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