Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Writer's Block

Hey everyone out there in interwebzland. I'm through revisions on Shell and am working on its sequel. Unfortunately I absolutely suck at beginnings, but I've gotten past the first few chapters and things are finally moving swimingly. Shell will be going on submission soon to editors, which is really exciting.

The only thing I have to say about the process so far is this: if you have to write a synopsis, consider shoving a railroad spike through your foot. I guarentee it's less painful.

Anyway, onto today's topic. Every writer in the world has heard of writer's block. That nasty plague that renders writers wordless. No one's really sure what it is, why it occurs or how to cure it, and many writers debate its existance. Normally I'm the first person to jump on the bandwagon and proclaim that writer's block does not exist. However, after I finished Shell, I was hit with what most people would consider a huge dose of writer's block. For about four months I couldn't produce anything productive. I tried to work on the sequel to Shell, that didn't work. I tried to write different projects, that didn't work. I tried BIC, I tried waiting for inspiration, I went for walks, wrote in other places, nothing would work. My brain was completely dead. And the worst part was I wanted to write, but when I sat down at my computer absolutely nothing would come.

I've had similiar afflictions in the past. Sometimes, after a few months, I would sit down and write and it would work. The words were back and I went back to work as if I hadn't taken any time at all. Sometimes if I sit down to a new project, I get writer's block. I'll try again and again, but when I sit down and develop my character or plotline a bit more, it all flows perfectly.

What is writer's block exactly? The McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine says: "An occupational neurosis of authors, in whom creative juices are temporarily or permanently inspissated." Sounds pretty acurate, right? But why do we get this block? What can we do about it? Why do so many artists of all kinds complain of a block when it comes to their work? Why do writers and painters get this block when accountants or marketers don't?

But accountants and marketers do get blocks. It doesn't matter what job you do, sometimes stress, emotion, outside influences or whatever make it impossible for us to do our jobs. Have you ever been at work, put your head in your hands and said, "I can't do this"? Whether it's stress from the job, from a sick loved one, if you're feeling down about relationship issues or if you have a mental illness such as depression it can be really hard to get anything done. But we trudge through, because at the end of the day we all need our paychecks.

But with artists, it seems to go to an extreme. We can't do anything. We can't function. It's driving us crazy because the drive to write is there, but there's absolutely no words that seem to work together. Every sentence is clunky. We don't feel right about anything. Why? I believe it's because artists, especially writers (though I say that because I'm not a professional in painting or music, in fact, I suck at all other forms of art) mostly work in the subconscious. Things just come to artists-- a painter catches a flash of a picture, a writer sees a scene. And as the painter and the writer work, snippets come to them. It develops largely in the subconscious while the conscious mind figures out what works and what needs to be tossed.

I'd like to think that when we're crafting a story, our subconscious knows how things should work. The "muse" (if you want to imagine it as a seperate entity from yourself) will stop working if there's something wrong with your writing. Every time I've gotten writer's block in the past, there was something going wrong. I was overworked/stressed, a part of my plot just wasn't working out, my characters weren't developed enough, I was starting from the wrong place in the story.

From what I've learned, writer's block isn't just a random affliction. It's your muse telling you that something is wrong with your story.

On the subconscious level, you know it's not working, but you haven't quite figured out what's not working. So your mind shuts down, you can't form sentence, and budda boom budda bing, you've got writer's block.

So my cure: figure out what's wrong. It could be that you're really overworked and you just need to wind down. It could be that something in your story just isn't jiving. Whatever the problem is, there's going to be a different way to solve it. That's why there's no easy cure to writer's block, because writer's block is a fancy way of saying "I have no idea what the f*cking problem is!"

Professional writers don't get writer's block as often as newer writers because they're so familiar with their stories and their craft that they fix the problem before their subconscious decides to give them a wake up call.

In order to fix your block, you need to become more aquainted with yourself as a writer. Figure out what's plaguing you, and how to fix it. And most importantly, never stop writing.



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