Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What To Do About Writer's Block (because it doesn't really exist)


Sometimes you reach that point in your story when you want to hit your head against a brick wall. Repeatedly.

The flow is gone. The characters are flat. The dialog limps along.

Or your beautifully structured outline crumbles like graham crackers. Don't your characters know they're supposed DO THIS, NOT THAT?!?

Or you've got too many ideas and don't know which one to write. Or you've got no ideas, at least nothing that has that spark, that makes you want to write.

Whatever the situation, writer's block is that point when a writer stops.

Sometimes that's a good thing. Taking a break away from a project can let the ideas percolate and that moment will come (usually while in the shower, or driving, or doing dishes) when you can't wait to go back the story because now you know what to do.

But others let writer's block be an excuse for not writing. At all. And there is no excuse for this. Because writer's block does not exist. Writer's block is merely a problem that hasn't been solved. Yet.

Let me repeat that. Writer's block is merely a problem that hasn't been solved. Yet.

If you've ever been a paid writer, then you know there is no such thing as writer's block. You can't wait for the moment of inspiration. You can't expect every line will be pure gold. You buckle down and write. Because you are on deadline. And you either meet your deadline or you do not get paid.

Yes, you can get stuck. You will get stuck. But don't let that paralyze you. If you are serious about writing, just like all those paid writers who know that writer's block doesn't exist, then you will buckle down and WRITE.

Here are a few tips to help you when you're ready to hit your head against the brick wall:
  • If scenes are feeling flat, try shaking things up. Use a different POV. Use a different tense. Instead of two characters in a scene, throw in a third. Let it rain. Let it snow. Let someone get stung by a bee. Whatever it may be, let the outside world influence your characters' world.
  • Don't be afraid to write scenes out of order. If you have an outline, or even if you don't, don't feel obligated to write straight through. Write that kiss scene, even though your characters still hate each other. Write the ending first. Write the beginning last. Often you will discover an important theme or character arc that you can then go back and weave through.
  • The "What If?" exercise is my favorite. If I'm feeling stuck with a scene or a character, I will play out different scenarios in my head (okay, sometimes I act them out). What if Tamara decides to visit her dad in Vegas for Spring Break? What if she decides to visit her dad for Spring Break and he doesn't know she's coming? What if he's not there? What if all she finds in his apartment is a bloody t-shirt and $25K in cash? The idea is to see where the story goes and to keep it going for as long as you can. If one "What If?" isn't working, try another one. Hey, they're free!
What are some of the tricks that you use when you're stuck? I'd love to know!

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