Friday, January 15, 2010

Fighting Writers Block

Today let's talk about writer's block.  First, what is writer's block?  We hear about it all the time, but everyone seems to have a different definition.  One writer friend says she becomes paralyzed with fear that her writing is so awful she shouldn't even be trying to write, and when that happens, she can't.  Others say that when they come up with an idea that they think could be turned into a story, once they sit down to start wrting, nothing comes.  Still others can get halfway through a project, and suddenly they've run out of ideas, inspiration or whatever you want to call it.  They are dead in the water.

I think we all can agree that nothing is more frustrating than having that idea in your head, sitting down to put it in paper or, more likely, into the computer, and then, WHAMO!  nothing comes!  Your mind is a pristine white, perfectly blank piece of paper.

Well, don't feel bad, it happens to all of us.  So what can we do about it?  Have you heard that old saying, "Put you butt into the chair and write?"  And have you replied, at least in your head, "That's what I'm trying to do"?  But how are you trying to do it?

If you have a schedule for writing, and you keep faithfully to that schedule, you can write.  Oh, maybe not get down that perfect idea you woke up with , but write something. A character sketch. A query letter.  A poem.  Try a bit of haiku, the Japanese poetry with three lines of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables.  Anything you write is going to keep your mind active, and the more you write, the more you CAN write.  Umm, yeah, a bit of a cliche' but I've heard it so often it must be true.

So, okay, you've got your schedule...and it doesn't matter if it's 15 minutes a day or 3 hours a day, as long as it is a set time that you stick sit down and the ideas don't flow.  You sit and stare at the computer.  You check your email.  You go to your literary boards and see what's happening there.  You get a snack.  The computer screen is still blank.  What's wrong?

Maybe your ideas are not flowing because you've not done the planning and/or the research you need to do.  You've got the idea, maybe even the plot, but what else?  Do you know who your characters are?  Do you know them so well you know how they think, what they are going to say, and how they are going to carry this story to the end?  Do you even know how the story is going to end?  Do you know what subplots you should have, and how these will interrelate with the main plot?  Is the time frame the correct one for the story?  You don't want to have teens texting each other on cell phones if your story takes place in the 1960s.  What about dress, vocabulary, colloquialisms and so on?  Are they all appropriate for the time and setting?

If' you say 'no' to any of these questions, then your problem is probably not 'writers block', but instead, not having done the research and planning ahead of time so the story flows smoothly in your mind, and therefore out your fingers.
Check it out, and make sure you've done all the necessary "scut" work before you sit down to actually write it.

Another thing to try is to not let the page in front of you remain blank.  Even if it is a computer page. I remember one of the exercises I had in my first ICL course.  There was a list of words and I was supposed to use at least 3 of those words in my next assignment.  I was also supposed to take the words I chose and extend them out to add more words that each single word brought to mind.  Example:  take the word "whisper."  what words does that bring to mind?  For me, it was: breeze, girl talk, rumors, leaves on a tree, mystery.  Can you write a story around those words?  I tried, and did.  Keep that in mind when you face a blank page.  Write a word, any word, even a nonsensical one.  Then write all the words that one brings to mind.  Then write a short story, or even just a couple of paragraphs using those words.  That's a good way to get the mind back in gear, and the writing juices flowing.

Take a break.  Seriously.  Take a deep breath, and step away from whatever you're blocking on.  Go for a walk, take a nap, do some gardening, play with the dog, or bake some cookies.  Go to the gym or start taking a daily walk. Anything to get completely away from the project.  Sometimes it helps to work on another project, either something you've already started, or maybe something totally new, that has nothing to do with the story you've blocked on.  I did that once...started a non-fiction article that had a deadline for the query, and just before I finished the article, I had a break through and suddenly knew exactly what I should be doing with the plot that I had blocked on.  Incidentally, I never did get that query out in time.

Sometimes reading can help bring our creativity back into working order.  Read some of the classics, a good mystery or some of the children's books "just for fun."  Don't try to analyze them, or figure out what the writer meant by that last phrase.  Just read.  Lose yourself in the story.  Let yourself get carried away into another imaginary world that you had no part of creating.  By the time you've finished that book, I would bet that you're just itching to get to the computer and get all those fresh ideas down!

The main thing is, don't give up.  Don't let depression set in, or that mean ole' inner editor say, "See, I told you you couldn't write."  Of course you can write!
Not everyone can, but YOU CAN.  Sometimes it's necessary to let our muse go on vacation.  After all, even she can get tired.  But there are all kinds of ways to entice her out of hiding.  Stay healthy, keep to a schedule, keep mentally and emotionally strong, do some of the things you love that have nothing to do with writing, read some good books, listen to some beautiful music, and before you know it, that muse is going to be begging you to come back.

Try it.  It works.  I know from experience.  Let me know how you do.

No comments:

Post a Comment