Five tips to beat The Block (Writer’s Block, that is)

What’s news?

– I’m pleased to announce that my Flash Fiction piece, Another Oldie but Goodie, is being featured today (Friday, October 7) at Bibliophilic Blather, hosted by author Karen Wojcik Berner.

– I’m also excited to tell you that a new short piece of mine entitled I Spy, With My Little Eye was read live on The Eclectic Artist’s Cave, a radio show on Shark Radio Network.  Joann Hamann Buchanan (from the EAC) hosts a Writer Wednesday (kind of like Friday Flash).  The theme this week was “What’s in the round box?”  I had a great time writing it.  Took sort of a Pulp Fiction (without all the language) meets Hellraiser (without all the gore) approach.  Hope you get a chance to go by and read it.  In fact, if you’re short on time, maybe go by there first. Click here to read I Spy, With My Little Eye.

What does the future hold?

Next Friday I’ll be posting a review of the very popular YA dystopian novel being picked up by many adults as well.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Is it worth the hype?  From a writer’s point of view, she has done some interesting things, but has she done enough to win me over?  Check back and see.

But without further ado…

Let me start by saying that I believe there are two ideas of what “writer’s block” actually is.

The first is the more Hollywood version of writer’s block… the almost clichéd stories of young authors who had a success once but who now can’t think of anything to write.

An entertaining take on writer's block

If this is truly the case, if you don’t have any ideas on anything that you could possibly be writing, then I think you got bigger problems, and my first suggestion is to take satisfaction in your accomplishments and consider moving on to your next career endeavor.  I believe that most writers have notebooks (and random scraps of paper in my case) full of ideas, scenes, characters or whatever with which they could be composing, but more on that shortly.

The other writer’s block is what I think more of us suffer from… getting started or getting unstuck.  We sit down at the computer, typewriter, notebook, whatever and we just stare.

Well, this actually segues nicely into my first suggestion.  If this is the case, you’re on the right track

1 – Just plant your butt in the seat.  If you want to get work done, put yourself in the place where work gets done.  I had a great instructor at the Maui Writer’s Conference several years ago, New York Times Best Seller Nancy Holder.  Nancy was the first person to tell me this Big Truth.  She said to schedule time like you would schedule everything else, but most importantly, STICK TO YOUR SCHEDULE.  And find ways to reward yourself when you do.

Stick to your schedule

And don’t start out with an unrealistic schedule.  You may only start with 20 minutes a day, and then work your way up as you see fit.

Which brings me to my next suggestion.

2 – Don’t go over your schedule, either.  Or at least not by much.  I know many authors who will disagree with me on this one, but it has worked for me.  Stick to your schedule.  You may really be rolling with ideas, but if you keep working past your schedule until you run out of steam, you’ve left nothing for yourself to get started when you sit back down the next day… ergo, future Writer’s Block.

This is like preventative health care for writers 🙂

Give yourself time at the end of your schedule to bring things to a stopping point, write yourself some notes to jump start things tomorrow, and then reward yourself for a good day.  Whether you know it or not, your mind will keep processing this story while you’re doing other things.

How writing feels sometimes

Which brings me to my next suggestion.  Sometimes getting through an hour or two can be a real battle with our writing.  We may have all of the ideas, but they’re just ramming into one another.  Or you know exactly where your character needs to go, but you’re running into a barrage of obstacles getting her there.  Trying to force my writing rarely works, so instead…

3- Stop working for fifteen minutes and go do something physical.  For me, half of the year I can go work in our ridiculously large garden (we have water rights to prove) and the other half I can shovel snow.  Whatever you need to do, stop thinking about your story and let your subconscious mind do the work for you, make the connections you aren’t able to visualize.  Whatever it is– vacuuming, doing the dishes, raking the leaves– just take your focus away from your story and see if you don’t come back with some new ideas.  If nothing else, the physical activity will be good for you.

