Dealing with Writer's Block
Writer's block is something that most writers face at least a few times in their writing endeavors. We all have different ways of coping with it or forcing our way through it. I've asked all of the writers on the Gestalt team to share their thoughts on the dreaded Writer's Block. I think that every writer will be able to take away at least one golden nugget from our experiences.
Jason Stokes' thoughts
Maybe people won’t believe me, but I don’t really suffer from writer’s block. I have and there are still times when I sit at the screen and wonder what I’m going to write but if you get down to it, ‘writer’s block’ the feeling where no matter how hard you try you can’t think of something to say? I don’t deal with that. Anyone can ask my wife if I ever run out of things to say and immediately witness the most powerful eye roll in human history followed by a long and vehement “NEVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER!”
That aside, the reason I don’t suffer from the plague of all writers I think is directly linked to my writing style. I write, like actually tell the story during the plotting phase. I start with an idea, develop the characters, start setting in scenes and build everything out from the center in an expanding method that is closely related to the Snowflake Method (Google it). This fractal construction means that when I sit down to write I’m looking at a complete, detailed, thorough outline that basically only lacks the dialogue and a little stage direction to be a completed first draft. So, I always know what my next scene is, I always know what conversations the characters need to have and I always have a touchpoint only a few pages away for where the story is headed.
In addition to this, at times when I do find myself stuck, wondering what exactly I want to say in this precise moment, how EXACTLY to write this paragraph I just...write. It may sound simple but I’ve never considered anything set in stone. If I don’t like what I write I can erase it, start again; but truthfully, I usually like the stuff I write free form, not really concerned with what the words mean the best. During subsequent edits, I’ll clean up these bursts of unfettered creativity and they tend to fit rather well. If all else fails though...if no matter what I can’t seem to write the exactly what’s needed….I skip it. A pair of place markers like a quote “ “ or a few dashes --- and that says this scene is missing until further notice and then just...keep going.
I realize this method may not work for everyone but I’ve found over the years only one thing is truly fatal to the writing profession and that’s stagnation. Not writing is the worst thing you can do to reach your goals (daydreaming, thinking over a plot, working through something in your head, that’s a little different) but just not sitting down and doing the thing, even if it’s bad, is the quickest way to watch your dream shrivel up and wither away.
My advice would be, when you’re going through the hard times and the words aren’t flowing, set yourself a time, anytime. It can be on a laptop, on your phone during your lunch break, on a pad while you take the bus but make it the same time every day and write something. Anything that tickles your fancy and keep showing up. The muse is always around somewhere but sometimes you have to keep office hours so she knows where to meet you.
From Danielle Simmons
I’m not the best person to ask about writers block because for me it’s not about the inability to write- it’s finding the time to write.
Between work and kids, my desire to flesh out a story point or jot down ideas, doesn’t happen at perfect times. It usually happens when I’m not able to sit and write. It’s when I have chunks of time to myself that I find I’m not in mood or wanna do one of the other things I need/want to do instead of writing - and I think this is because I know once I dive in, I won’t be able to stop and will have to. I used to write at night after my son was in bed, but with two kids (one age 3) I find my energy level is different now, so writing happens at different times. When I’m frustrated or a plot point isn’t working I tend to step away from my writing and not force it. I’ve had periods where I take breaks for weeks and come back refreshed. That seems to be what works best for me.
Dawn Hosmer on Writer's Block
Much like Jason, I don't usually suffer from Writer's Block although my process is completely different than his. While he's a plotter, I am 100% a pantser. If I am having trouble getting the words on the page, it's because I'm over-thinking it and not trusting my pantsing process. There are times when my brain starts trying to plot and I have to force myself to stop because those times are when I have trouble getting words down. I will jot down ideas that come to me in a notebook to perhaps revisit at some point but I let the story guide my writing each time I sit down to write. I have to remind myself often to TRUST THE PROCESS - which for me is pantsing and it has worked in getting 3 books written so far. I also remind myself that the first draft doesn't have to be perfect - it just needs to be written. I can, and will, go back to fix it later. This frees me from expecting everything I write to be stellar and to end up in the final draft. I try not to go back and re-read anything on my work in progress until I've finished the first draft completely. This way I don't get hung up on fixing something that wasn't meant to be perfect in the first place.
The other thing that helps me deal with Writer's Block is not forcing myself to write for a certain amount of time or a certain number of days per week. I've noticed that my story flows better when I try to write daily, but there are some days, I'm not able to get words on the page. I've learned to give myself grace on those days and realize that it's okay. The story will get written exactly the way it needs to, even if I don't write every single day. Likewise, part of my process is that each time I sit down to write, I usually write one chapter of about 1500 to 3000 words. I don't try to push past that because I know this is how I function best. Now, if the words are really flowing and I have the time & energy, I will occasionally write more than one chapter but this doesn't happen often. Some days writing one chapter takes fifteen minutes; other days, it may take an hour. Again, I refrain from judging myself about how long I "should" spend on writing and focus instead on getting the story down.
