Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blasting Through the Block

It's enough to make you want to quit.

Writer's block. I don't get it often, but when I do, it can shut me down for weeks at a time. I am (I hope!) coming out of a bout of it right now.

Where does this dreaded phenomenon come from? For me, I think it has one of three origins: Either (1) something isn't working with my manuscript and I can't figure out what, (2) I don't know where to go next with my manuscript or (3) I know where to go but I can't figure out how to get there. (My most recent struggle was a lovely combination of both numbers 1 and 3.)

Many writers hit a block and do quit. They give up writing altogether, or they move on to a new project -- one with shiny new possibilities and no pesky problems -- never to return to give themselves a chance to break through.

But breaking through blocks is part of both the craft and the business of writing. It leads to growth, improvement ... and finished manuscripts. It's hard and it stinks, but it must be done.

The question becomes, how? For me, it means putting my work aside for a while and focusing on other areas of my life, then returning to the manuscript and asking some of the Big Questions: What is this story about? What do I want readers to take away from it? Does what I've written so far support that? What can be cut or added to bring out the heart of my story better? And how do I proceed from here to make sure I am remaining true to my story?

Thomas Edison once said: "Nearly every man who develops an idea works at it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged."

Edison reportedly failed 10,000 times before he made the breakthrough that gave us all light to read by. He clearly was not only a genius, but also wise.

How do you overcome writer's block?


Lauren said...

My writer's block is usually caused by #2, so I just go back to the outline and think about what can/should happen next. Sometimes I ask my writer friends and post on forums to get ideas of where to go.

Rilla said...

Hey Linda,
when I'm having trouble, I jump on my exercise machine. Somewhere between the pounding music and the blood rushing to my brain is a every time...I used to think I was just plain wierd...then I read an article that the best time to solve persnickety problems is while exericising, aerobically, because the blood rushing to your brain makes it easier to have epiphanies...I have no idea why, based on this assumption then, I also have many breakthroughs in the bathroom...;0

LindaBudz said...

Thanks for sharing, Lauren and Rilla!

Lauren, I hate to talk about my writing (not paranoia, more like something along the lines of superstition), so I can't see trying that, but certainly sounds reasonable for those with fewer hang ups than me!

rilla, I can't remember my last aerobic workout, but taking long walks and (dare I say it?) cleaning are great ways to clear my mind and have those "aha!" moments, thanks for bringing that up!

Lauren said...

Most of the time you don't have to give many details to get help.

Workouts are good, too. And showers.

SamRiddleburger said...

That's the great thing about being a reporter ... you're simply not allowed to have writer's block. (Although I have been known to wrestle with a lede for preposterous amounts of time.)

But when it comes to creative writing, I can easily go 6 months without having a thing to write about. Then a book rushes out.