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.