Battling Aggressive Writer’s Block

Apologies for being silent on my blog lately! I meant to post this on Friday *oops*. I’ll be resuming my schedule of posting every Friday again starting this week!

Recently I’ve been fighting a new breed of writer’s block that I hadn’t really experienced before. Usually, when writer’s block hits, it’s more passive. It’s a lack of inspiration, or a lack of motivation. Lately, however, the writer’s block has been more aggressive. It’s been an active force insisting my writing isn’t good enough, that my plot doesn’t make sense, that my characters are horrible and not relatable.

I’ve determined that this now comes with the territory when writing as a published author.

Before I published Grigory’s Gadget, writing was purely a hobby. I did it for myself to exercise creativity. It was fun and amusing. I couldn’t have cared less if the plot would make sense to anyone else, or if the characters were well-written. That wasn’t the point, before.

Now that I published a book, however, those things do matter. As I write the first draft of Serafima’s Stone, I’m acutely aware that my goal is to publish it, and that the book therefore has to be worthy of publication. When I wrote the first draft of Grigory’s Gadget in 2010, I didn’t care if it was good. I allowed it to be bad. And allowing it to be bad meant that I allowed myself to keep writing. Fixing the bad parts comes with editing and rewrites. The first draft shouldn’t have to be good. The first draft won’t be good. It just won’t.

So here I am, struggling to believe the statements I just typed. I need to allow the first draft of Serafima’s Stone to be bad. That’s the only way I’ll finish the first draft. The only solution to this breed of writer’s block is to just keep writing, in spite of the critical voices in your head. Keep writing, even if you don’t particularly like what you’re writing. It can be fixed later.

The Benefits of Taking a Break From Your Project

We’ve all been there. You start a passion project – you’re so excited! – and you make progress and make progress and – hit a wall. Your passion disappears and your project becomes a chore. You lose your vision and your motivation.

I have to keep going, you tell yourself. If I stop working on this project, it will never get done!

Sometimes that’s true. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes taking a break is warranted, and beneficial.

I participated in NaNoWriMo in November, working on Serafima’s Stone. By the end of November, I was sick of my story. I didn’t like my characters, I didn’t know where my plot was going, I hated my writing style. I felt boxed-in: I wrote Grigory’s Gadget with the intention of having this sequel. I have to write this sequel! But I hate this sequel and have no idea what I’m doing!

So, during the entire month of December, I didn’t touch my story. I didn’t open Scrivener once for the entire month. I didn’t force myself to ponder the story, to try to figure it out. I just left it sitting patiently on my hard drive.

And do you know what happened?

During the month of December I was inundated with ideas and inspiration. I’d be listening to music (namely, the Westworld soundtrack) while working on a report in the office when – BOOM – I’d get an idea! Yes – that’s what motivates that character! Yes – that’s what will happen next! Yes – I need to work that detail in! I have a chain of emails I sent to myself in December, jotting down the ideas so I wouldn’t forget them.

When January 1st rolled around, I was itching to get back to writing my story. I like my characters again. My plot has a direction, and even a discernible  ending! I’m still critical of my writing style, but so is every author ever. At least now it’s not in a self-defeating way.

So if you’re working on a project – a story, artwork, etc. – and you’re getting stuck in a rut like I was, know that it is okay to take a break. Give yourself a time limit that works for you – take off a day, a week, a month, or even a year (sorry, a year is probably too long, I just got the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. theme song stuck in my head…) – and then jump back into your project.

And I’ll be there for yooouuu….


How to Tackle Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block is something most writers deal with, in one form or another, and it’s something that’s been plaguing me these past couple months. It can take on many forms, from a lack of motivation or time to paralyzing indecision with regard to where you want your story to go.

The first step to defeating writer’s block? Deciding that you HAVE to write SOMETHING, regardless of the block. The next step, of course, is figuring out how.

I’ve gone over some of my anti-block techniques in my post about winning NaNoWriMo. Here’s what works best for me:

  • Don’t Stop at a “Good Stopping Point” – this is more a technique for preventing writer’s block before it happens. If you stop writing at a “good stopping point” then the next day you have to come up with a new scene or a new direction from scratch. Instead, stop yourself in the middle of a scene, in the middle of action, so that the next day you can start with that momentum.
  • Write Only What You Feel Like Writing – so you’ve stopped writing in the middle of an action scene, and it’s time to pick up writing again today. But maybe you’re just not in the mood for action? Maybe you just want your characters to chat over a cup of tea. Maybe you want to describe the scenery in incredible detail. Maybe you want a character to go on a wild rant about dragons or krakens or medieval politics. DO IT! If you’re stuck on what you think you *need* to write that day, move on to something else. That action scene will still be there later, and that conversation over tea might turn into a central plot point.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Write Multiple Versions – if you’re at a crossroads and not sure which direction your story should take, feel free to experiment. Just choose a direction and go. Maybe you’ll wind up at a dead-end. Who cares? Discovering what doesn’t work for your story can be just as valuable as figuring out what does. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and backtrack until your story feels right.
  • Unleash A Little Chaos – sometimes it’s easy to get caught-up in the outline of our story (if you’re a planner) and we end up feeling caged-in. The creative juices just stop flowing. In this case, throw in something crazy that your characters have to react to. Trap them in a horrible storm, attack them in a dark alley, have someone fall horribly ill. I know, authors can be real monsters sometimes.
  • Alternatively, Outline Your Story – if you’re a pantser, sometimes it may help to make an outline for a change. Know you don’t have to stick to that outline, but it can help organize your thoughts so you can figure out where you want your story to go.

What tactics do you use to beat writer’s block?