Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Writer's Block Isn't Real--Or Why You Should Treat It That Way

Blank pages are intimidating. I know. Your cursor is blinking, blinking, blinking, in the top-left corner of your screen, but you just can't bring yourself to type that first word. What even is that first word? Where do you start?

At this point, you freeze up. Maybe you're starting a new project, maybe just a new scene. As seconds and minutes tick away, you start to wonder, can I even do this? You think of five words you could write, maybe five sentences, but none of them are quite right. No, that blank page will only accept the best. And you're not even close to finding out what that is.

So the cursor keeps on blinking.

Writer's block is something we writers made up to make ourselves feel better about not writing. I know it sounds callous, but bear with me. It's tough love. I say it because I love you and I believe in you.

You have it in you to put down words, anytime, anywhere--I can attest to that. We all do. The words are there, floating around inside us. We know what comes next. But for some reason, those words don't make it from brain to spinal cord to fingers to keyboard. So what's in the middle? What's getting in the way?


You say: No, that blank page will only accept the best. 

I say: Not even! 

That blank page will accept any fool thing you type into it. You could probably start with, "Why, hello, my name's Kiersi, and I like ponies and rainbows and french toast." Guess what I just made? A page that's no longer blank. Pretty easy, right? Sure, it's not Hemingway, but who cares?

The only thing that gets between you and putting words down is you. But maybe that's putting it too simply, placing too much of the burden on the writer as a conscious being. A huge part of "writer's block" is subconscious--it's that little voice inside you saying, That's not quite right. That's not perfect. Don't write it.

But who freaking cares if it's not perfect? So what if it's not the best? We're not looking for the best here. We're looking for words. Perfection comes later, drafts and drafts later, when an editor with the right kind of eye has gone over it with a fine tooth comb and said, "Here, you should change this little part in this way."

Get out of your own way.

"Writer's block" is a consolation prize. "Writer's block" is salve for a wounded ego. "Writer's block" is totally ineffective at accomplishing anything.

The trick to conquering writer's block is to get out of the way of the words you already have ready to go; to stop critiquing them before they're even born; to let them be the imperfect, wonderful words that they are, and simply be all right with that.

Here are some exercises to help.

1. Write the first thing that pops into your head, even if it's cats/breakfast/nonsense.

If you have to jumpstart your writing by starting something new and crazy and different--then do it. Just write something. Talk about your cat/fish/dog/miniature horse. Write a haiku about rays of sunshine across your desk. I don't care. Just write it. The muscle will warm up and your brain will get the hang of getting out of its own way.

2. Journal.

Write a diary entry for yourself--or even better, for one of your characters. A great way to "get into the groove" when stuck in writer's block is to explore your world. I like to write backstory/forestory (yes I just made that up) that won't appear in the actual novel. Consider: Musing on the religious history of your fantasy world. Recounting a long-lost legend. Or: How did your hero's parents fall in love? What was your main character's first day of kindergarten like?

3. Theorize. Play God. A very vengeful, toddler-with-a-tower-made-of-legos kind of God.

My last and best suggestion for dragging yourself out of the self-induced, writer's block mud is to imagine: what wouldn't happen next? Our very own YA Stands blogger Kate Brauning wrote a great post about this topic during her "Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling" blog challenge.

"Writer's block" is a prime opportunity to explore the uglier faces of our story--to put our characters in positions neither we nor them could imagine and then see how it plays out. (Side note: My friend Eddy and I talk a lot about this idea of pressure-and-study; in the show Breaking Bad, the writers force Walt into deeper and worse situations just to see how it will play out and push the story inevitably forward, always with grand results.)

Just think of the most far-out, ridiculous event that could occur next, and maybe that's what comes next.

So don't make excuses! Ditch that "writer's block" lingo, turn off your inner critic, and just have fun.

Read more of Kiersi's writing advice on her blog, The Prolific Novelista, or follow her on Twitter at @kiersi.

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