Thursday, February 9, 2012

Avoid Writer's Block

What is writer's block? Traditionally it's seen as when a writer is unable to produce new work. They stare at a blank screen and nothing happens. It's like a brick wall in the way of one's ability to write.

I don't get writer's block, not in this sense. I'm not bragging. I have plenty of other imperfections in my writing, but I understand what writer's block really is and I avoid it. If only I could do the same with typos, awkward similes, and using the word "little" ironically way too much. I'll learn to avoid those someday.

Here are the reasons I see writers get themselves blocked up and unable to write.

Lack of Passion. Sometimes a writer will start a project that just doesn't appeal to them. This makes it easy to lose focus and your desire to continue with it.

Something is Wrong. If your subconscious knows that something you wrote or are about to write doesn't work, it will shut you down. This can be any number of things. You wrote about a character doing something outside his or her abilities or personality. You may have decided to change a plot line and it destroyed previous lines altogether. You may have written a scene that has no place in the finished book. You are planning to write a scene that doesn't play well with the ones around it. There are so many things to get wrong.

No Idea What Comes Next. Yeah, we've all started something that seemed wondrous and exciting and then our imagination runs out and we feel stuck, unsure what to do next.

Distractions. Facebook, internet, google+, twitter, and all those other things can be great tools. They also can get in the way. Then there's friends, family, jobs, screaming children, dogs, cats, that dripping noise that is driving you crazy, dishes, laundry, food, and so much more to distract you from writing.

Now, here's how I deal with them.

Write What You Love! If something isn't really clicking with you deep down, if you don't care about it, what do you think your readers will do? That's right, they'll feel the lack of passion and lack of soul and set it down unhappy and unsatisfied. Make sure you love your project and you won't find yourself losing a desire to finish it.

Listen to Your Subconscious! If something isn't working, figure out what it is and fix it. I have also found a way to cheat around this type of block. If I come to a scene that just doesn't work and I feel stuck, I skip it. I jump to a scene that is working and write that one. You can always come back to the older scene and mess with it later after inspiration has struck.

Do Your Prewriting! Before I started my first book, I rolled it around in my head for months. I ran conversations and scenes through until I knew what needed to be done. Most of my prewriting is done in bed. I stare at the ceiling, waiting to fall asleep at night, and I think through upcoming scenes. Sometimes something will happen in my brain, puzzle pieces snapping together perfectly, and I have to jump out of bed and write for a couple hours before I lose whatever magic just happened.

Sometimes nothing happens and I fall asleep, but I often wake up hours later with a similar snapping together of ideas and can jump out of bed and go write. I do prewriting in the morning too. I stay in bed for half an hour after I wake up, running my mind through writing drills, preparing for my next scene, or just getting myself psyched to write a conversation that needs to happen.

Prewriting and skipping scenes will also help when you don't know what to write and inspiration fails you. Staring up at the ceiling while imagining your world and characters on that blank canvas will open portals in your mind to cool new places and experiences you thought you could never dream up. Don't let anyone get after you for being lazy, looking dazed, or doing nothing. It is a vital part of writing and loosens up your subconscious. You need your subconscious to fill in those blank pages and missing plot points. You need it active and healthy.

Limit Your Distractions! Lock yourself in a closet with your laptop if you have to. Shut off the router so you can't access the internet. Those social networks can wait a couple hours for you, I promise you won't miss as much as you think. Find the type of music that helps you write. Find the time that you write best. I write best late at night of early in the morning, when my subconscious is most active and wants to be dreaming. Tell your friends and family when your writing time is and that they cannot disturb you for anything short of an apocalyptic emergency. Zombies better be massing in the streets!

Sit Your Butt Down, Put Your Hands on the Keyboard, and Write! I have these moments where the words flow from me like warm honey and crystallize on the screen in perfect patterns that need no revision. I'll reread them months later and tears will form in my eyes as that amazing I'm-a-freaking-writer-feeling fills me once more.

THESE MOMENTS ARE RARE AND FLEETING!! Most of the time, I sit down and write half decent garbage that will need months of revisions, therapy, exercise, cuts, and voice lessons before it will be even half of what I want it to be. That is normal. Don't get in your own way. Don't trash your work or lose hope. Don't go back and try to fix everything. Don't get discouraged and sad. Allow yourself to suck and your writing will prosper and grow. Those golden moments when the writing flows wondrously from your fingertips will come more often, though not as often as you would like.

15 comments:

Kim said...

This is a great, helpful post, Charlie. I especially appreciate the advice to "Listen to your subconscious!" I need to do that a bit more, I think...

Charlie Pulsipher said...

I love my subconscious. Sometimes it seems like it's a completely different person who is far cooler than I will ever be. I try to listen to it as much as possible and tap into its potential whenever I can.

Brent Wescott said...

You're definitely far cooler than I will ever be. So...

You almost forgot that troublesome block of "I'm so great, but if what I write isn't, then I must suck, so I better not write anything at all." But you addressed it at the end, so I'll leave it alone.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

I love your writing, Brent, and I think you are far cooler than I will ever be with your interesting taste in music and literature. Keep writing!!

T.J. Reed said...

I agree with what you said about prewriting. I write my stories out by pencil first in a timeline style. Then I get another piece of paper out and write it down all over again, picturing in my mind what I just wrote. I usually do this three or four times before I even turn on my computer.

Bryan M. White said...

My subconscious is always saying silly nonsense like "Blood... blood... It's time to kill again." I usually just tune it out, but you're saying I should listen to it? Okay. I'll give it a try.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

T.J., that sounds like an awesome plan. I may have to use it.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

Bryan, I said listen to your subconscious while writing. If it says stuff like that in the grocery store, ignore it.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

T.J., that sounds like an awesome plan. I may have to use it.

Kerry said...

I love my subconscious (damn I never spell that right the 1st time)too, but sometimes it takes a glass of wine to reach it. Which is probably not good. Or maybe good, but not ideal.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

You use wine...I use sleep deprivation. We use what we got I guess. I also struggle spelling that word and a dozen others.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Oh I definitely get writer's blog. I think it comes from deep seated apathy at the craft that bubbles its way to the surface. It usually takes six months to pass. But I seriously don't mind. I just don't write for six whole months.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

Six months off would definitely give you some fresh eyes when you come back to it. I'm sure that helps push your writing each time.

Apoliticism said...

I have conversations in my head all the time. They don't seem to help much when I write though. That's why I leave it to you.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

Sometimes mine don't help with writing either. Last night I couldn't sleep because I was wiring my trailer in my head...

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