We all hit a brick wall now and again with our writing.block

I don’t know about you guys but at times I find it easier to look for something else to do, convince myself that I need a break, anything but stare at a blank screen.

It’s procrastination with a capital P and I’m ashamed of all the times I’ve succumbed to its charms.

I’ll let you into a little secret. After battling with it for several years I finally figured out what to do about it.

Let me first set the record straight. I’m not talking about the dreaded muse here! There’s no such thing! We writers have an urge to write. At times it’s overwhelming, and on those occasions the words seem to flow. But is this caused by a muse? Do me a favour! The simple fact is that our urge to write is greatest when we develop our ideas for a plot, or a sub-plot. On those occasions we can’t ignore the demand to get the ideas down on paper.

What do I mean by developing ideas?

Well, unless you’re a storyboard plotter who maps out every scene and every twist and turn before starting on paragraph 1 of chapter 1, there will be times, and lots of them, when you will struggle over how to keep the story flowing, making sure you create just the right amount of continuity, linkage and pace for the reader. It’s at these times you will experience the hump.

Incidentally, I’m not a big advocate of storyboarding. I’ve tried writing both ways and can honestly say that after a minimum of original outlining I find ad-libbing my way through the story creates a far better flow. I love not quite knowing what I’ll end up doing with a particular character or scene, and oftentimes it helps my own writing enjoyment. But maybe that’s just me.

However, I’ve digressed. I get over the continuity hurdle by taking time out to imagine the next scene. I usually do this at night prior to going to sleep by forcing myself into a dream scene of what my characters are getting up to. I’ve gotten so good at it that it becomes vivid, so much so that I’ve often jumped out of bed and rushed to the keyboard to knock out a few paragraphs to remind me where to start my next session.

I kid you not! It works so well that I’ve also found myself replaying scenes already written and deciding they need re-touching because a new idea or a missing link has become apparent.

The motivation to write is another matter altogether. I try to set aside time every day for writing but it’s not always possible to be so disciplined. The enthusiasm is bound to wane from time to time and I’ve been known to stay away for days on end. One period of inaction lasted six weeks!

I recently had an interesting chat with brilliant Irish author Ken Bruen, he of the prolific Jack Taylor novels. His output recipe consists of one simple ingredient – he writes two pages per day. No more, no less. And boy, does he make it work!

That’s the kind of thing that drives me out of the ruts. Someone once said you can’t be a writer if you are not a reader, and how right he/she was. I’m a devourer of books. It was my love of reading that got me into writing, and it’s what still sustains me. Reading great authors and marvelling at their skills in telling diverse stories in individualistic styles is a tremendous motivation to want to get back to my own writing.

As writers we can dream up the kind of characters who rise at 7am, do a 10-mile run, grab a shower and a light breakfast, and be settled in front of their computers ready for a solid 8-hour shift progressing their latest novel by 10,000 words a day. Heck, we can even see them knocking out a new masterpiece every six weeks or so.

Thankfully, they exist only in our imaginations! The reality for writers has much less glamor and a lot more drudge.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire those with the discipline and fortitude to set regular hours, but it’s not my cup of tea. I try to pencil in certain days and times for my writing. But if things get in the way, I don’t get flustered about it – I know there will be other times when I’ll probably more than make up for ‘lost’ output by putting in a good marathon session.

I suppose, on balance, I prefer the scattered approach of letting the ideas form in my head, and then rushing (relatively speaking) to the laptop to try to get them down.

What I found to my cost is that it is wrong to draw up a seat in front of the laptop and prepare to write, without having previously formed reasonable thoughts and ideas.

Writer’s block? No, just a case of being mentally unprepared to bring ideas to life. It leads to frustration, annoyance, and eventually anger. I determined a long time ago not to go down that road.

If I have one last piece of advice to offer, it is this. When you do encounter a brick wall don’t walk away. There’s a lot you could be doing while you wait to get your ideas back into shape. The best activity has got be to editing and proofing what you’ve already written. This is a chore that simply has to be done over and over again so why not tackle it when you have the time?

If nothing else it will ‘clean up’ the work already done but, more importantly, it will remind you that the stuff you’ve written so far is not half bad! It will probably also put you back in touch with your story and your characters, thereby leading to a renewed burst of ideas and enthusiasm to go forward.

There are many, many ways to get over the hump. I’ve outlined a few of mine but I’m betting others have different, more effective methods for dealing with the roadblocks.

All you can do is find what works for you.

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  1. Brick ONeil says:

    Followed & on my blog roll!

  2. Kevin Taggart says:

    Interesting piece as usual Joe. Hemingway said that the best way to prevent writers’ block is always to stop when the creative juices are flowing and when you know what will happen next in your novel. If you do that every day, you will never be stuck.

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