Writer’s Block: What is it?
Writer’s Block is the plague of all writers! It is the horrible condition of staring at a blank page as words refuse to magically appear upon it! There is a story in your mind SCREAMING to come out! But it won’t. And it’s common. We’ve seen a lot of posts asking how to deal with it in the last couple weeks.
Writer’s Block: But what is it really?
Writer’s Block is actually a collection of related writing issues. They all manifest in the same way: no words. However, the causes vary wildly. Here are a few examples: you need sleep, your life is full of stress, your story has reached a point where you have to write about an uncomfortable topic (Sybil’s facing this in one story), you wrote yourself into a corner and don’t know how to get out, you don’t want your story to end, your characters disagree with you on a course of action, etc.
If you don’t identify your issue more precisely than “I have writer’s block, help me!” you’ll never solve it. Winged’s biggest source of writer’s block is being tired or lacking inspiration. His solution is to play MineCraft. Sybil’s biggest source is when she needs to write things that hit close to home, emotionally. She just needs to bull through and deal with her heebie-jeebies.
Did You Actually Have an Idea?
We’ve run into this a few times, both ourselves and observing others. You see this totally awesome fandom/character, and you just HAVE to write about it/him/her. That’s not an idea. That’s not a plot. That’s being a fangirl/fanboy. The trick here, is to think about WHY you like this character/fandom/etc. Dig deeper, list cool parts, boring parts, parts you hate, etc. Somewhere in there, a story idea will emerge. But right now, you don’t have writer’s block, you have plot block.
Abandon Your Preconceived Plot!
So, you’ve been writing away, and your characters have been just doing their thing, and suddenly you realize they’ve gone far astray from where you wanted to go, and you have no idea how to get back. This can actually be a good thing! But, if you’re stuck on preserving your plot, you’re screwed. Abandon it! Let it flow in a new direction and see what evolves! It may be even better than what you thought.
For example, Sybil was writing a Gundam Wing story a while back where Milliardo and Midii were supposed to be completely platonic in a spy drama. Every time she tried to write it, she got hit with writer’s block. Finally, she let them get romantically involved, and the story suddenly wrote itself. Her characters simply wanted to get hot and heavy.
Is Your Story (Almost) Done?
Winged has seen this a LOT. He’s read tons of stories where everything moves smoothly for about sixteen chapters, and everything’s in place for the big wrap-up. Instead, the author drones on for about another dozen chapters, often leaving author’s notes begging for ideas. The authors probably thought they had writer’s block. They didn’t. They had a nearly complete story they wouldn’t allow to finish. Winged has also had scenarios where he wrote the story, wrapped it up, and had people shocked that the story was complete. His attitude is simple: write the story, put a bow on it, move on.
Many people run into issues with their story when it’s done. As an author, we’ve put blood, sweat, tears, and emotion into crafting our stories, and we fall in love with them. The result, however, is that we don’t want those stories to end. We love them, the characters, everything. Let it end. Your block is that you only have the ending left to write. That’s it. (Cue Frozen: Let it Go!)
Know Your Personal Hangups
If you are someone who is dealing with a personal problem/trauma and you know that you are not emotionally resolved about the issue, don’t try to write it. Yes, personal experience can help, and yes writing can be cathartic, but make sure you can engage the story in a fair-minded way. The problem is, if you are constantly shying away from the elephant in the story’s room, you can’t write. Alcoholism, grieving, death, sex, homosexuality, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, among many other things can all create writer’s block as your mind simply REFUSES to write about the topic.
Your choices are fairly limited. First, you can put on your big-boy-panties and write it anyway. It may be therapeutic, or it may be crap. Or both. Be sure you run this through a beta reader before posting (and you might not post). Second, admit you can’t handle this and rework things so the issue isn’t there. This may mean scrapping your story. You can keep it in a slush file to return to later for ideas. Third, get therapy. No, seriously, find a good therapist and deal with this issue in your life. It’s impacting your writing, and probably a lot of other things, too. Winged spent a year-and-a-half in therapy, and Sybil is considering it. A good therapist can be invaluable.
Reread Your Story
Sybil has found this helpful on numerous occasions. While you do it, make notes about plot points that may need additional explanation, addressing, etc. There’s nothing quite like reading your story to remember that you introduced Count Bigjerk in chapter two, but never mentioned him again. Maybe he can help out now! Or a ring lost in chapter seven never got found. Perhaps we should find it now. For a long story, having notes can be an invaluable help to remind you of things to address. This can also help you fall in love with your story again, and inspire you to finish.
Write Something Else
Both of us regularly have two to four stories we’re working on at once. You might end up with an abandoned story, though, so be careful. You don’t want nasty “More chapters, please!” comments, but it’s also your story to write at your pace.
