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Posts tagged ‘overcoming writer’s block’

Dealing With The Idea Of Writer’s Block, by Paul Volponi

That’s right. I said the idea of writer’s block. Why the idea of it? Because, in reality, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Whether you’re producing pages of useful prose or just sitting in front of a computer screen without the correct words coming to you, your brain is working on the novel. It’s probably working on it when you’re asleep, too.

So now that I’ve clearly established for you that I don’t believe in writer’s block, I’ll tell you what I do when my output starts to slow down. First of all, I write everyday, no matter what. Usually, a sitting can last anywhere from 45 minutes to three and a half hours. Some days I work through two sittings. My standard rule is this: When I feel like I’ve gone dry and my thoughts aren’t flowing naturally, I stop. I’m not done by any stretch of the imagination, though. I just walk away for a while. What might I do next? Anything physical, which I believe opens my mind back up to a good flow. I’ll jog, shoot baskets, practice Kung Fu, or just go for a walk with my dog. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been six or seven blocks from home when the ideas started coming again in waves. That’s why I started taking a pen and pad with me, to write on my way back home.

When I go dry, I also like to change writing stations in my house. I move from the basement to the kitchen or from lamplight to natural light, just to spark something inside of me. There’s a McDonald’s I particularly like that has a second floor to it. Sometimes I sit there with a notepad. I think the light and sounds there inspire me. Music is good for me, especially when I’m singing along. I stay away from TV during a dry spell. Ironically, I never ever read to loosen up.

How fast does it come when I’m flowing? Rikers High took me eight months, with absolutely no novel experience behind me. I wrote The Final Four, my longest book, in the shortest amount of time, five months. On the slower side, just the final one-third of Black and White took about seven months.

I don’t like to give in to the notion of writer’s block, because I believe that writers should never give in. There are already too many reasons not to work and not to produce. When those reasons start coming from the writer himself, I consider it a type of self-sabotage that I want no part of. So don’t allow it to grab hold of you. Know that every moment you’re thinking about a story is a productive one on some level. Then discover your own ways to get back to your writing comfort zone.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

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Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Lish McBride

I feel like a jerk saying I don’t believe in writer’s block. It might be a serious issue that you have to deal with. In saying that I don’t believe in it I might be making light of your experience. That being said, in my own realm of personal experience it’s not something that I believe in.

For me, there’s never been a time when I couldn’t write at all. There was a short time after the hurricane when I couldn’t write anything that was good, and there have been times when I have been stuck on certain projects, but neither kept me from actually writing.

When I have a problem writing, it’s usually due to an external cause. After the hurricane I was distracted. I was anxious, nervous, and staying in a small town in Mississippi where I didn’t know anyone and I was spending a lot of time alone with my toddler. There were a lot of things up in the air, and my attention was highly fragmented. So sitting down to write things that didn’t suck was extremely difficult. I did write things as I was still in school in a temporarily online fashion and I had stories due. They just weren’t my best work. These kinds of things happen. Life happens. At that time I wasn’t going to produce anything decent until I dealt with the cause of my anxiety, and that was going to take time.

When I get stuck in a story, it’s usually because I haven’t figured out what’s happening next. I got really frustrated writing Necromancing the Stone because it was coming along so slowly. At times I was lucky to get a few pages. I was under a lot of pressure and that was being compounded by my frustration at my slow pace.

A very wise friend told me to go and write something else for a few days. I argued saying that I had a deadline and I had to be responsible. She argued that obviously slogging away wasn’t working and I needed a break. She was right. I spent a few days working on something else and it worked. What I had needed was to feel a few days of actual movement – something where the pages were flying. It was a great pressure release and easy for me to understand in hindsight. I work best when I’m hopping about like that. If I had thought about it, I would have realized that was what I was doing during the first book. I had still been in school, so besides working on my novel I had to produce short stories, script pages, and work on the school journal, so I realized that I function much better in that kind of environment.

When you feel like you’re stuck, I wouldn’t focus on the stuck part. There’s nothing wrong with your ability to write. That doesn’t just go away. Have faith in that part of yourself. Instead, think about what might be causing your “blockage.” Are you stressed out? Do you need a few days of rest? When’s the last time you read something? You have to remember to feed your brain.

Try writing something else. Alternatively, try writing a different way. If you’re a laptop writer, swap to pencil or pen. Switch locations. Try some free writing or some exercises. Write a scene with your character in it that has nothing to do with the book. Background material is very helpful even if it doesn’t make it into the novel. Storyboard or outline – this generally doesn’t work for me, but it has for friends. Move your outline around. Change tenses or POVs. Play with your characters and your story. Talk it out with a friend. Every time I get stuck, I bounce things off some of my pals. Usually by the time I finish explaining what my problem is, I’ve figured it out.

Go do something else. Sometimes you have to go clear your head. Go on a walk and think about your problem. Or go on a walk and don’t think about it at all. Sometimes I will clean things because it is nice to do something and see an immediate result.

Write something crappy just to get yourself started. I feel like a lot of writer’s block is actually fear of the page. Blank pages are scary. So make them not blank. Get some words on that page! It doesn’t matter if they’re crap. That’s what editing is for. What’s important is just getting the story going. Sometimes imagining the whole project can be overwhelming. I often don’t think of the whole story when I’m writing. I write by scene. It’s more of a, “Okay, my character is here, and now I need him to get here” sort of thing than a, “I need to write 300 pages now!” sort of thing. Break it up into manageable pieces.

