Friday, September 12, 2014

Writer's Block: Shan's thoughts

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m back with a new piece of advice to discuss. If you’re playing catch up, you can find last week’s blog in this series right here. It’ll give you a little explanation.

Today, we’re talking about writer’s block. Every author I know has been asked about this dastardly villain and many of them deny his existence entirely. Check out this quote by Thomas Mallon. 

No such thing, he says. And while I understand his sentiment, I don’t know if I’d go quite that far. Here’s what I think. I think the phrase writer’s block is often used for lack of a more specific explanation. Sometimes we don’t know why the words won’t come. There’s just SOMETHING standing in the way.

It can be helpful to strip the phrase of its power though. We do that by digging deep and pointing a finger at the real culprit.

I’ll start. I’m going to list a few of the SOMETHINGS that often keep me from moving forward with a story and I’ll share just how I’ve shaken off the problem. Ready?

When I blame writer’s block, sometimes . . .

I simply don’t want to write. Brutal, I know. But true. There are days when I should be writing, but I’d rather curl up with someone else’s story or watch old 49ers games or reorganize my bookshelves. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood.

When I reach this place, it’s usually because I’m tired or burnt out or starved for words. One way to address it is to give myself a day off. Instead of writing, I’ll read, watch movies, go to the theatre, play with my kids. I’ll do something else that inspires hoping my muse won’t stay hidden for long. But, if you’ve been doing too much of these other things lately, you may just have to demand your muse find you. And the only way to do that is to sit in the chair and start writing. Write anything. You can edit the heck out of it later. If you’re super-duper stuck, there are tons and tons of writing prompts on Pinterest. Grab one and write with your characters in mind.

I don’t know what comes next. This is a very real problem for the pantsers out there. Those of us who don’t outline and who just write the next thing that pops into our crazy heads. At some point, things could dry up on you. It happens to the best of us.

So, here’s what you do. Stick two of your characters in a room and get them talking. Lock them away (on the page, of course) and force them to discuss your plot. How are they feeling about all the stuff you’ve put them through? How do they relate to the character across from them? And goodness, what is that smell? Force them to confront the other character in the room and don’t let either of them out until you squeeze your next plot point out of them. This technique has been life changing for me. Books become living, breathing things when you let your characters talk to one another.

I’m burned out on this story. Confession: When describing angels one runs out of adjectives after a while. Not everything can be fiery. Something I learned while writing my Angel Eyes trilogy. After writing about the same characters for two years, I was exhausted. If you find yourself in that place, burned out on your main character or your story or, God forbid, your love interest, you need to do something to mix it up. That exhaustion will show on the page if you don’t.

While writing DarkHalo it helped me immensely to reread my favorite scenes. As it happened, they were set in the basement of a lighthouse. Cool, right? Those moments had action and emotion and passion and everything I, as the author, desperately needed to feel about my story again. If you’re having trouble moving forward because you can’t remember why you cared about this story in the first place, reread that scene you’re so very proud of. Remind yourself why you zeroed in on this plot in the first place.

Another thing I want to say—and say carefully—is that not being contracted can be a blessing. At this phase in your career, you do not need to feel obligated to finish the story in front of you. If it’s bleeding you dry, it’s okay to start something different. It’s even okay to bounce back and forth between two different ideas. Once you’re contracted, you will have to keep your behind in that chair until the story is completely done. But right now? Right now, you’re free to try different things. Find freedom in that.

I don’t want to be alone. This is one of those things I deal with because I’m half introvert and half extrovert. I absolutely need my alone time and I get overwhelmed when life is too busy for me to have it. On the flipside, being hunkered away in my office for extended periods can leave me in a dark place. Especially when I’m writing those hard, gut-wrenching scenes. Especially when the words aren’t coming. These days are the hardest for me. When I hit this rough patch, the idea of climbing inside my own head is repugnant and that makes tapping into my imagination difficult.

The good news is that as hard as this place can be, there is an easy fix and it’s as simple as writing elsewhere. Get out of your cave. Take your laptop or notebook and just go. I like cafés. There’s coffee and food in abundance and oodles of real life people. But if you can’t get to a café, try the library or a park. Bookstores are fabulous for inspiration too. A change of scenery works wonders for the soul and I bet it’ll add a bit of variety to your story as well.

So those are my thoughts on writer’s block. Phantom or not, it can be a thief of both time and words and the only way to get writing again is to do something about it.

Tell me, what do you do when the words won’t come out to play?

42 comments:

  1. Great post! I usually listen to some instrumental music (especially soundtracks) when I'm stuck. Listening to a particularly action-filled piece helps me get going.

    ~Linea Marshall
    (P.S. leaving on vacation tomorrow - see ya'll in two weeks! Also, looking forward to 100-4-100!!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I listen to music too. Loud stuff. It helps tons if I'm sleepy or just need to wake up. But as soon as I start writing, I have to switch to the instrumental stuff like you. HAVE A LOVELY VACATION!

