Writer’s block. The dread curse of the literary world. It happens to everyone. Often, the darn thing settles like a boulder in our already precarious path and doesn’t budge for days or weeks or maybe even years, leaving us parched in a creative desert. But while writer’s block is a daunting challenge to overcome, it is only that: a challenge. I used to get it a lot, but while I still get it now, it’s far less frequent. How do I break the curse?
I write something else.
I’m not a rigid plotter – I’m more of a plantser, really – and I don’t sink my teeth into one novel at a time. I’m a dabbler. If one story isn’t panning out for me, I switch to another until the former lets me back in. That’s not to say I’m unfocused; I usually have one main project where my heart resides. But I do allow myself to dabble in anything else when I can’t focus on my main project.
For example, my original Bonds trilogy took four years to complete. It was my focus, my joy, but there were months at a time when writing the beautiful thing was just too painful, or my moods were wrong, or my mind was conjuring up all kinds of random ideas that didn’t match the world I’d created. Rather than force myself to go on, I allowed my wandering plot bunnies to dig holes where they may, often focusing on half-baked novel ideas concocted when I was twelve-years-old, which will never see the light of day — but hey, they were fun and useful just the same.
But you may already do that. Sometimes it’s not always enough. I understand!
When dabbling isn’t enough, I make things explode!!
No, that doesn’t mean I’m a pyromaniac. I’m not being literal. (Right now. Ahem!)
Here’s what I mean:
My oft-humorous YA Fantasy Paradise series appeared on DeviantArt as something of a joke. I wrote a twisted little prologue to a novella concept, submitted it to DA, and expected nothing much to happen. It was such a fun writing experience, I gave myself permission to do anything I wanted with the story and just kept going. In so doing, not worrying about strict continuity or depth, it took shape in a zany, cliche way that grew into something shockingly solid, ending after a year and a half with 180,000 words.
And the most surprising part? People liked it! A lot! But that’s not the point I’m making here. That little story, meant to be an exercise in creativity, never, ever had a moment of writer’s block. Because I did whatever I wanted, including random, off-the-wall explosions (e.i. suddenly there are four Crenens! now the furapintairow are attacking! what is the significance of the silver shawl??), it never lost itself in my own doubts and expectations. It remained fun.
I learned something priceless in writing Paradise: Don’t be afraid to write anything. If it’s not good enough the first time, forget about that fact and move on. Editing comes later.
Which brings me to my next point.
I tell my inner editor to take a hike.
For those who have taken the NaNoWriMo journey, and many more besides, this shouldn’t be a novel concept. That inner editor is a nuisance, always badgering, always shaking your confidence. It has a purpose. A wonderful, beautiful purpose. But not just yet. Shutting off that voice is imperative if you want to finish writing your project (and remain sane)! That editor detracts from the story’s flow, forcing you to backtrack and reassemble sentences, paragraphs, and even entire chapters.
There’s a time and place for that editor, like I said, but not during the first draft. I’ve had to learn to shut that little voice off, because when I get caught up in grammar or plot holes, I forget how much I’ve built up a character, what conversations have already been exchanged, and the little moments of foreshadowing. And then I repeat myself, causing twice the editing from the get-go. The voice is insistent, but I must ignore it.
So I bribe myself. Sometimes it’s with a candy bar, sometimes a trip to the nearby woods, sometimes it’s reading a chapter of my favorite novel. I tell myself, if I write just 1,000 words I can have that reward. Whatever it takes to get the words down and keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t look back. Don’t look back!
That doesn’t mean I don’t peek at the previous chapter to be sure I’m referencing the right event (I have a faulty short-term memory), but I don’t worry about those typos. I’ll catch them later. Shut up, inner editor. Have an ice cream cone and enjoy the ride; you’re not at the wheel yet!
I write six days a week.
After six days of hard work, even God took a day off. So, too, I reserve one day a week to avoid writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, but sometimes stepping away is the best way to overcome that block. By denying myself for a full twenty-four hours, I feel gravity pulling me to my desk, fingers itching for the keys. By Monday morning, I’m raring to go. But, bear in mind, that only works if I’m writing the rest of the time.
In creative writing class back in high school, my teacher discovered I was writing a novel. It was my first and I was just a few chapters into it. She canceled my other assignments and told me to write twenty minutes in my novel every school day, calling that my homework and finals project. Until then, I’d dabbled, plotted, and dreamed, but the idea of finishing was still a distant goal. With her help, by the end of the term I was half-way through writing my first 80,000 word novel. By the next fall, I’d completed the manuscript. Since then, I’ve finished over a dozen more novels, ranging between 80,000-150,000 words. (To reiterate, I do not write in the same novel every day. As I said above, some days I dabble. But I do write something six days a week.)
Looking back on my first-ever manuscript, it’s not very good. But I still cherish it today, because I accomplished something huge by dedicating my time — just twenty minutes a day, five days a week — to that purpose. Writer’s block came less often because the flow of words was constant and I still gave myself time to rest. I didn’t burn out. I kept going.
You can too!