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Monday, February 6, 2012

Writer Unblocked

Courtesy of ledomira
Writers Block.

Some people fear it. Some don't believe in it. And some are just getting to know it.

For the purpose of this blog, writers block is not a mysterious ailment that strikes writers, rendering them mute so far as the story is concerned.

In my experience, only three things cause writers block.

Exhaustion: physical or mental. Your creative muscles are like any other muscle in your body. They need to be exercised regularly, and well, but they also need to rest. Or maybe you need to rest.

The cure? Get adequate sleep, maintain a balanced diet, and exercise. Taking care of your physical self will help you take care of your mental and emotional self as well. On the creative side, do something that relaxes your mind. I like to listen to music, cruise through my tumblr blog, and play with my kids. Anything that allows your creative mind to rest for a while.

Taking a wrong turn in the story. This is generally the culprit when it comes to my writers block. When I find myself slogging through words, where it feels like each sentence is stuck in a quagmire of sludge, I know there's a good chance that I took a wrong turn somewhere. I made something happen that shouldn't have or I had a character do something they never would have done.

The cure, go back through the manuscript and figure out where you diverged from the story. Pay attention to events, character development, and listen to your gut.

Procrastination: a writer's best frenemy. Writing a full length work requires diligence and discipline. To be completely honest, there are times when I sit down to work on a story, and I'm just not feeling like writing. I'd rather be checking my email, surfing the internet in the name of research, watching a movie, reading, or even cleaning.

The cure? For me, it's been very helpful to have a specific time set aside for writing. I've had to work at it, but I've trained my brain that during my writing time, I've got to be writing. If my mental restlessness is severe, I bring up my word count widget and set mini goals. For example, for every 300 words I type, I get a two minute break. This only works if I follow through on it, but I've managed to be fairly productive even though my mind is off chasing balls of string.

One last technique in battling writers block is something I learned from Holly Lisle's Create A Plot Clinic. Ask questions. As many as you need to get rolling again. The only two rules are that they have to be open-ended questions that can't be answered with a single word and you go with your muse (your subconscious mind). Before I learned to ask questions, I would just quiet myself and try to listen for the story. But asking the right kinds of questions is a lot faster, and it's amazing how many new details emerge.

What do you do to get rid of your writer's block?

Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.


Tobi Summers said...

I'm usually working on multiple projects, so when I get writer's block on the one I'm writing, I'll switch to editing my other novel, or writing a short story for a magazine, or working on a blogpost. Something that's still productive, but gets my mind away from whatever's causing the problem. It's not foolproof, but it definitely helps.

Stephsco said...

The questions method is a good one. I haven't seriously done this and I think it will help.

docstar said...

I've never accepted the 'malady' of writer's block, so I was glad to see you list concrete 'solutions' - which all involve sitting butt in chair and getting over it (the sweat part of writing).

Anonymous said...

When I'm stuck I ask the characters. I set them together and let them interact.

Asking questions sounds good too. I'll try next time.

Ansha Kotyk said...

Great post on The Block. I always do the question thing when I'm writing something new or when revising. But I let the questions sit in my brain for a while, a day or two, then I ask for a response. Most times my subconscious has worked on it in my sleep and voila! I have my fix.
Watching movies, good ones, always helps too. (GREAT excuse to be a couch potato!)

Danyelle L. said...

@Rebel: That's a great idea. I do the same thing, and it does help to be doing something productive while giving yourself some time away. I've also noticed that my writing brain and my editing brain don't always work in tandem, so I can use one while letting the other rest. :) Great tip!

@Stephsco: Good luck! I'd heard about this method long before I ever tried it. I was amazed with how much I was able to come up with once the creative juices got flowing. :)

@docstar: Yes, writing is a lot like anything else. If you want to get things done, you've got to sit down and do them. :)

@Carmen: That's a great idea re: putting the characters together and letting them interact. :) I'll have to try this one.

@Ansha: Isn't the subconscious a beautiful thing? I love that it keeps working even when you're focused on other things or sleeping. O:)

Valentina Hepburn said...

I always know when I've gone 'off track'. And where. And it doesn't matter how much I try to ignore it I have to go back and change it, even on the first draft. It's like leaving a pan to soak before sticking it in the dish washer. I know it's there, on the stove, waiting to be washed, and it irritates me until the dish washer is happily chugging away. I don't know if I've ever had writers block in a serious way, but I definitely have writers fiddle! Maybe I'm OCD!

Leslie Budewitz said...

One other way that "writers block" can develop, seriously interfering with the ability to write as much or at all is when life interferes in a major way -- e.g., the illness of a child or a parent, a serious marital crisis, or a major increase in the demands of the day job. In that situation, a writer may need to consciously give herself a break and ease up on her writing expectations for a bit, find a respite to allow her to write (e.g., babysitter comes, you go write!), or brainstorm other solutions to the time and stress issues. Certainly we all need to be careful not to let small speed bumps knock us off course -- but major problems require a different response.

Danyelle L. said...

@ Valentina: I'm the same way. I have to fix it during the first draft, because the story doesn't hang right if I leave any wrinkles in it. >.<

@Leslie: You're absolutely right. Stress is a huge killer of creativity. And it's definitely one of those times where it's probably a good idea to step away from the writing (especially if the writing is a business/work instead of an outlet or for fun) or find a way for the writing to ease the stress instead of adding to it. Very good tip. :)