Saturday, August 11, 2012
Writer's Block: Thoughts From The Trenches
“The best cure for a sluggish mind is to disturb its routine." -William H. Danforth
Writer's block sucks. Plain and simple.
Theories abound as to what causes this phenomenon. People who don't write might tell you it's just a figment of your imagination. Your shrink might suggest it's the manifestation of your fear of success stemming from issues of abandonment rooted in your childhood. All these people may be right, but that shouldn't stop you from punching them right in their smug face.
I mean, come on! You don't need someone to enlighten you about whatever psychological block is obfuscating your progress; you need ideas on how to snap the hell out of it!
So what do you do? Your mind has suddenly gone dark, that spark of imaginative fire that fuels you has abruptly extinguished. Or, maybe you're like me. You've no shortage of ideas, but suddenly have forgotten how to write English (or whatever your preferred language happens to be).
Either way, suddenly you feel... pointless. After all, didn't someone once say that the job of a writer is to write? If you're a writer, and you're not writing, you're not doing your job. If you're not doing your job, you're not being productive, or contributing to your family. And if you're not being productive or contributing to your family, your babies (the real ones, not your characters) will starve!
Oh, black day! What a waste you are! You might as well just give up this whole writing shtick- your mother always told you it was crazy anyway- and get a job at WalMart!
Slow down there, Hemmingway. There's no need to drink yourself into an early grave just yet. You have options.
You need only look at the volumes of writing quotes out there to figure out that you're not the first writer to experience this problem. Most of those quotes are by people who have gone down in history for their literary talent and way with words. So cheer up! If they've been through it, and still managed to come out the other side, you can too.
For your reading pleasure (or your grasping desperation, you pick), here are some tricks I've picked up to help get the juices flowing again:
1) Give yourself some space. Cut yourself some slack. Take a little break. Especially if you're in it to get published, remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Go dark for a couple days. Maybe a couple weeks. Hell, take a two-month sabbatical if you need to. Because you will go back to it. Your brain just needs a chance to reboot, recharge, and regroup.
2) Do some more research. You'll hear from very knowledgeable people that hitting the books when you're *supposed* to be writing is tantamount to having a marital affair. In theory, this may be true. But like so many theories, what looks good on paper doesn't necessarily jive with real life.
For example, when I've hit a wall in my current project, it's been very helpful to go back over my outline, look at photos of where my novel takes place, check out character descriptions again- basically, to do anything that refreshes the story in my brain. Because sometimes you forget how awesome your characters are, how your setting has a personality and a voice, and just where it is you were trying to end up when you started this whole crazy journey. So stop, and get that back.
3) Act like a writer. On it's head, that might sound kind of sad. Act like a writer? Isn't that what wannabes do once they realize they've run aground? Well, yes. And no. Another very smart person once said that you need to act like the person you want to become. That means acting like you're already the successful writer you want to be. Sure, you might look a little crazy first. But when you realize one day that you've actually become that person, you'll see that you were crazy... like a fox!
So go ahead! What does successful-writer-you look like? What does s/he wear? How does s/he talk? Relate to people? What can you do to publicize yourself (like, I dunno, creating a writing blog)? What can you eat, drink, do, say, to crystallize that image? Once you start doing those things, not only will you have a blast, but that dream-person will seem just a little more real.
And at the end of all that, you'll write, because that's what successful-writer-you would do.
4) Just do it. Okay, okay. Before you start throwing old shoes and broken bottles at me, here me out. Usually when I find myself stuck, I realize later that I was really only stuck in one particular place. If I can just grit my teeth, bite the bullet, and write through it, I quickly find myself in smoother waters. Of course, I go back and fix that one section later, because odds are what I wrote there was pure shit, but that's besides the point. That's the lovely thing about finishing a first draft. There's a second draft after it.
5) Fill out an idea list. This is where I'm going to shamelessly plug two of my earlier blog posts, "What Does 'Romance' Mean To You" and "Bringing Sexy Back". I came up with both of those lists as a way of getting my creative juices flowing. Especially if you're writing romance (like I am), it can be very helpful to have clear ideas of the things you find romantic, and the things you find sexy. It helps you evoke those feelings in ways that feel real to you. If you do happen to go through those questions, feel free to let me know what you think on any of them. Call it the writer's curse; I'm always curious...
I hope this proves useful to someone. If it does, let me know! Or feel free to drop a line on block-busting tricks you've resorted to in the past...