Where I work out my frustrations

But if you come back and you still got nothin’ for the next forty-five minutes of your schedule…

4- Work on something else.  Anything.  Create a random character.  Do a profile for one of your current characters.  Do a little more work on a short story you started but never finished.  Or flesh out one of those fragments from one of those scraps of paper.

Any writing is productive writing.  This is one of the reasons I’ve loved doing the Flash Fiction pieces so much.  It’s been like mental sherbet to cleanse my mind of years of editing The Imaginings.  There are plenty of places out there where you can find a variety of Flash Fiction themes (including photographs), but if you want some suggestions, let me know.

And speaking of The Imaginings and this particular suggestion, funny story.  The Imaginings actually started as a short story that I thought I had finished back in 1996 and subsequently shelved.  It wasn’t until I was writing another short story probably six years later that I realized I was actually writing the continuation of the earlier story, and my first novel-length idea was born.

Anyway, moving on. But wait.  Still nothing?  Your character is still stuck with nowhere to go and nothing to do?

How the hell did we get here?

5- Go back several pages and have your character make a different choice.  Maybe even a few chapters if you have to.  Usually writer’s block starts to form several pages before you run directly into a wall.  Perhaps it was a choice your character made in the last chapter that started a chain reaction that led him/her through a coinciding series of events that has turned into a boring “Choose Your Own Adventure” story.

As writer’s we have the ability to turn back time and change the past for our characters. Sometimes if you go back and change a character’s decision (have them go left instead of right, buy that extra beer instead of going home, actually walking over to the good looking girl, whatever) you’ll see that it changes the whole game.

They’re our creations right?  Half the fun is having the control.  Now take it back and get back writing!

What do I want from you?

Do you have any other tips that you’d like to share?  Anything that has worked for you?  A testimonial to the success of using one of the techniques I’ve mentioned here?

Also, even if you’ve already read Another Oldie but Goodie, Karen features a variety of genres for her chosen Friday Flash stories of the week, so I hope you’ll go to her site when you get a chance (but just so you know, October is Halloween-themed).  Click here for Bibliophilic Blather.

Finally, for the schedule for The Shark Radio Network (including The Eclectic Artist’s Cave), click here.  You can also live stream the station there.

And don’t forget to check back next Friday for my review of The Hunger Games.

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21 thoughts on “Five tips to beat The Block (Writer’s Block, that is)

  1. Some valuable advise, Paul. Oh, and I hate that commercial. It’s creepy.

    1. Thanks, WJ. I think most writers already have some tricks like these, but I still like to read posts like this when I see them for any new ideas and just to see what works for others.

      And the commercial? I’m guessing you’re talking about the Choose Your Own Adventure cover? Yeah, I found one that was pretty bizarre 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Our methods match so closely I almost could have written this. I even have a huge garden I do my thinking in. (I’m not so keen on the snow.) But I’m one who doesn’t follow number 2. In fact, I tend to work in huge, obsessive chunks. In the winter (that snow thing again), I do almost all my hard draft writing, working for hours and hours during the evenings and into the nights and on weekends. In the summer, I relax by pleasure reading and doing lighter editing work. It works for me.

    Good advice!

    1. Yeah, I knew #2 would raise some eyebrows. I know the bursts of writing work for some writers, but I’ve also seen it backfire. People write themselves out of ideas. It’s like having a big roaring fire and using all the fuel, or just keeping the embers going by feeding it slowly. I think the important thing, though, is whatever works for you, keep doing it.

      Thanks for the comments. And I won’t give anything away yet on The Hunger Games.

  3. PS – I’m looking forward to your Hunger Games comments. I reviewed them this spring and liked them for the most part. Curious…

  4. Choose Your Own Adventure!!! Gotta love those old books….and that is the nugget I will haul from this post! I am not a advocate of going back and editing anything until I have vomited up the entire first draft, but going back and having your character go back and make a different choice when you are stuck anyway is brilliant!

    1. Much thanks, my friend. And I agree on editing. “Vomited up the entire first draft.”– Well put. And once it’s all up, you start to clean up the mess, eh?

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a good weekend.

