Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writer's Block Got You Down?

by Connie Flynn    
•    You mean to write but somehow you never get yourself into that chair. You plan it, you think about it, but you never managed to write that day . . . or the next, or the next. Before you know it, a week has passed, maybe a couple of months, and each day it gets harder to face that chair.

•    You sit down to write but nothing comes to mind. You write a sentence, back up, fix it, write another one, but the ideas and the words don't even meet you halfway. You stare at the blank screen and, in disgust, finally shut the computer down.
•    You sit down and start writing but everything that shows up on the page is terrible. You hate it, you know it's rotten, if it's a contracted book you know you're in for massive revisions and may never make another sale. If you're not yet  published, you're now certain you never will be. Discouraged, you quit writing for the day.

You have writer's block and it's killing you. You've heard a variety of homilies meant to get you over the hump, most of them of the tough love variety, a route you definitely don't want to take. Besides, the one-step approach doesn't work on something as complex as writer's block. Let's take a moment to examine the root causes of writer's block, then go into how to overcome it.

Block #1 – Failure to Write. This is probably the most difficult block to get around because the  momentum against writing is already in play. It also can have multiple causes.

Scenario #1 – You've lost interest in the story you're writing. In other words you've fallen out of love with what inspired you to start it.

Solution #1 – Get Re-Inspired. Before you give up writing altogether, take some time out to explore your reasons for beginning this particular story and identify what prompted you to write it in the first place. Reignite that inspiration and your enthusiasm will return.

Scenario #2 – You're writing a book because it's in a hot genre even though you don't particularly like that genre.

Solution #2 – Writing to the Market. The only way around this kind of block is to view it as a business venture and soldier on through. If you dislike it so much you can barely sit to write, it's time for re-evaluation

Scenario #3 -- You haven't established or you stopped maintaining a writing schedule.

Solution #3 – Schedule Your Writing Time. Yes, writing at a certain time of day takes extra discipline at first, but once the habit is in place it becomes easier to maintain. As a plus, when you establish a predictable time to write, other people will begin to respect it and even encourage you to continue this particular habit.

Scenario #4 — Your schedule is so overloaded you can't find a spare moment to yourself. You have a job, kids, sick parents, a demanding spouse. Or an illness that robs your energy.

Solution #4 – Change Your Approach. You might have to resign yourself to not writing at this time. But if you're still determined, your only solution is to write a little less. Instead of aiming for, say 5 pages a day, aim for one, or even half a page. What's important here is that you keep the work at hand every day, even if it means simply scrawling a few words in a notepad.

Block #2 – Seat in the Chair, Nothing Comes Out. This is sooo discouraging and also the easiest block to overcome.

Solution #1 -- You aren't writing even when you're in front of the computer because you haven't chosen what to write (don't hit me for that one). The fastest way to get through this block is to do scene outlines that let you know what you're going to write about. If you hate outlining, don't do the whole book at once – just the scenes you plan to write that day or even that week. Another way to handle this block is to end your writing day in the middle of writing a scene. This gives you something to return to the next morning.

Block #3 – Crappy Writing. It's so discouraging. You put in the time and the crime is not working out.

Solution #1 -- The solution for this one isn't to quit for the day – at least not routinely – it's to write on through. A long-ago friend of mine, Pat Warren, said "We aren't writers, we are re-writers."  So true. Try not to judge your first draft too harshly. It doesn't do your book any good and it certainly isn't good for your writer's soul.
The Uber-Solution – Block Free
In most case, just taking a look at how your inner critic beats up on you is enough to get out from under. There must be something in the air or in the society that dislikes the creative process. It's too messy, too unreliable, too . . . weird. You don't really believe you can succeed, do you? Grow up they say.

Maybe you're the lucky person who isn't plagued by those kinds of messages, whether from others or in your own head, but most people in the creative fields are. For those who are, I recommend you build an arsenal of positive reinforcement – slogans you might call them -- but they are really affirmative reminders that you can persist, you can succeed,  you do have something of great value to offer. Write them down when you're feeling optimistic. If you are by nature a cynic, you might want to write down double the amount until they're full of saccharin joy and you can't help but smile. On bad days, when you're sure that your every word choice is wrong, pull out that list and read it until your crappy viewpoint passes. Better yet, tape the list above your monitor.

That, along with the following uber-solution can break through most writer's blocks. This amazing solution will soon sound very familiar, because it is: .
The way through writer's block is to sit down at your keyboard and write at least one sentence. Once that sentence is out, write a second one. 
Now here's the secret and what makes it uber. Don't intend to write your story, write about anything else. What you're going to fix for dinner. What the dog in your book is going to wear. Write a whole chapter about the setting. Don't worry about it being good. In fact, if you feel like it, take special care to make it crappy. In ninety percent plus cases, this burst right through the block.

If not, there is one more solution that every writer is forced to consider sometime during their career. If you're a new writer, chances are your frustrations are merely growing pains. If you've been writing for a while, you've probably experienced the  downs of writing. Sometimes they get to be so many that you forget the highs. This is what I call the period of re-commitment. You do that by asking this question: "Do I really want to be a career novelist?"

Don't answer it lightly and don't turn away from it. Let the other questions emerge. Bigger questions, like 'what do I want from my whole life?' Why did I choose to become a writer?' Small questions like 'is the feedback I'm getting discouraging me?' 'Am I being prevented from doing the work I really want to do?' 'Is my family supporting me?' Look at the pressures coming to bear on you and see what you can change and what you can't. Then decide if you want to be a career novelist.

Not so long ago, I re-committed. I had attended a consciousness-raising seminar that made me question the value of fiction writing. I gotta tell you it was painful but I found a gut level conviction that what I do has value that spurred me to move away from traditional publishing and become an Indie writer.

This isn't an online support group, it's just a little blog about overcoming writer's block but I'd love to hear about your experiences. Do you have a tried and true technique for chasing away writer's block? Do you have your own story about re-commitment? If so, let me know. We might possibly cross-blog about it.

In the meantime, I've just sent my first new Indie novel, KNOW WHEN TO RUN, a romantic suspense, to my Beta readers and hope to have the eBook version published by the end of August. I'll also be blogging a four-week series on Making Characters Pop Off the Page at Savvy Authors beginning this Friday August 9. 

And to end on an up note, my writing friend Pat Warren had another saying: "Anyone ever heard of plumbers' block?" Of course, the creative fiction writing process is much more nuanced than plumbing, but still . . . 

Till later

1 comment:

Mary Tate Engels said...

I can certainly relate, Connie. But # 3 is my downfall. I blame it on "too busy", but need to get my schedule under control.
These are great reminders.