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?