What makes me a writer is the need to write. It’s an incessant driving force characterised by a series of scenes from stories constantly animating through my mind. Not just one, I always have several stories playing out in my head. So when articles come out talking about what to do when you get writer’s block, I wonder how that can work with a host of characters continually clamouring for attention in a creative mind.
We’ve all faced the blank page. There are times when words flow quickly and other times when they take a little more plumbing, but once an idea has manifested, the words to express it fully exist somewhere in the aether, we just have to access them. Sometimes they can be elusive and the person who panics will hit a block.
Take an article like this for example. What could a person who doesn’t suffer from writer’s block possibly have to say about it? Well, the answer is in the question. As soon as you ask a question, it creates a void that must be filled with an answer, or at least another question. In this case, WHYdon’t I suffer from writer’s block?
Having given that question some thought, my analysis is that:
1. I never panic, and
2. I ask questions.
In the case of non-fiction writing, that leads to the thought, what information needs to be imparted in this chapter? If you’re writing on a subject you know well, the answer should easily follow out of your familiarity with the topic. If you’re writing on something you’re having to research, what questions arise from what you’ve learned so far? When you answer them for yourself, you also answer them for your readers.
In the realm of fiction, the questions will be situational. That doesn’t make the process more complicated. The sticking points will usually be either the blank page or ‘what happens next’.
How to start your novel when you’ve had an idea but haven’t yet got that opening scene is worth an article of its own, but the easy way around that block is to either skip the opening or write something you know you will change just to get the words rolling out. Go ahead and get to the scenes you’ve got flowing in your mind and come back to the beginning when you’ve reached an ending. Part of the craft of writing a good novel is making the beginning and end balance anyway, so you’ll need to reach the end before you can re-write the start.
One of the more useful exercises I learned in a high school Creative Writing class was to work with free association; writing random sentences down while thinking about what you want to write until something begins to take form. It’s a good way to work past the conscious censors that interfere with the subconscious creative process.
One thing that those of us who write by the seat of our pants often encounter is the ‘what happens next’ issue. There you are, writing along, pouring out the scenes you’ve envisioned and you come to the end of a sequence and suddenly it’s “What now?” Or, you write yourself into a corner making awful things happen to your character(s) and putting them into what looks like an impossible situation. I actually do this on purpose, forcing myself to think out a solution to what looks like an insurmountable situation.
When this happens, the thought process is much like a tick list.
›What would be the obvious thing to happen here?
›What amazing coincidence would solve the crisis?
›Now, what can happen that will be unexpected and shake things up without falling into either of the above two categories?
Sometimes the end of a chapter leads to questions of pacing. Has this chapter just set something up that I need to make happen now? Was there a lot of action that might mean the reader needs a rest with some exposition? Have I been writing exposition that now needs action to keep the story moving at a good pace?
Writer’s block is often a matter of too many thoughts happening at once. At other times, it’s a simple matter of having come to the end of the part of the story you’ve envisioned and looking for how to proceed now. Every story is different and has different needs, but if you ask the right questions, the answers will come. Sometimes the characters will surprise you with an unexpected twist that you never saw coming.
If you hit a block, take a break. Then listen to your story. I keep a retroactive outline, scribbling a few notes about what has happened in each chapter after it’s written. This serves to show me an overview of pace and remind me of details that need to be resolved later. Every writer will have their own process and methods, but if you’re stuck, take a step back and look at what you have so far. Some of the best ideas come from having to make a new plan to escape from an impossible situation. That’s when creativity is at its best.
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