Monday, March 28, 2011

Writers Block: Or How I Learned to Stop Whining and Embrace the Pain

It happens to every writer at some point or another. And those writers who allege they've never had it are LIARS! (Well, maybe they're not liars, but I hate them anyways.)

If you've ever suffered, or are currently suffering from the horrifying affliction known as writers block, read on. And don't you fret little monkeys because I am offering you a list of things that may (or may not) help you break out of those chains that bind us and release the creativity monster!

This is a big one. For me, anyways. After I've been pondering or writing a particular concept for awhile, I start to think it's really awful. Even though when I first envisioned the idea, I thought it was great. Why does this happen? First off, when you are actually faced with the daunting task of laying your idea down on paper and developing it...well, it's just that. It's daunting. It's hard. Not all of us can dream about a sparkly vampire and have a six figure book deal within a year. Most of us have to work for our ideas, and that's okay. The idea you once thought was fantastic still is fantastic, it's just your perception that has changed. Try a little visualization technique: when you start to get down on yourself and your creativity monster has turned into a gremlin (did you feed that thing after midnight, or what?) and he's whispering negative words in your ear, brush the creature off your shoulder. No really, do it. You might look weird, but get ridding of the gremlin is worth it. Or, trap the little bugger in a imaginary bubble in the palm of your hand and blow his ass away. Go on, I dare ya.

I hate to break it to you, but nothing is perfect. Ever. And first drafts of novels? Uh, so far from perfect they can be considered defective. But that's okay. A very wise person (I don't know who it was and I don't feel like googling it to find out) said, "First get it written, then get it right." So maybe the scene you are working on isn't panning out as excellently as it did in your head. That's okay. Turn off your internal editor. You can go back later and add tension or change things around a bit if you need to. A first draft is all about getting the basics out. Some writers like to think about their first draft as more of an outline or giant synopsis, rather than have the pressure of writing an actual novel. Just get it out there and move on.

Sometimes the best thing to do is stop staring listlessly at the computer screen and go do something. Go bowling. Go fishing. Try something new. Hang out with family or friends. Distract your mind from what you are working on. You might find inspiration somewhere you never expected. Or, you might find inspiration from other art. Listen to music you don't normally listen to, go see live music, go see an art exhibit, watch a dance recital, or whatever is available in your area. Exercise. A healthy body is a healthy mind. Plus you might stimulate blood flow to your brain and break the blockage.

Yes, yes, I realize I am completely going against the grain on this one. And if you're an ex-CIA operative penning the next Bourne Identity type novel, feel free to stop reading now. However, if you are like me and really haven't had that many exciting things happen in your life (okay, so I have kids and a job and blah de blah they're exciting in their own way, but I read and write to ESCAPE from the constrains of my normal life, hello), then this rule applies to you. The whole point of writing is to use your creativity to imagine things that don't exist: the What If scenario's that you know you have in your head just waiting to burst out. Imagine the impossible. Then make it happen. Don't let other people make you think you have to always "write what you know."

Check out my link at the top for recommended reading. Read in the genre you want to write. A lot. Read things that are bad, (they make you feel better about your own writing. I know, it sounds terrible but it's true) and read things that are good so you have something to aspire to (or surpass). Read things outside of your genre. If you have a romantic subplot, read some romance novels. Read some chic lit. Read my blog (on a daily basis and leave comments telling me how wonderful I am). Read books about the craft of writing by editors, writers, agents. They sometimes know what they're talking about.

Talking to other writers helps is a good idea for a LOT of reasons. They can help you when you are stuck with plot points, offer critiques and criticisms, and positive feedback to help keep you motivated. And unlike other friends you might have who are supportive, but have never sat down to write a novel, writers understand what you are going through on a deeper level. If you don't have friends in your community who write, connect with other writers online. There's a tremendous community of wonderful people on the internet. Try the Verla Kay Blueboards, the Writers Digest forum, and I'm sure hundreds of other places I don't know about. Go to writers conferences (if you can, I'm lucky that there have been some cheapish ones in my area). There's nothing more affirming than meeting other people struggling with the same things you are and listening to people in the biz share their wealth of knowledge.

This doesn't work for everyone, but if you are having trouble with the scene you're writing right now, try writing the next one and then go back to fill in the gap. Some people even start with the ending (Stephenie Meyer did). Maybe there's a scene somewhere down the road that you are really looking forward to writing, for whatever reason. Write it, and recapture the joy that possessed you when you first started out.

Good luck my friends!


  1. Thanks for these tips! #7 really works for me on occasion. Another helpful idea: try to write something really terrible. So terrible it's funny. Just wretched, rambling, rotten prose. It often turns out better than expected...or at the very least there will be a little nugget of goodness hiding in the dross that may give one the spark to go on.

  2. That's a great point, Jenny.

    I have this idea that's been niggling in my mind for a couple months now, to write a story full of all of the cliches we're supposed to avoid. I.e. lots of adverbs, unnecessary dialogue tags, predictable plot line, etc. Wouldn't that be fun?

    It would be very tongue in cheek, of course. I would call it "Not Another Teen Novel" or something ;)

  3. Great post, Mare. Reading is a great distraction. Skipping ahead: so fun...skipped to the climax.

    I'm looking forward to Not Another Teen Novel.