For a writer, getting stuck is an occupational hazard. Our ideas get sluggish and the writing gets stagnant before dragging to a gummed-up halt. Sometimes, being stuck seems like the natural state of things, with merciful moments of productivity and creative flow.
Truthfully, I haven’t had to struggle against writer’s block very much. I’ve found myself in an awkward spot a few times, but it wasn’t because I had no idea what to write—it was because I had too many choices.
I guess it’s just the way I’ve trained the writer part of my brain. It’s always switched on, always whirring, always thinking. (Over time, I've learned that 90 percent of writing is thinking.)
And when I do type up to a spot where my fingers hover over the keyboard and I read and re-read the last line over and over, I don’t wait until I start to wonder where the flow went. I don’t give myself a chance to grow stagnant, or frustrated, or blocked.
I’m a writer. I write through it.
Sometimes that means opening a new document and starting something new.
This has been a very successful practice for me. When I started to pursue a writing career, I had a three-book project in mind. I put most of my effort into writing and editing and shopping the Demimonde trilogy.
But, like everyone else, I didn’t sit down and type out three books without missing a beat. There were plenty of pauses, lots of moments when I needed to sit back, reflect on the projects, think about what would work best.
It’s what I did with those pauses that helped me to remain prolific and productive. I wrote.
I wrote poetry and short stories and I shopped those, too. I wrote down ideas that popped into my head while I was driving. I wrote out quick plot summaries for those new ideas. I wrote pages of scenes and conversations and scenarios. Sometimes, I just wrote character sketches and peered into their imaginary hearts while they weren’t looking.
I wrote anything I could get my brain on and filled flash drives with it all.
And sometimes, one of those files would get reopened, again and again, because there was a potential world to explore and I couldn’t keep away. Eventually it would get to the point where I couldn’t wait to finish one book because there was another I was chomping at the bit to get to.
I guess that’s how my bibliography grew, despite my having a full-time job outside the author’s office—a novella, a few short work and poetry anthologies, tons of individual clips from magazines and journals, and four published novels. Five, actually, because the latest one (a Victorian dark fantasy called THE HEARTBEAT THIEF) just came out today.
And do you know how THE HEARTBEAT THIEF came to be? The same way so much of my other work did: I took a break from writing one book and flipped to a new page.
The first lines I wrote were a conversation between a young woman and a mysterious entity in a funeral parlor on the topic of how to live forever. It was a little creepy, I admit, but it was nothing like what I had been writing at the time. It proved to be the mental palate cleanser I needed and soon I was back to work on my original project.
The biggest cause of writer’s block is mental congestion. Sometimes, a writer gets so wrapped up in a project that it gets hard to think straight. By flipping to a new page, I shift gears and look out a different window. I fluff up the pillow and change the station. The congestion clears right up, allowing the creativity to flow at its natural pace again. Writing through the block is therapeutic, see?
My family asks me when I’ll ever take a break from writing because I always seem to be doing it. They don’t seem to understand that I’ve trained a long time to be able to exercise my craft with this kind of endurance.
Yes, it takes practice. You become a writer twenty-four hours a day when you learn that 90% of writing is mental. You train your writer’s brain to be constantly vigilant, always observant, and you coach yourself to take advantage of down-time by making notes and writing small, unrelated pieces. Keeping your brain aerated and stimulated keeps the ideas from growing stagnant and settling to the bottom.
Ready to get unstuck and stay that way?
Here’s a few tips from the Krafton Method:
- Keep a notebook or digital recorder handy. (Here’s a previous QT article on why you should always have a writer’s notebook handy.) I’ve emailed myself when I didn’t have access to anything else. Sometimes, it’s just a description or a single line. It’s a seed for something bigger to grow.
- Be observant. Notice everything. Take pictures if the words don’t come right away. They’ll follow, trust me. “You see, but you do not observe,” Sherlock Holmes once said. Observing involves taking what you see, ingesting it, and using it to think about something else. Another favorite Holmes quote: "You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles." No better way to describe my own method. I observe the trifles, write them down, and revisit them when I feel the threat of writing sluggishness.
- Opposites are attractive: when you feel your writing is getting sluggish, flip to a new page and write a paragraph about something that is the exact opposite of what you’re currently writing. Change the scenery by writing the antithesis to the emotion, the setting, the occupation of your character. Create something new and cleanse your mental palate.
- Write a poem. It doesn’t have to be good. The majority of poetry is terrible stuff. But poetry is blessedly free of expectation and demand. It’s pure expression and creative simplicity, even when written in its most complex forms. I like traditional forms such as villanelle and sestinas, because these forms have a sort of mathematical equation that goes into the writing. Math, to me, is the exact opposite of novel writing, and really helps to reset the prose side of my brain, thereby relieving mental congestion.
- Move your butt. Go someplace else to write. New surrounding are both stimulating and relaxing and give your words room to breathe.
You don’t have to suffer from writer’s block or mental congestion. You just have to learn how to keep the words flowing. Using these tips will help you train yourself to be a writer 100% of the time.
Have a tip of your own to share? Leave us a comment and help us all become a more productive writer.
Ash’s new book THE HEARTBEAT THIEF is a Poe-esque tale of endless devotion—full of dark fantasy, Victorian dresses, and, of course, Death.
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