©2008, Vicki Hinze
Once, I believed that Writer’s Block did not exist. Sincerely, truly, and—I thought—irrevocably. Then, I woke up.
Actually, that wake-up call came in the form of it being pointed out to me that soldiers who go to war (and people who are in accidents) and lose limbs still feel toes or fingers no longer attached to their bodies itch. Amputated knees ache. Missing arms throb. All long after the physical trauma to the body of losing that limb has passed. These sensations are commonly referred to as “Phantom Pains.”
Doesn’t it stand to reason then that if the physical body can suffer phantom pains that the creative body can as well?
Okay, I conceded. I was wrong. If phantom pains can exist in the physical, and there is in fact harmony and balance in all things—as I believe there is—then logically I have to accept that phantom pains can exist in the creative, emotional state.
That concession made, I firmly chose to deliberately convince my logical mind that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Why? A purely selfish reason, I admit. Because thoughts have power. And if I refuse to believe Writer’s Block exists, then I can’t get it.
Sounds goofy, doesn’t it?
Topically, I agree it does. But who cares how it sounds if it works? And this does work. In ten years, I’ve seen excellent writers agonize with Writer’s Block, and yet I’ve miraculously avoided it. That blessing set me to wondering, Why?
I’ve drawn a few conclusions that, I hope, will help you avoid suffering this debilitating, excruciating, and painful plague.
First and most powerful, I think, is recognizing that thoughts have power. If you “think” you’re blocked, “believe” you’re blocked, you will be. The reason isn’t at all mysterious. Our every thought feeds directly into our subconscious as fact. The subconscious can’t interpret; it takes in everything in a literal sense. It doesn’t interpret and it never forgets. The subconscious can’t differentiate between truth and falsehoods or speculations, or fears voiced, either. So if you think you’re blocked, then take it to the bank, because your subconscious mind will convince your conscious mind that you are blocked, and then you will be.
The solution is to “think” yourself into creative freedom. Believe you can write and write and never run out of words. It’s a simple solution, but its power is complex—and effective.
Sometimes writers feel blocked because they have drained their reserves. Remember, your body needs fuel to run. So does your creativity. When you constantly pour out creativity without refueling and taking in things that feed your creativity, you deplete your reserves and you end up with an empty creative well.
When you dip into an empty well, you can’t draw out water. The well is dry. Same holds true for the creative well. But is this writer’s block? Truly?
The effect is the same, but it’s really only a matter of refilling your creative well, of feeding your creative self.
How do you do that? Read. Read novels, nonfiction books on topics that interest you. Magazine articles, newspaper reports. Watch movies. Listen to conversations, take walks and observe nature. Daydream.
Indulge yourself in fantasies. The more you put into your mind—your well—the deeper well you have to draw from.
Ever wonder what it would be like to be a surgeon? Ask one. Observe a surgical procedure. Watch a heart beat, a liver quiver. It’s truly fascinating. Want to be a judge? Sit in on a court hearing. Get your juices flowing by feeding your interests. That fills your creative well.
Sometimes we feel blocked because we don’t have a clear picture of exactly what we want to say. Do you know the theme of your novel? Can you put it down in concrete terms, in a few sentences? If not, think about it until you can. If you don’t know what you want to say, how can you work a story into saying anything in particular? You can’t. You sit and write and take off on tangents and work hard and harder still and end up with a lot of material that’s not a cohesive whole.
Interpretation? Writer’s Block. But is it?
Not really, though the result is the same. It’s a lack of specific focus, of direction.
Other times, we tumble to a stop because we don’t really understand our characters. We haven’t fully explored these people and so we don’t have a firm grasp on what makes them tick. What do they love, hate, admire, and respect? What do they fear? How are they going to grow and change during the course of the novel? Motivation. Conflict—internal and external—is essential, but so is knowing what makes each character universal and unique.
