I normally don't like to give writing advice because there are a lot of people who have been writing much longer and better than I. I'd rather stick to things I know, like snarky thoughts about camping, old-fashioned musicals, or discussing the strange but lovable creatures we call middle school students.
But I've had some major writer's block lately and it has me thinking about how to deal with it. I know that a fair number of aspiring authors read this blog, so I'm going to pass on what's helped me. Not in the spirit of pontificating, but just in case it helps anyone.
Because of the way my life is structured, I don't usually write everyday. It's just not feasible. Instead, I write in long patches on weekends or holidays, or during little league practices and that sort of thing.
I also write intuitively. That is, I don't have an outline. It just doesn't work for me. I wish it did and I've tried. I write more through a process akin to dramatic improv. There are clear terms and parameters, but within those parameters things happen in a wonderful, spontaneous way. I imagine I write this way because I was a theatre person long before I was an author.
This is all well and go0d--but it means that I'm extra susceptible to writer's block. If I have one gap all week to write and nothing comes--that's bad. And if that inspiration doesn't strike character-wise, then I'm stuck.
This week has been spring break. I wanted to get several posts done for a blogging gig I have as well as finishing a book I've been working on for a year or so. I have an idea for a new book I want to start, but I have a rule that I have to finish before staring the next one. Otherwise, I have 10 or 15 partially finished novels in my computer. So, I felt some urgency.
Here I was: motive, opportunity, and very rare large blocks of time. My laptop was warmed up, ready to go. And writer's block struck. Here's what I did that helped me.
1. Try something else. I know that a lot of people say the cure for writer's block is to keep writing. But I also think doing something else for a while can have a beneficial effect. I get some of my best ideas when I'm mowing the lawn or weeding. My wife swears that inspiration (not for writing, for other things) strikes her when doing dishes. Doing something that requires you to use different parts of your brain, something active and hands-on is always a big help for me. Exercise is similar.
2. Go back and make sure you didn't make a wrong choice earlier. I suspect this is less relevant for those who outline and write with a clearer plan. But I find that sometimes I have taken a wrong turn with a plot point or character choice. In doing that, I've limited the options or weakened the conflict. I usually find that if I go back, I find something I can tweak or change. That will often unlock the next several chapters very nicely.
3. Edit what you have. Sometimes when I'm really desperate, I'll go back and edit or polish earlier chapters. Besides the value of having a better final product, sometimes something I see will spark something for the point of the story that is stuck. It might be some unintetional foreshadowing, or a line of dialogue I had forgotten about. If nothing else, then I get a jump on the editing and revising that I will inevitably do.
4. Keep writing. Sometimes I know what I write is no good. Sometimes it's almost painful, in fact. But it can be changed and polished and revised later. Getting something on the page means I'm part-way there. I believe it was Madeleine L'Engle who said, "Books are not written. They are rewritten" and that is very true.
5. Do other things you have to do that you won't when you start writing again. This is related to number 1, but it's important so I'm listing it again. Because many writers do tend to get carried away and write for hours at a time when inspiration strikes, I have tried to be conscious of using the down-times more consciously. I try to play games with the kids and engage with my wife so that, when inspiration does come again, I hopefully have filled their buckets a bit before I go and become a hermit again--a hermit who mutters madly over his computer while trying strange expressions and weird voices.
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