    2. Ah, I love the word picture, vomitting up the first draft. So true, so true.

  5. “Creative work is…a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” These are the words of Steven Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) in his book,”The War of Art.” This book was written primarily for writers and others whose work could be labeled “creative” and who are experiencing some sort of barriers to moving forward. This is not my endorsement of the book, for I only just started reading it. However, I am already taken by his comprehensive exploration of the concept of resistance. As an aside, I found the book as recommended reading on a website for persons with Parkinson’s Disease.

    1. Sounds interesting. I’m curious how many books are out there on this very topic (like self-help for writers 🙂 ) You’ll have to keep me posted as you continue reading. I’ll be curious to know the connection with Parkinson’s. Is that how the author is marketing, or was it recommended as such by someone else with Parkinson’s? Sometimes I find this doesn’t always work. Jennifer’s mom had a client in one of her classes who recently recommended the movie “K-Pax” as a treatment movie for other sex offenders. I think it’s a great movie, but I wasn’t sure why the particular client would be recommending it (of course, I’m not a professional therapist, so maybe she’ll find something I didn’t. Nor do I have Parkinson’s, so maybe you will find the connection).

      Thanks for the recommend (albeit an unofficial endorsement 🙂 )

  6. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by word count. My solution: scribbling single scenes, ideas for dialogue etc. on small pieces of paper. Carefully stored, I later sew them together like a quilt.

    1. A seemingly never-ending tapestry, yes? As you probably read, I’m a big collector of scraps of paper with scribbled notes. And even though it’s hard to keep on top of all of them sometimes, they’re always fun to find sometimes years later (and sometimes confusing. What did I mean when I wrote “two ducks in the desert with a shaman under a full moon”? 🙂 )

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  7. Paul, some great ideas. I know I will see or hear something that sends my mind racing with dialogue and characters. They will stew in my mind until 1 or 2 in the morning when I am forced to get up and write them down. The next morning, my enthusiasm is gone. I could try some of your suggestions to keep the juices flowing. I am very excited to hear your opinion of The Hunger Games!

    1. I know the feeling, Kodi. Except for me, it’s that the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, and if it’s my turn to go take care of her, by the time I get back to bed, my brain has started working again. And very often the same thing. I’ll lie there in the dark until I’ve accrued more ideas than I think I’ll remember the next day on my own.

      I think it would be awesome to see you forge out a story or two. So I hope my suggestions will give you a little nudge.

  8. As always, great post. I’m currently struggling with writers block, so I’ll be implementing your ideas and see how that goes! Thanks for the ideas.

    1. Cindy, glad you liked the post. More importantly, I hope it helps. Right now, I’m struggling a little with getting started. Got all my ideas in front of me for the next book, even have about 40 pages that I’ve had for about three years. Now to get going!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. These are some great tips. I’m a very vocal supporter of tip #, if I find myself in some sort of rut where I just can’t get started again, I just take a seat and open up my computer and it usually works for me. I also enjoy taking a break and taking a walk outside if it’s a nice day. The walk will usually clear my head a bit and steer me on the right path for my story.

    Great post, and I also agree, the Hollywood version of writer’s block is outrageous.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I think #1 is important as well. I had a cousin who is also a writer tell me that she is having to actually schedule writing time for herself. To which I replied that if we don’t, given most of our hectic lives, we will usually find something else to do. But if we make ourselves stick to a schedule, it’s not only better for our writing, but also our peace of mind.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’re having a good week.

  10. Sometimes if I get stuck it’s because I’m trying to shoe-horn an idea into a story that doesn’t quite fit. It’s a great idea (trust me I thought of it!), but the story just won’t let me graft it to the body of the text. Subconsciously, I know it doesn’t work. When I consciously realize this and give up on trying to force the plot, that’s when the creative flow resumes.

    1. Great point. This is a good addition to the list. I think we often try to do this as writers. Great idea or great scene (or even to match up with my #5, a great action the character could carry out), but it just doesn’t work with the flow of the story. Thanks for the comments.

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