March 31st, 2010


Reader Question: Writer’s Block

What do you do when you get a serious case of writer’s block? What do you do to get through it?

To be honest, I don’t get anything I would call writer’s block. I do have a number of points in the writing process where I may find it difficult/impossible to write, that someone else might use that label for, though. But to me “writer’s block” has the connotations of something unnatural, that we’d want to do away with completely, and all those points for me are a normal part of the process.

Sometimes I can’t write because I don’t have any projects on the go, and none of the ideas I’ve been playing with feel quite ready yet. This can be very frustrating, but I’ve learned from experience that if I try to make an idea work when it’s only half-baked, the end result is half-baked, too. When this happens, I try to give myself lots of opportunity to take in inspiring material–books, music, movies, art–until I find the missing pieces for one of those ideas and it’s ready to be written. I also look through my notes on other ideas and random snippets that seemed interesting in case I’ve forgotten something or might see two elements that would work together in a way that hadn’t occurred to me before.

Sometimes I have an idea I think is ready to be written, and I start outlining it, and partway through I get stuck. Most of the time this means that the idea wasn’t really ready after all, and I need to do some more brainstorming and inspiration-seeking to fill in the gaps. Occasionally, like with my current WIP, I start writing based on the beginning of my outline, and spending time with the characters and situation helps me figure out what needs to happen later on.

And sometimes I get stuck in the middle of writing a draft. This happens most often during the first draft, but sometimes later on, too, and it means one of two things.

It can mean that I’ve messed something up–I didn’t really understand my main character’s motivations, and I just realized they don’t make sense for what needs to happen in the story now. I totally forgot to consider how a subplot is going to affect the main plot, and everything has to change. That sort of thing. In those cases, I either re-outline the rest of the story to get things on the right course and continue on pretending that I was going the right way all along (with the intention of going back and fixing the earlier stuff in the next draft), or I start over from the beginning immediately. That depends on how big a change it is (the bigger the change, the harder to course-correct without fixing what’s before) and how far I’m already into the story (the further I’m in, the less I want to start all over again).

It can also mean I’m just having a lot of self-doubt. I’m not really stuck, I’m just afraid that what I’m writing is bad, and that if I sit down and write more, it’ll be even worse. I get this during every first draft, because it’s a lot scarier to write when the story isn’t all on the page yet, and I’m not totally sure I will get to The End. The way I deal with that is, I write those first drafts as fast as I can, to get as much down as I can before the doubts start creeping in, and to get to that magical The End place as quickly as possible after they do. I have a schedule when I’m working on a draft where I write every day after breakfast, before I’m allowed to go online, and so even if I procrastinate for a little while before I get myself into the writing chair, I get there. I remind myself that I always feel that way with a first draft, and all I have to do is get through it, and I’ll feel better. And usually once I get past the first few painful sentences, it starts flowing, and it all gets easier. At least until I have to sit down the next day. :)

(Self-doubt is my least favorite of the above, but you know what, I wouldn’t do away with it completely, either. Doubt is what keeps us trying to write the best stories we can, pushing ourselves to do better.)

Writer friends–do you get what you’d consider writer’s block? How do you deal when you’re having trouble getting the words down?

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Originally published at Megan Crewe - another world, not quite ours. You can comment here or there.