I've also found that even when I'm not in front of the computer or actively thinking about my book, my mind is constantly fitting the pieces together. Sometimes, I don't even realize it until I sit down to write. So, I highly recommend that if you feel stuck, get away from the computer and do something else - watch a movie, read a book, take a walk (or a nap). The words will come back but sometimes we need to focus on something different for a while.
Coping with Writer's Block by David Voyles
As a member of the Gestalt Media team I've been asked to write about a common problem that writer's face, the dreaded Writer's Block. Being ever the compliant team member, I am eager to offer my sage advice.
So, off we go.
How I, David Allen Voyles, deal with that huge monster, one that's challenged everyone from Homer to Hemingway, the blank page.
Yep. Ready to start.
I got nothing.
In all fairness, I don't think I've ever suffered from a true case of writer's block.
Not because I'm so good. It's probably because I've only been writing "seriously" since…well, what time is it? And when you don't HAVE to write, the thoughts come much more easily.
I'm guessing that the pressure of absolutely having to come up with something on a strict deadline day after day, week after week, year after year could be really daunting. And when the well temporarily goes dry, there's no one to crack the whip and tell you to get back to work. On top of that, a whole universe of welcome distractions--memes, news, videos--is just a click away.
But there is one thing I've done over the years (thirty years, to be precise, my teaching career) that has helped me with at least always having something to write about when I am ready to write. And that is to write down those weird story ideas that seem to come out of nowhere as soon as they hit you. Write 'em on anything handy--a napkin, a memo, that kid's homework.
Don't worry about having the perfect, leather-bound notebook to record them in. I can't tell you how many of those really cool writing journals I have, and you can open each of them to find nothing but blank pages. They're just too intimidating to write in. I evaluate every possible entry to determine if it's worthy enough for the journal and end up discarding it. Who knows how many great ideas I've lost for that reason!
And if I did actually put my disjointed, odd snippets of thoughts into such a journal, what would future scholars think years after my death, if while searching my records for lost masterpieces--stop snickering, it could happen--they find a beautifully bound book, open it, and read, "Humorous discussion (w/Mary? about Mary?) about breasts."
That's an actual quote I just found written on a page torn from a notepad, no telling how many years ago, shoved into one of my covered journals. I have no idea about the context or what the story idea was. Apparently something about an autistic man named Robert who lived with his elderly parents and interacted most often with a pair of abandoned bear cubs.
Don't ask me. I don't know.
But back to the point. I never would have even made the entry if I had had to enter it into a beautifully bound book. Just record thoughts on anything and put them in a place with other ideas so you can review them when you do sit down to write. Over time, you will have some incredible ideas, wonderful surprises, that you've totally forgotten about.
Well, as you can tell I likely have hundreds—thousands--of strategies to beat writer's block. But as usual I digress, and I've written too much, so you'll just have to settle for this one. I'm sure the other GM writers will take up my slack and offer some actual, helpful tips.
Besides, I've got to get back to this tale about Robert and the bears and remember that funny story about breasts.
Writer’s Block by Ryen Lesli
WB is a cruel mistress who strikes a nightmare so malicious that some writers refuse to even utter her name for fear of the beastly power she holds.
Fascinatingly enough, there are some writers who sneer at WB’s power and refuse to respect her wicked ways. They think she’s fake; a myth that belongs with mermaids and unicorns. And you’re just using her to justify your naughty play dates with the stunning Procrastination—who we all love and adore. They argue that the reason you have WB is because of some deeper, psychological issue, like fear. To tell me that if I find my deeper ‘issue’ and deal with it, then I will magically make WB leave my life forever—is pure fucking arrogance. Especially for someone like me because when WB comes to play, she brings my darkness with her, and my darkness doesn’t fuck around. When she rears her pretty head, everything stops.
No writing, no thinking, no doing.
The only thing I can do is patiently wait for her and WB to end their violent love-affair so I can get back to work. After which, I thank WB for her beautiful punishments and start bleeding those emotions again.
Look, sometimes you just can’t write, okay? It’s that simple and yet, that complicated.
YOU CAN’T WRITE.
So, eat something sweet, take a nap, and try again. But no matter what you do, I promise, the writing will come back for you. You just have to wait for her.
Blessings & Curses, whichever you have coming for you, and as always, your dark Witch.