A student of mine asked me recently about how to handle writer’s block. After doing a little research (just Google “how to beat writer’s block” and you’ll find about a dozen different sites suggesting a dozen different things), I came to the conclusion that there are really two ways of handling it. Each way has several suggested strategies to minimize WB’s intrusion on your project.
However, before I delve too deeply into the issue, I want to make it clear that each case of WB is usually unique and individual. Sure, there are some commonalities that our particular WBs will share (specifically in the manifestation of the lack of productivity), but the causes can stem from a variety of reasons. Before we look at the solution, it may benefit us to know the common causes for WB. This is far from a comprehensive list, but, as I see it, these are the top reasons for experiencing blocks.
1) A lack of ideas: This is a fairly self-explanatory problem, and generally affects those “organic” writers (of which I am one) who do not outline.
2) Too many ideas: This affects the same subset of writers. Here, you have too many ideas, and your paralyzed with the idea of committing to one particular path.
3) A lack of knowledge/understanding of your characters: This most often strikes those who are slaves to outlines to the detriment of character. These are the writers who feel plot is infinitely more important than character, and thusly spend less time conceptualizing their characters. When presented with a decision the character has to make that goes against their nature, the writer may end up blocked and not know that it is likely because they’re trying to pigeonhole a character that is resisting it with every fiber of their being.
4) Fear: This is the block that comes from knowing what you need to do, but not wanting to do it. You may face this when you know one of your characters must die, but you love them too much to let them go.
5) Too much time away from your work: This one sounds pretty lame, but the longer you’re away from your work, the harder it is to get back in to it. Just imagine taking a few years off school and trying to jump back in. Sure, it may be just like riding a bike, but if you don’t ride a bike for years, don’t expect to win any competitions once you climb back on. The more time you practice your craft, the more time you invest in it routinely, the better you become.
***TIRADE TANGENT: I’ve discussed this before here, but there are still those writers who maintain that writing every day, or creating a schedule for writing, or writing when “not inspired” results in crummy prose. “I’ve tried it,” they insist, “and when I do, what I write sucks.” Okay, but stick with it for more than a couple days. The benefits come after the investment of time.
Can you imagine a professional football player not practicing? “I only play when I’m inspired.” Oh sure, Randy Moss may fit this bill, and he’s one of the best in history, right? Not lately. How’s his career now? Three teams in one year, and a complete lack of productivity.
Contrast him with Jerry Rice, who never gave up. He practiced anywhere and everywhere. He is widely regarded as the greatest of all-time. Randy Moss, no matter how flashy, will never eclipse that. Pure talent can only take you so far. The rest is determination. END TIRADE TANGENT***
Now that I have your attention, tune in next week when I tell you the different strategies to overcome the various types of blocks. Same bat time, same bat channel.
**Special thanks to Carissa Rogers for the use of the Lego block photo.