Writer’s Block Is Fixable

Occasionally, like most writers, I periodically suffer from something known as “Writer’s Block.” But listen, it’s not real. Okay it is real, but it’s not what you think.

Hear me out — I just think that it’s an over-used term that’s often romanticized as this “You don’t understand! It’s too difficult! My muse has left me! I shan’t go on!” [proceeds to dramatically faint, landing on a chaise with one arm draped over forehead] kind of thing. As if it’s something that just falls upon you like an illness.

But listen! That’s not what it is! And it’s easily fixable!!!

If you’re struggling from writer’s block, it’s not because an evil Cupid-like demonbaby shot you with an anti-idea arrow. You shot yourself with that arrow. Because a lack of idea comes from a lack of something else in your life. You need sustenance. You need sleep. You need a break. You need inspiration, that “muse” you claim left you. So go get it back.

I mean, the problem is simple: you are creatively, mentally, or physically drained (or a combination of the three) so you’re unable to write. The answer: you need to fill your creative well by stepping away and reading or absorbing some other art; take a break and breathe and/or meditate; or go for a walk, stretch, exercise, sleep, eat something, and/or drink some water (or a combination of all of it). It’s usually a combination of all of it. Sometimes, as someone who deals with mental health problems, it was my depression and/or anxiety getting in the way. That’s a whole other issue, but working through those hurdles is just as important.

The point is, your writer’s block is a symptom of a different problem.

How do I know this? Because I’ve been writing for almost eleven years and I have not once felt like I had “writer’s block” as it’s often described. I, of course, go through spurts where I don’t have any ideas or I can’t seem to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) or I just don’t want to write because it’s become something that no longer makes me happy. So, instead of staring at the empty computer screen or notebook page, I do as I mentioned above. I’m usually creatively drained and need to fill my creative well. I read, watch a film, go to an art gallery. Or I’ve been at the computer too long and I need to go for a walk. Sometimes that fills the well, too! I just go outside, walk through the woods a bit. Something will come. Something always comes.

BONUS: Sometimes none of the above works. Sometimes. And I can tell you exactly what that is — or, at least, what it’s been for me. Because none of those things worked, I knew that it was the story. It wasn’t ready to be written. It needed to simmer in my brain more. I needed to put it away and work on something else.

But even still — the block wasn’t the problem. It was the symptom and I needed to work it out.

TO RECAP, “Writer’s Block” is a symptom of something else. It’s not the cause itself. And, most of the time, you can work through it. You can fix the problem by troubleshooting. Water? Rest? Creative dry spell? Take care of it. Move on.

Now, go forth and write and write and write. But don’t forget those breaks. And don’t forget to refill your creative well by reading and watching and listening. Then write some more.

Advertisements

Let’s Call It Book E – Writing Update

Over the last two months of the new year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my writing. I set out this year with a goal in mind and it has already changed. Partly because of weeks and weeks of thought and partly because of a post by Morgan York that solidified my feelings on what I should be writing and what I should focus on to become a published author.

I’ve been writing several projects since I first started taking writing seriously. The first book I ever wrote and finished the first draft of (but definitely not the first book I ever started) is the first in a series of eight books (let’s call it Book A and Series 1). The second book I wrote, was a standalone (Book B). The following, the first book in a series of five (Book C and Series 2). And then, another standalone (though not quite finished) (Book D). My plan has been to work on both Book A and Book C and whichever I deemed the strongest, I would query with. (Book B is terrible, and I think I’ll be shelving it forever, and Book D is the book I won NaNoWriMo and want to finish writing this year, just on the side when I feel stuck on the others, a thing I do often. It’s actually how Book B and Book C were written in the first place, as side projects I worked on when I was stuck on Book A.)

For a while now, I’ve been thinking that trying to query the first book in a series is a bad idea. Almost every author and agent and editor that spreads their knowledge on the internet says it’s better to start with a standalone, but I’ve been stubborn, too attached to the story and characters, too attached to the idea that Book A, and Series 1, would be my first books published. And it didn’t really sink in until I read Morgan’s post, even though I’ve known it for years.

For many reasons, I’ve decided to move on. First, there’s the fact that Book A is going to need a lot more work. As it was the first book I wrote (started in high school and finished in college) it’s not the best. But I have a soft spot for it, it’s my passion project. I’ve rewritten it several times over the years, trying to get it just right, and last fall I realized the major problems with it—which means another rewrite, a realization that came partway through a different rewrite. It’s a mess. I still love the series, I still love the world, but I know it’s just not right. Second, as Morgan states in her post, it’s super hard getting a series published and it’s a lot of work once it is. (Though, I never wrote the sequels of said books, having previous advice to just focus on the first one and try to get that one published first. But it’s hard selling books as a series, especially as a first time author.)

After reading Morgan’s post (and eerily similar writing histories, especially because we’re almost the same age) I realized that maybe the universe wasn’t allowing my books to work quite right because I should be focusing on something else. So I decided to move on from Book A and Book C, shelve both series and work on something new—not just revamping Book B or finish Book D—but something completely new.

Uh…but work on what? I spent the last week or so of January and most of February searching through my ideas folder and disliking everything. I felt like I was in limbo—it’s the first time I’ve never been actively working on a book. So I stopped looking for ideas I’d already had and started trying to think of a new one.

And you know what happened? I ended up thinking about Book A and the entire Series 1 and the world I’d created. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then, something blipped on my creative radar. It was too far away to see what it was yet, but that first spark of an idea is often shy at first. And then it slams into you and you have to spend a solid day writing and thinking and getting everything down that you can. That’s how it happens sometimes. And that’s how it happened for me with the new book.

Let’s call it Book E.

Book E isn’t new, exactly. That’s why it took a while for me to figure it out. Partway through figuring out the idea, I realized that it was connected to Book A and Series 1. It’s in the same book-universe. It even shares a character. But the best part about it, it’s entirely different from Book A, though threads of that world are woven in. And the best part? It’s completely contained. It’s one book, a standalone. A story that starts and finishes all between two covers. Book E could be published and Book A and Series 1 could never be, and it wouldn’t matter (except I’d be sad, because I still love Series 1) but the point is, it’s a better book to query with.

I did it! I practically ran up and down the road screaming with excitement. But I was too busy with that second phase of an idea: Writing everything down before I forget it. Characters, names, places, plot—everything on paper. The last part of February and all of this month has been full of plotting and outlining, piecing together a coherent story from all the ideas that I’d written earlier. And I’m in love with the story and have started drafting. I’m nearly 4k words in and wrote just 1.6k today, the day I posted this.

So now, with Book E in the works, I have new writing goals for the year:

  • Finish drafting Book E and begin revising/editing.
  • Possibly query? Probably begin in 2018.
  • Finish first draft of Book D (NaNoWriMo 2016 Book).
  • Complete NaNoWriMo 2017
  • And maybe, possibly, probably, work more on Book A and Series 1, even just on the side. [insert Brokeback Mountain ‘I wish I knew how to quit you’ gif here]

In all honesty, I think this is for the best. Book E is making me incredibly happy and I think it’s the smartest thing to do going forward on my path to becoming published.

(PS I’m not being secretive with all the Book A, Book B business, most of them don’t have titles yet and it was just easier this way. Book A is tentatively called The Infinite Light and Book C is called Thoughtless.)