Homework: Think about something you’re stuck on. Try one of the above suggestions or read other author blogs to see what they suggest and try that. Trust me, most of us have broached this topic at least once in our blogs.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

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Techniques For Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Beth Revis

Writer’s block is a common malady – or is it? I always struggle when people ask me what I do for writer’s block, because I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it. I’ve gotten stuck, yeah, but I’ve not gotten truly blocked. So, on this subject, my first instinct is to analyze what’s wrong. I think, however, being blocked or stuck is individual to each author. For me, when I’m stuck, it means I’ve gone down the wrong path in writing and I need to backtrack and figure out what the story should be. So, the first step is to figure out what your individual problem is. In most cases, however, what’s needed to get over writer’s block is a few simple steps.

1) Identify the problem: In some cases, being stuck means you’re just bored. Find a way to spice the story up – if you’re bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it. In other cases, being stuck means that your characters have come to an impossible situation – or just the wrong one. Solving this will mean backtracking, possibly restarting the whole novel. Really sit down and brainstorm where things started to go wrong – then you can identify how to fix it.

2) Change methods: I usually write on my computer, but when I get stuck, I switch to a legal notepad and a good pen. Something about switching the method in which I write gets the words flowing. Sometimes I just write out a “mind map” – just ideas, linked with arrows. Eventually, I start writing the scene – and when I get to the point where I can’t write fast enough by pen, I can go to the computer and pick the story back up.

3) Change location: This is my other secret to success. If I’m not writing well, I change location. At home, I tend to write either on the couch or at my desk. If I peter out on the couch, I move my laptop to the desk, and vice-versa. But if I’m really stuck, I will often leave the house entirely – a coffee shop is a safe bet, or, if the weather’s good, I’ll go outside. Going somewhere else to write puts you in the mindset that when you get there, you need to write – and so you do.

Stop writer’s block before it starts: A lot of time, for me, I get stuck because I’m lazy. This is usually when I’m at a hard part to write, or when I feel tapped out. In order to stop myself from getting to that point, I do these two things:

1) Use a timer: When the going gets tough, the tough get a timer. This is a trick I picked up from PJ Hoover, author of Solstice. I use just a simple egg timer – I tend to set it for about an hour. During that hour, internet’s off. The only thing I can do is sit in front of my computer. Stare, if that’s all I can handle. But usually, that gets words going.

2) End mid-scene: Another trick I picked up from someone else (but I can’t remember who!) is to stop writing for the day before I run out of steam. Don’t end the chapter or scene you’re working on – leave it a little bit before you finish. Then you can easily pick back up the next day.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

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Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Andy Briggs

You’re hammering away at your story. The words tumble from your brain, excite your fingers, and the resulting text on screen is pure gold. You’re unstoppable.

Until writer’s block looms ahead or, more likely, suddenly appears as you slam into it and stop dead. Now, no matter what you do, you can’t progress with your story. The ideas simply won’t flow, so you decide to write another scene – but, strangely, that won’t work either because your thoughts stray back to your original problem. Worse, you put in a lot of time writing future chapters – then, when you finally crack the block, you discover that your future work doesn’t fit your story and you’ve wasted a lot of time.

So writer’s block is an unavoidable peril. After all, it happens to us all. But there are ways to manage it without wasting your time. In fact, writer’s block could make you even more productive.

So, in our scenario you are writing a chapter and your brain suddenly gets stuck in molasses and the story won’t come. First of all, check what kind of block you are facing. If it is a simple matter of not finding the right phrase, or making dialogue sound just right, then add some placeholder text. I tend to write the blandest text and mark it in a bright red font so I can come back to it and massage it later. Writer’s block has now been successfully skipped over. I have witnessed many great writers agonize over a couple of sentences, then lose the thread of their story, and take months or years to get back on track. All because of an irritating sentence.

However, some blocks are more immovable. Your plot comes to a tangled stop or you have painted both yourself and your characters into a corner that you can’t get out of. These are the worst situations, and sometimes it’s like being trapped in a labyrinth as you follow the same old routes in a circle. Best case, you are wasting time – worse case you have blown your deadline. If this happens to you – stop. Turn off the computer and go do something else. This simple act of not thinking about the story allows your subconscious to solve the problem for you.

This sometimes works, but if not – never fear. I have found the best way to beat the block is to start writing something else. As I write these words, I am having problems writing a chase sequence in a screenplay. It’s a key plot point to the story so I can’t just get away with glossing over the scene. I could spend hours, or days, staring at the screen – or I can write this article. If the solution is still not forthcoming when I next open the file, then I will go to work on something else. I have three books, a couple of screenplays to adapt from graphic novels and several other screenplays I could be getting on with. And I do. I make writer’s block work for me. By the time I hit a block on the new prose I am writing, then I’ll switch back to the original problem and marvel how suddenly easy it is to continue on as if the block had never intruded.

One final thought:  I believe writers sometimes bring writer’s block on themselves by sitting at their computer, opening the previous day’s work and reading it. That is the kiss of death. You will find faults. You will find better ways of constructing the scene – so you do. You go back and change the previous days work. Believe it or not, you are not improving your story, you are trapped in a form of writer’s block – unable to move forward.

I never re-read my work while drafting. That’s what rewrites are for. Never go back!

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

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