Why is this good? Let’s say you’ve just finished watching Full Metal Alchemist. You start writing like a fiend, cranking out chapter after chapter. Meanwhile, you get a copy of Samurai Champloo and watch it. What happens? Your mind starts filling up with ideas about Samurai Champloo, and the ideas for FMA start to drift away. There’s a simple choice to embrace your current inspiration and go with it.
Watch/Read the Fandom Again
Or watch FMA again. Remind yourself why you love that fandom! Was it Alphonse’s sweet innocence? Was it Ed’s temper? Was it drooling over Lust? There’s nothing like going back to the source to get new ideas, new inspiration, and rekindle your passion. Sybil has read the Tsubasa manga three times, and xxxHolic twice, just to maintain the passion and get new ideas.
Skip a Scene for Later
Sometimes your problem isn’t that you don’t have ideas, but you just don’t know how to get to the scene you have ideas for. Easy! Put a couple notes about what goes in the boring scene you have no passion for, then write the one that is begging to be written. With that done, you’re more likely to be able to write the boring scene. Or maybe you’ll realize you don’t need a scene, but just the couple comments you already noted. It’s amazing how often an “important scene” isn’t important at all.
Winged got stuck at one point where he’d been writing a day-by-day detail of what was going on with two characters. Then they got stable in their relationship. He didn’t want to write more scenes of “guy and girl hang out playing video games,” “guy and girl have a date,” “guy and girl survive the term paper,” etc. Eventually, he realized he needed to write a few sentences about things going smoothly, and move on to the next bit of action a few weeks later. It’s perfectly okay to make chronological jumps in your story with a transitional sentence or two.
Writing Challenge: A Day in the Life of…
Starting here, we’re going to give you ideas for short writing challenges to get those creative writing juices going. For starters, pick one character and write a typical day in his/her life. Often, it works even better if you use a scene from canon. For example, Winged wrote “A Day in the Life of Brad Crawford” to explain how his precognition works. Similarly, he wrote his “Mary Sue/Gary Stu meets the real [Gundam Wing Character X]” stories to reinforce how the Gundam Wing characters would actually react to people trying to influence/seduce them.
This does a few things. First, it strengthens your understanding of the characters. This, by itself, is huge. Second, it can push you back to the source material (see Watch/Read the Fandom Again above). Finally, you may be able to pull some of these ideas into your story.
Writing Challenge: 100 Word Story
This is one Sybil has done a few times. The goal is to write a complete story in EXACTLY 100 words, no more, no less. It helps you focus on expressing one idea, often a character trait, clearly and succinctly. Often, when we get writer’s block, we start rambling. When you have to get your ideas down to 100 words, you suddenly acquire focus. What are you trying to say? Does this sentence contribute to what you want to say? Do you have time for that nuance? Does that nuance even matter? You will build clarity of thought. And, like Sybil, you might even win cool prizes!
Writing Challenge: 50 Sentences Challenges
This is how we kill time on road trips. You get a list of 50 words, pick a fandom/character(s) and write exactly one grammatically correct sentence that includes/refers to each word for that fandom/character(s). One source of sentences is http://1sentence.livejournal.com/, but there are many, many others.
The purpose of this challenge is two-fold: first, it gets the creative juices going. We had most of Miyuki-chan in Celes Land written by doing one of these challenges. There was a lot to fill out, but most of the plot just appeared. Our Sophisticated, Seasonal Serpentwear story also arose from one of these.
Second, it forces you to write sentences that contain a complete thought. You are forced to rely on knowledge of the characters and your one sentence to imply… everything. Often, each sentence could be the kernel of a story all by itself. By writing these challenges, you can certainly come up with some sort of idea for your story.
Writing Challenge: Dictionary.com Word of the Day (15 minutes)
This is used a lot by Sybil. You take the word of the day as a story prompt, set a timer for fifteen minutes, and write. You have only fifteen minutes to write, and you must write for the full fifteen minutes. To get an actual story out of this, you’ll have to severely limit yourself. For example: only one character, exploring an aspect of that character. This is the long version of 50 Sentences.
NaNoWriMo/Ray Bradbury: Just Write Anyway!
First, if you don’t have a copy of Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing,” get it! He addresses writer’s block several times. Similarly, NaNoWriMo (http://nanowrimo.org) has tons and tons of advice on writing, writer’s block, etc. Both have one piece of advice in common: Just write! It might be garbage that you’ll delete later, but write! It might be utter trash, but write! Eventually you’ll get something good, and you can always edit it into shape later.
The reality is people are great at making excuses. Remove those excuses from your life, and you’ll be a prolific writer. Tired? Take a nap, then write. Don’t feel the passion? Write, it’ll come back. Don’t have ideas? Yes you do! You just might not like them. You claim you’re a writer? Then go write!