If you don’t know your characters as well or better than you know yourself, how can you write how they’ll react to a given novel situation? You can’t. And so you stumble to that stop without a clue as to how to proceed. And that is often interpreted as writer’s block.
The solution to work past it: interview these people. Author, Kim Kozlowski, crafted a wonderful character interview that is indispensable. It takes time to complete, because it’s very thorough, and you won’t use all the information you glean in preparing it. But you will know these characters, and you will know what they wouldn’t or wouldn’t do in any given situation. And in interviewing them, they will spur the plot—one that is custom-made to highlight their goals, motivations, and conflicts, and enhance their novel purpose. Result: no more writer’s block.
The same situation with character holds true for plot. Without a clear path on where you’re going in the novel–and what story events you intend to incorporate to take you there, you can write yourself into countless corners, brick walls, dead-ends with no logical way out. And while this too is often interpreted as WB, it isn’t. Not really. It’s a lack of planning. Of knowing how you intend to get from Point A to B. One way to eliminate this situation is to use a plot board.
Do a synopsis, lay out your chapters and scenes. Then check that plot board for all manner of things.
Character growth and development, conflict, motivation, logical succession of events. You can check for logic gaps, natural progression, character consistency. You can check your time line—make sure things are happening in the right order, sequentially. Check your settings to make sure each is compatible with the mood and tone of the scene. You can check essentially all elements of the novel on this board.
In addition to realizing that thoughts hold an enormous amount of power, that creativity must be nurtured and that well refilled to be able to meet demands of putting out, knowing the novel them, the characters and their deepest secrets, fears and desires, and having a plot plan, I think it’s essential that a writer feeling blocked examine the whole. I mean the whole novel, and more. I mean the whole writer.
First look at the novel. Do you love this book? Does it tap into your emotions? Make you want to laugh, cry, choke the living daylights out of something? Does it arouse your passion? If not, change it until it does. If you don’t, then apathy sets in, and you’re setting yourself up for more blocks. And for rejections. You can’t arouse empathy in anyone else if it isn’t put there by you, the writer. If you don’t feel it, how can you stir it in others? So get passionate. Write something that matters to you. If you can’t do that on this novel, then ditch the project. If your passion is aroused, you’ll have plenty to say—and tons of ways to say it. Passion arouses all the nebulous creative juices and they make the work flow.
As a writer, how do you feel about writing this particular book? Are you writing a category novel because you love them, or because you’ve heard that so many of them are published your odds of breaking into publishing are greater by writing one of them? Are you writing your novel because it’s the kind of story you love to read? The kind you’ve always done and changing is too hard, or intimidating?
Writer know thyself. Know why you’re doing this project. And if the reason is anything other than for the joy of it, because you love the story, do yourself a favor. Recognize the odds of it being your best work are shot before you pick up a pen. Why waste your time—this is your life, you know?—working on a project that doesn’t matter to you? Feigned interest and enthusiasm is glaringly apparent, and it’s as offensive as anything else that is hypocritical. You can’t fake it. You have to feel it.
WB is an unforgiving term. It can cause writers a lot of pain and agony. It can have numerous tentacles and each one of them can choke the writer. With each choke, fear and doubt that you’ll ever be able to write again gain strength. But you have the power to work past it. By analyzing each tentacle, writers often find that they’re not blocked at all. They love writing as much as they ever did. They’ve only burned out and not recharged their creative batteries, they’ve forgotten the value of passion, they’ve stepped off the trail and gotten mired in the brush.
Well, get a sickle. Hack through that brush and more often than not you’ll discover you’re truly not blocked, you’re suffering phantom pains. Ones that are rooted in exhaustion, splintered focus, too many demands. In structure, discipline, and definition—lost limbs.
The best news is that once you identify them, you can form a concrete plain of action to combat them, and these limbs can rejuvenate. It takes effort, a little indulgence in spending the time and energy to figure out the root causes of the problem. But when you have, you can rejoice because you’ve worked your way through writer’s block.*