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