      Delete
  2. (I don't think I had a chance to welcome you to GTW. Welcome! I can't wait for your posts!) I'm a pantser, so that problem happens to me a lot :/. I'm a half extrovert/ half introvert (There's actually a word for that- ambivert :)). I either work on another idea, scroll through Pinterest,(Though it's all too easy to get distracted), or talk to another writing friend and help her with her story. I have been doodling my characters, so that's helped too :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THANK YOU! I'm so happy to be here. Is it really possible that you and I are both ambiverts and pantsers?! We have our work cut out for us girl, but we got this. I wish I could sketch my characters. I'm AWFUL. Like, my stick people suck.

      Delete
  3. When words won't come, I clean the house. Sweeping and vacuuming gives the impression of cleaning away boredom and writer's block.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes! The cleaning escape. I do this too. It's not a bad thing either. Stephen King says his muse lives in the basement and that sometimes when he's out doing other things, his muse is hard at work. I like to think that when I'm scrubbing my baseboards, my muse is getting stuff done.

      Delete
  4. Thank you so much for addressing this! I have been having a hard time lately staying focused on any one story but yesterday I realized that it was my main character's personality that I just didn't connect to. And so since I had only written twelve pages I decided to start over and just change her personality. It did wonders. :):)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We ALL go through it. In fact, my current work in progress is a detective story and I had to start it all over when I realized it was reading too old. It was rough for a minute there, but I'm so much happier with it now.

      Delete
    2. Hmm... I have a sister who restarts her story all the time to make it fit a new idea. For example, she restarted her story five times last month. She's been doing that for about four years now, and she always says, "this is the last time I'm going to start over."

      Delete
  5. Great post! I've never been all that great at dealing with writer's block (or any of the excuses laid out here). My best friend/writing partner was telling me about something she's been doing lately and I'm pretty interested in trying it, myself. She basically has two "no plot" characters she likes to writes scenes about. Just scenes. There's no plot or story in mind for them (at least not for now), but she doesn't let the scenes contradict each other. If she wanted to write a story about them one day, she could probably just arrange them properly and connect some dots. No, it doesn't add to her main WIP, but it does serve as great writing practice and it doesn't let her get into that nasty rut of not writing at all. I think it's a great idea. Lol.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, that sounds fun. I have many made up characters, but no stories to put them in. That's such a great idea! Thank you!

      Delete
    2. Thanks for sharing that Ashley :):) It sounds super fun and a great idea. :):)

      Delete
    3. This is a fantastic idea! Truly. It breaks down the idea that everything we write has to be for publication. Thanks for sharing!

      Delete
  6. When my writers block comes, it is mainly caused by the fact that I wrote myself into a corner, as in I'm not sure exactly what needs to happen next. Usually it comes when someone is talking or about to talk, so I come up with a bunch of different things that the character could say or that could happen, that fit into the story line, and choose one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good girl! I run into that a lot as well. It's the whole pantser thing. I'm telling you, try locking your characters in a room. Make them talk to one another. And then report back. I'm curious to know if it works for others.

      Delete
  7. Great post! More times than not, I'll end up leaving the story for something else (I jump between stories a lot), then I'll think "Man. I should really work on that." So I pull it up and sit there...and sit there...then I do a word war with someone and that usually helps. After a word war or two I'm usually in the mood to continue writing and things start to flow. After that, repeat everything I just said. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good for you! That's exactly what you're supposed to do at this stage. Once you fall utterly in love with something, you'll refuse to put it away and then you'll know it's worth your time. The tricky thing is when that thing you're in love with gets hard. Then, then you need some folks to hold you accountable and make sure you stay at it.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, that's it! :) Sometimes I talk things out with my friends, most of the times they have no clue what I'm rambling about, they just listen, and then things will fall into place. :)

      Delete
  8. Thanks for the awesome post! I am so excited that you joined the GTW family. I can't wait to learn from all of your writerly wisdom :). When the words won't come I first make sure there isn't something on my mind distracting me...like the fact I have a debate tournament in a week and I need to work on my case. If that is the case than I will work on that particular thing for a while (until my brain feels less stressed about it and is satisfied with the work I have done) then writing comes easier. If that isn't the case than may just be stuck on that scene so I will write a scene that I want to write. Worse case scenario I will force myself to free write. Even if it's just "Today is Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday. I can't wait to see the new Doctor Who episode" ect. This helps get the flow started then I can turn my attention to my WIP.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Robin Hood, does NOT exist." Twang.

      Delete
    2. I love this. I love that you're going out of your way to solve the problem and not just ruminating on the fact that you're stuck. Love it.

