writing, Writing advice

Writer’s Block

It’s no contest. In my opinion, the hardest part of the writing process (as opposed to the business of writing) is getting started. Call it writer’s block, call it an inability to focus, or call it my own self-defeating perfectionism, sometimes getting anything down on paper is harder than pulling teeth from a rabid bear.

The problem isn’t a lack of ideas, not at all. I have dozens of ideas: ideas for novels, ideas for short stories. All sorts of ideas. I just can’t seem to concentrate on one long enough to actually do anything with it. Either I end up bouncing to another idea, or get so distracted by the noise of the everyday world around me, that I don’t get anything done.

It’s maddening.

Part of my particular block is the fact that I’ve just finished spending a year-and-a-half writing, then re-writing a novel. One of the side-effects of that process is my writing mind is almost habitually writing in the voice and style of that novel. An example: I wrote three scenes of a new project before realizing that it almost perfectly paralleled the novel I’d just finished, not word-for-word, but close enough. The novel begins with the protagonist waking one Monday morning; the new project began with the protagonist waking in the middle of the night. It felt too much like writing the same story all over again.

I call the situation having trouble getting out of Port Salish (the setting for most of the novel). It’s a situation I’ve faced before when I’ve just finished a long, involved project. Whatever the reason, I don’t want to just write the same thing over and over.

So out it goes.

I’m probably being too self-critical. I usually am. I could always go back and change the beginning around so as not to mirror my other novel, but like so much of this art form we have to go with our gut feelings. My gut told me it was wrong.

So out it goes.

Now it isn’t as if I can’t write anything at all. The fact that you’re reading this proves that, doesn’t it? I am writing. I am writing blog posts and materials for both the submission process for the novel and the marketing/promotional campaign after publication. So I am doing a lot of writing, just not the particular form of writing I want to be doing: fiction, as in short stories and novels.

Is it frustrating? Absolutely. Is it discouraging? Yes. Have I faced this writer’s block before? Absolutely, and I’ve always overcome it. How? Well, no block is exactly the same because we are never the same when we face it, so no two solutions are going to work exactly the same. What worked two years ago (even if we can actually remember what we did) isn’t necessarily going to work today. However, there are some basic things we can do to awaken the muse, if you will.

Stop trying so hard. Sometimes writing fiction is like trying to remember that actor’s name. You know the one. He was in that movie that was such a hit a couple of years ago. You know who I’m talking about. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a while and let the subconscious take care of it. Just as you’ll remember that the actor was named Tom Cruise as you’re about to fall asleep, the writing muse may come awake as soon as you quit disturbing her sleep.

Inspire yourself. Read something in your chosen genre, either a work on your to-read list (we should all always have a to-read list), or re-read one of your favorites. Sometimes, the act of sinking into the world of an existing work will inspire us to begin to create our own. Especially if we read as writers, paying attention to how the work we are reading is put together.

Revise an older piece. If you have a short story, poem, or novel lying around, take it out and work on it. Re-write it. Sometimes, the process of re-writing a different work will get the creative juices flowing. It can give you momentum you can take into your new project. (I also use this technique when I get stuck somewhere in the middle of a work. I go back to the beginning and revise it. That is often enough to get me back into the flow of the story).

Above all else keep trying. Being blocked is a transient state, unless we allow it to become permanent. Using a sport metaphor, I am currently in a batting slump. It happens. It does not mean I will never again be able to hit a fast-pitched baseball, unless I get so discouraged I quit trying. Sooner or later, the slump will end and I will once again be able to create as well as I ever did. Perhaps even better.


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