Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Writer's Block" or Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!

Let’s dispel a myth here. Let’s shine a light on the boogeyman in the closet…that’s really just your raincoat hanging at a funny angle. Say it with me, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block…there’s no such thing as writer’s block…there’s no such thing as writer’s block.” Feel better? No? Well, suck it up and read on.

Writer’s block is something we make up to explain why we don’t write. No, mind you, there may be a very good reason for this inability to writer, but when it comes down to it, we’re often the ones responsible for our own blocks. “I don’t have time.” “My favorite (show, movie, game) is on.” “I can’t get past this one scene.” “I just want to finish this book I’m reading.” Lame excuses! Let’s assess them all.

“I don’t have time.” I used to use this one a lot. It’s so easy to say…and it’s usually the one that’s really not true. I used to feel so guilty when I read these articles about using your writing time efficiently. They talked about writing during every free moment of the day, even if it was only fifteen minutes. I don’t know about you, but I’m just getting going at 15 minutes and I think it would be frustrating to have to stop at that point. That being said, you should really examine your day. Take an honest assessment of your time management. Do you ever find yourself sitting there, feeling guilty (there’s that writing guilt again!) that you aren’t writing? If this is happening on a regular basis, take a look at what you can do to turn that time into writing time. Last summer I decided that my lunch break was better spent writing. I get an hour, so I started writing for that hour every day. Some days were extremely productive…others not so much, but it gave me that designated time of the day to write; something I had never had before.

I don’t know about you, but when I get home from a long day of sitting in front of a computer, my first instinct isn’t necessarily to turn the computer on. And, if I do turn it on, I don’t tend to do “work.” It’s Facebook, a video game, and anything else that can distract me from life. So, it’s very important to me to retain that sliver of the day where I do nothing but write (and scarf my peanut butter and jelly sandwich). Do yourself a favor and find your little niche of writing time.

“My favorite (show, movie, game) is on.” Ah, yes…that evil temptress…the TV. Source of entertainment, news, and weather. It’s often easier to turn the TV on and lose yourself in a visual display than to subject yourself to the trauma of…ummm…thinking. And that’s what it really comes down to. Set yourself to “work” or kick back with some mindless TV. I find very little TV to be stimulating to writing. So, be strong. Turn off the tube. If you have a DVR, record your favorite shows. Rent the movie later. Read about the game in the paper or watch a replay. It’s ok to watch a little TV, but certainly don’t let it repeatedly take away writing time.

“I can’t get past this one scene.” Been there…done that. Who hasn’t reached a wall in the scene they are working on and stopped dead in their tracks, unable to proceed? We’ve all been there. You know where it’s headed, but you just can’t seem to connect point A to point B. Well, if you’re writing a novel, there’s a very simple solution. Move on to point B, or C, or even R. With a novel, you have plenty of ways of breaking through that wall by simply going around it. In shorter fiction, when you may only be working with a handful of points, that solution may not be so simple. So, what do you do? Write it out. Just keep writing. Have your characters recognize their inability to move forward. Have them discuss it at length. Don’t worry that, for the moment, you’re breaking down the author/character/reader walls. Your task is to get through the scene. You’re looking for the breakthrough. If the story is strong enough, you will eventually write yourself out of it. If no amount of writing gets your story to move forward, then perhaps you need to reassess the plot point. Step away from it for a bit. Give it a day…no more than a day though. Then start the scene (chapter) over from scratch. Give it a fresh start. I once wrote the opening to a thriller that was 40 pages of character introduction. Not a single person died within those 40 pages. What I discovered was that I was trying to figure out who my character was. Once I did this, I realized that those first 40 pages were pretty much garbage (to any sensible thriller reader). To me, however, it had moved me past the fluff and into the heart and soul of the story. Sometimes you have to write a little crap to get one good scene. Don’t be afraid of the crap. It’ll get you somewhere.

“I’m reading this really great book.” Ah yes, a good author should be well read. True. That doesn’t mean you should spend so much time reading the writing of others that you don’t have time to hone your own craft. Writers write. You cannot call yourself one if you don’t. So, by all means, read one more chapter of the latest Stephanie Meyer, P.C. Cast, or Suzanne Collins (love the Hunger Games series!). Just don’t lose sight of your own writing. It is one thing to absorb the writing of others in order to shape one’s own writing. It is another to lose sight of your own visions by immersing yourself into someone else’s. Don’t cheat out your own writing by spending more time with that of others.

Lastly, consider that your subject may not have you energized. Take a good look at what you’re writing about. Does it excite you? Are you thrilled about telling this story and seeing where the characters end up? If the answer is no, or even a hesitant yes, you may need to reconsider your story. Writers, like most things, need energy to keep going. Without it, you may just be going through the motions of putting one word in front of the other. If you’re concerned about your story, write an exercise with your protagonist. Write out everything you know about him or her. Talk about their childhood. Favorite foods. Broken hearts. First kiss. Write a synopsis of their life as if it were to be published (but knowing that it won’t). If there’s still something missing, maybe you need to reassess the character you’ve chosen to drive the plot.

Overcoming writer’s block is really about overcoming our own self-imposed barriers. I, for one, go through large stretches of not writing. It isn’t because I don’t have the time or the ability. It’s because I’m easily distracted and…in a sense…afraid of being judged poorly. I’m afraid of failing my abilities. That I won’t live up to all that I believe I am capable of. Heavy stuff that. I’m getting better at it. I write much more often now than I have in the past. I’ve learned to not allow the easy excuses to interfere. I’ve forced myself to take time out of my day to write. And, I’ve got a plot that I’m motivated about. So, turn the TV off, put Pride and Prejudice and Zombies aside, lock yourself in the spare bedroom/bathroom/closet for a good solid hour (or my favorite, Panera Bread) and let your fingers fly across the keys or your pen scratch the paper. Don’t hold back. Nobody’s watching. It’s just you and the blank page. Go for it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm no writer but I can completely understand "the fear of being judged poorly". I was told all my life that I had artistic talent but never felt confident enough to explore it. Now, at the ripe old age of 40-something, I've finally jumped in head first, loving what I do and not giving a crap what anyone else thinks. It's very liberating. But I think alot of it has to do with maturity. We grow up so aware of our image and how we want to be perceived that we get lost in the noise of the world and forget to just follow our hearts. That's why you only see older ladies wearing those red and purple hats.