Writer’s Block: Name it to Tame it.

Something that has always annoyed and baffled me is being told that writers block doesn’t exist; that it’s an excuse, a myth.
I think that that attitude is unhelpful, especially to someone sitting in front of their computer for the nth day in a row, howling in frustration that the words aren’t coming. It’s a myth? Then why aren’t I writing?
Telling someone, ‘It’s all in your mind, you just need to get over it’ is about as helpful as saying, ‘When it rains things get wet, unless those things aren’t in the rain.’
Obviously it’s in your mind. Obviously you need to get over it. But that “advice” only points out the problem – it doesn’t offer a solution.

And more than that, before we even start thinking about a solution to the Block – we need to think about what’s causing it, what it feels like, and why it happens. You can’t fix something if you don’t know why it’s broken.
I’m a big believer in giving your problems a name. Once you can identify them – you will know what you’re fighting against.

So. Let’s do this. Writer’s Block Vs. the Writer.

Round 1 – What is this feeling I’m feeling?

To me, the Block feels like I’m in a maze, surrounded by an overwhelming amount of choices. What I want to do, what I need to do, what I have to do, and on and on forever. Other times it’s like a pit I’ve fallen down. I look up to that circle of light where the story I want exists and just cannot figure out how to get there. 

I know logically I need to just start. Only way out of the maze is to start walking. Only way out of the pit is to start climbing. But holy hell, that first step is 14 billion times harder than any step after it.

The problems isn’t that I can’t think of anything (although I’ve had my fair share of those blocks), but that I can’t think of the right thing. If I’m trapped in the maze I don’t want to waste my time exploring one tunnel only to find out it’s a dead end and have to backtrack. If I do that, I’ll starve before I get out, so instead I sit down in a petulant heap and wait to rescue to come to me. Which is the worst possible choice, I know, but it’s how my idiot brain works at the time.

That feeling and the desire not to make a mistake is the major stopping point for me. But there’s more to it.

Round 2 – It’s freezing over here.

That feeling of overwhelming helplessness is what freezes me, but it’s not the only factor in play. Why don’t I just get over it and forge forward? Why can’t I start again once I’ve hit the block? I think it comes down to two things. The obvious one, everyone’s old favourite, is of course fear. (With a healthy does of self doubt mixed in, yay!)

Those swirling thoughts of, ‘What if I suck, what if no one else will care about the story I’m slaving over, and any one up to this point who has said anything remotely complimentary were being polite anyway, because they had to find something to say to hide from the embarrassment of reading something so atrocious and oh my god I’m a fraud, I’m a hack, I still confuse ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ I’ve never read Steven King I don’t even know what I need to know to make me better I need to curl up and die now…’

*deep breaths*

Fear’s a big one. And it’s not going to go away. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing – name it to tame it, remember? Recognising that fear of failure, that fear of not living up to the oh-so high expectations I hold for myself, the fear of being exposed or thought of as a ‘bad writer’ is an important step to overcoming the block. (Beside, a writer without self doubt is an asshole, amirite?) 

The other feeling that keeps me frozen is one I’ve only just identified after countless staring contests with my screen (and even though the cursor blinks first, I always lose).
It’s impatience.

You’d think that impatience would mean I’d write faster, write more, be so obsessed with getting word after word out so that it’s finally done. Instead, I find myself constantly comparing what I expect of myself and what I actually am, I freeze up, frustrated that I’m not there yet.

And I think that’s my biggest flaw. I’m so focused on what I want the words to be, on how they should work in this version of the perfect story that exists only in my head, so focused on the things I’m wanting to achieve that I lose sight of writing in the moment. And that’s where it gets me.

I sit and and stew about how this chapter isn’t working or this character’s voice is all wrong and how do I go from A to Z and I’m paralysed by frustration and fear and wanting to be perfect right away when the answer is that the only way from A to Z is via B, C, D… and all the letters in between. And that’s obvious advice, yeah? But when you’re so focused on the fear and the impatience… all these negative drag-you-down emotions, it’s easy to miss the obvious.

Round 3 – the little victories.

So. I know why I get blocked. I know why it stops me, and why I prevent myself from picking up and forging on.

How do I fix it?

I don’t think that there’s one way every time to smash through what’s blocking me, and that’s OK.

Sometime, stream-of-consciousness wordvomit is helpful. It’s the most boring advice in the world, I know. Direct from the people who tell you writer’s block is a myth; “Just write anything, anything at all, and something will come of it.” 

Those smug jerks.

But alas, the smug jerks are sometimes right. Personally, I don’t find the ‘just write anything’ approach all that helpful. The wordvomit is going to be bad enough, I don’t need to sift through it cutting out stream-of-consciousness nothingness. (though that may be the impatience talking again). Writing “anything”, in my opinion, is nearly as bad as nothing. If I want to fix something, I want to have a plan for HOW to fix it, and throwing words out from the recesses of my mind is not the way to help me. It might be the way to help you, different strokes and all that, but I’m after a more structured way to fix my problem.

What I do is write about what’s happening in the scene at that moment without thinking about what’s wrong with it and trying as hard as possible not to think about what I want or need to happen. I wordvomit a summary of the scene as it is (in what ever horrendous state that happens to be) and then take a step back and look at it.
Some people try to write about what is wrong to identify what’s not working, and I think that could be a great approach, but I find I often don’t know what’s wrong until I look more closely at the scene. I find after I get into the groove of the wordvomit I’m able to detach myself from what I want and see it as what it is. Once I’m able to take that step back – it’s easier to identify why the scene is not working and because I’m already in that hard and detached mindset – the solution spills out of me.

Sometimes, wordvomit summaries don’t work. Sometimes the plot holes are too big and tangled around each other I can’t see it for what it is because it’s too huge of a mess. (this is otherwise know as my entire WIP)

In this case. I open a new page on Scrivener and vomit write in a different way – this time I make a list of what I want. As opposed the other approach, where I look back on what it is, in this case I look forward. I figure out what plot points are actually relevant and will get me where I want to go, and which ones I can delete or simplify or combine.

Two totally different, contradictory, strategies, but they both work. 

There are hundreds of other ways to fight the Block out there, and I’m sure they all word for someone. The point is finding one that works for you. The point is not giving in to the symptoms and rising to the challenge. You can only beat the Block if you look it in the eye and tell it how you’re going to take it down.Take the mindset that’s stopping you, explore it and use it to your advantage – you can and will discover so many things about your story by fighting with it than if things came easy.

Good luck.