      Delete
  9. Writer's Block, o how hated! This is writers block. I sit down at my computer and stare at the screen. I want to write, but what do I write? I think about all the stuff I can write. And I write everything I could write about down. Like a list. I could write about what it would feel like to have the sun shine on your face and your back at the same time, or or or...And then I sit and stare at the list. And feel uninspired. And to me, to work uninspired is to have worked in vain. So then I go take a walk. Because I'm always inspired to do that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nature is a fabulous source of inspiration! I agree wholeheartedly. I'm desperate to live at the beach. It would do wonders for my writing, I'm convinced.

      Delete
  10. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for this post. It has encouraged me a lot and has extreamly helpful tips on to get out of that place I've been stuck in often lately.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Mine is usually that I simply don't want to write. I get lazy. I want that first draft to be done, already. Editing is my favorite, but that means finishing that first draft! Blerg.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoever said that "having written" is the only happy place for a writer, was right. I CANNOT wait until I can say this about my work in progress.

      Delete
  12. I guess "writer's block" is a sort of umbrella term for the various reasons we're not writing when we *could* be. Right now, for example, I finally don't have homework I have to do by tomorrow morning, but I'm not writing because a) by the end of a school week I'm mentally and physically exhausted and b) I'm starting a rewrite on a book that I'm still worried might be one for the "it was a good learning experience but it's time to move on" shelf.

    I thought on Tuesday that I was definitely giving up, but I felt so guilty and mournful every time something reminded me of the novel - a word I used a lot, a kid in my English class who looks exactly like one of my characters, even though I started writing the character long before I met the kid - that I decided I could maybe make this work after all. I mean, even though the MC isn't sounding quite right I love her in my head, and I love the premise and theme. Hopefully that will keep me motivated enough to fix the snafu of subplots that passes as a main plot. It's just so...headache-y. Which I've been told is normal for the first draft of a first novel, but still. I don't want to give up on it, but I don't really know how to work on it either. And I don't want to take another break from writing, since I already took six weeks between first draft, first readthrough,and then a lot of brainstorming time for the rewrite, and I miss writing. But I'm not doing it. *sighs* Maybe tomorrow, after I've slept more...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds like you just need to get in there and let yourself get all messy. First drafts are rarely ever anything pretty to look at, but neither are second drafts. It is perfectly acceptable to write poorly. Just get the story out of your head on on the page. YOU CAN DO IT!

      Delete
  13. I think you're exactly right and writer's block is so many things. Personally, for me it's usually either I'm feeling lazy, I wrote myself into a corner, or I'm going crazy from staring at a screen.

    Rereading my favorite scenes does usually help when I'm being so lazy I'd rather just forget about the story altogether. And I'm with you on the whole half-introvert-half-extrovert thing. I like being around people sometimes, but I get tired of it pretty easily and want to go hide by myself for a while afterwards. Usually when I'm writing on a laptop it's at my dining room table with all the noisy family around me, haha :) But if it's just me and my notebook I'll usually go sit out back on our lanai.

    Thanks for sharing! I've been really on-and-off with writing lately. I mean, I'll write like a whole chapter in one day and I'm pumped and everything, but then the next day I can't think of what to write next. So I don't. And then a week or two passes and I feel really lazy for not writing so I force myself to do it again and after about a page I figure out what I'm doing and do that whole chapter. And so on. But anyway, this is helpful. :) Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds like you're on the right track, girl! Rests are necessary sometimes. When you don't know what to write, write anything! You don't have to keep it, but it will get those fingers moving and your imagination fired up.

      Delete
  14. Hi Shannon!! Welcome to GTW!!! :)

    I really like the style you used to write this post! It was entertaining, and full of helpful advice. So many times I've struggled with so-called writer's block...glad I'm not the one. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. What I usually do is: I think about the plot, if I can change anything. Do I need to change the POV, just because this person isn't interesting enough? Should their happen something exciting?
    Those are periods in which I just brainstorm and rarely write. And once I have the idea, I'll go and try it out.
    Rereading favorite scenes is a good idea as well!

    arendedewit.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Writing scenes from different POVs is such a great tip!

      Delete
  16. I have suffered from writers block before...where I just don't feel like writing. I agree, though, not being under contract is nice. I discovered earlier this year that it really is a blessing I'm NOT under contract. At this point in my life I would get to stressed out. Hopefully sometime I will get a contract, but until then I need to remember to enjoy it. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Breathe! Enjoy! Let life inspire you.

      Delete
  17. I love this post! I've been suffering from what one might call "writer's block" lately, but it's really just your first reason: A lack of motivation. I've taken some time off, so I know that now I just have to sit my butt down and force myself to write. And I will do that until I can dropkick this writer's block out of my way.


    Alexa S. Winters
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YOU CAN DO IT, ALEXA! I believe!!! Look for my post on Friday. I think it might help!

      Delete
  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Wow, this is good. I'm definitely a panster. But I do brief outlining occasionally. When I'm stumped, I force more words out.

    ReplyDelete

Home