it tomorrow and fix it. Now that I have some experience tackling dreaded scenes, I can also tell myself that I’ve done this before, and that these scenes usually turn out to be the best scenes. The scenes with heart.


Stina said...

I'm a planner. A very thorough planner. I've been using Donald Maass's latest book (21st Century something) and it's helped with the issue of writer's block. I have to brainstorm a lot and my brain sometimes hurts doing that, but it's worth it. With my last wip, it took me a month to write the first draft and three to edit it (including CP feedback). In the past, it took me a year from start to finish to get to the same point because of the numerous rewrites I had to do. Yay for extensive planning!!!

Unknown said...

I am like you. I do not outline. I feel like my creative process would be stifled if I did. I just write, making sure each scene has a tension and a positive/negative as mentioned in Snyder's book Save the Cat. And I've never had writers block. Driving in the car, listening to music, always helps me write my next scene.

Great post!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

I do outline, but there are still sections I'm more/less excited about writing. I might be less excited because it's just plain hard to write, but yes--it can also be because it's not really necessary to the book. To the backstory maybe, but the actual pages, no.

R.R. Russell said...

Thorough planning is a great strategy for many writers, but for me, too much planning steals my joy and actually makes me feel stuck!

Now that I'm a pantser with a lot of practice (haha!) I can write fast and rarely get truly stuck.

Besides, without those stopping points, when would I fold the laundry? ;)

LinWash said...

I started off as a go with the flow kind of writer, letting the character take me where he or she will. But lately, I was challenged to develop an outline for a book I haven't yet finished. The process felt unnatural, and, I admit, blocked me for a bit. I've since learned to hold that outline loosely--like a safety net a trapeze wire. At least I have an idea where the book will go. But I can still deviate from the outline if I so choose.

R.R. Russell said...

That's a good point, Lin. Often editors who ask for an outline are happy with a paragraph or two summarizing the proposed book. This can be a nice compromise that gives a general idea what the book will be about, while still letting us pantsers have the thrill of discovering what happens as we write.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Wow. You completely stated how my brain works. YAY! No outlining, writing out of order, and so on. If I'm "stuck", I move onto either a) another WIP or b) something else entirely.


LinWash said...

And that's truly what I am--a pantser. But sometimes, it's nice to know how a story will end.