Friday, December 11, 2009

Overcoming "Writers Block"

When writers come from the journalism industry, we're much less prone to indulge in "writers block." I refuse to even make the term possessive, because the idea of a writer owning a block contradicts everything in which I believe.

Writers block, as I understand it, happens when a writer suddenly finds him/herself at a point where he/she can no longer find the words to put on the page.


When a writer finds himself/herself in such a situation, the choices become (and which choice the writer makes says a lot about the writer):
  1. Keep writing, even if it's awful, fully intending to cut what doesn't work later. In writing through the problem, stream of consciousness may provide a solution the brain could not.
  2. Turn to a different project, for an hour or a day, allowing oneself to turn the problem around and think about it. Writing something different could open new areas of the brain and refresh the brain cells and the spirit.
  3. Schedule a break. Finding yourself "blocked" simply means you're pushing too hard. Whether you schedule 15 minutes, an hour, or a day, take a break. Anything longer than a day is not a break. That's procrastination.
  4. Reread what you've written. Avoid the urge to edit, but reread what you've written, and about 20 pages before to set the scene (depending on the length of the work). Your "block" may be a subconscious single that something in your structure is off and not working.
  5. Skip ahead. If you can't write chronologically, allow yourself to write that scene that you've been looking forward to... Sometimes that will refresh your energy and remind you why you love these characters.
  6. Last but done least, if you really just can't write anymore... Do what my husband always suggests: Try a different art. When words are getting fumbled up, try the visual arts. Seriously. Sketch, take pictures, paint. It doesn't matter how good or bad the result is; the point is to exercise a different section of the brain. I do fashion illustrations (which I later use as outfits in the novel) or I work on this oil painting I have of a rooster. The rooster is actually symbolic, partially because it's a French rooster, but also because it appears in the novel. Étienne goes to the market for something, and has to pass the bird market in Paris. He sees this rooster and falls in love with the colors. And buys it. This is at the end of his bout with depression and signals the return of his joie de vivre. So, in my house, we have all sorts of jokes about Étienne's coq.
How we approach obstacles is as much an art as the words we write...

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