WriterDrome is a monthly ongoing discussion concerning the mechanics and logistics of writing Horror, Speculative, Dark Fantastic, and Noir Fiction. The aim here is to discuss the many dynamics necessary to write, edit and publish these genres in a continuously changing landscape. Remember, opinions mentioned here are just that, opinions. I’m no expert, but I’ve been writing for a long time, and I feel there is a lot I can pass on to my fellow writers. Lively discussion is highly encouraged.
The Writer’s Block
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Writer’s Block lately. Apparently, the month of January is notorious for it. Fresh off the holidays and it’s a new year, and you really need to get to work on your project. There’s some excitement. You’ve taken your break and now it’s time to get down and dirty with some words. Only when you stare at the screen, or the blank sheet of paper in your notebook if you’re more of an analogue writer, those words you’ve been thinking about just don’t want to come out. Bad thing is, the more you try, the more they want to stay in your head and not on the page.
Why is this?
For the past month, I have been asking myself this very question. Trust me when I say that I honestly do not have a shortage of ideas to write about. Are these ideas actually stories? Maybe not, but with a little thought these ideas could become stories I could write about. But what about the project I wanted to write about, the one I worked on in longhand, plotting and planning, and writing little snippets of dialogue and lists of things my characters wear, eat, drink, like, hate? Why won’t the words come for that story?
For me, I cannot answer that question. I’ve spent, wasted, too much time wondering about something that in the big scheme of things, really doesn’t matter. Some of you may be able to answer the question of why you are ‘blocked’ on your pet project, but knowing the answer may not help you get back on track. To me, this is writer’s block. It’s not the inability to put words on the page, but the inability to get past wondering why you can’t put words on the page.
It doesn’t matter.
It really doesn’t matter.
Especially if there’s something else you want to write about. That may be the thing that’s ‘blocking’ you from your pet project, and the longer you ignore it, the longer you will stay ‘blocked’.
So why don’t you work on something else in the mean time? For many, this is akin to cheating on your spouse or lover. How dare you even suggest this, Bob! Well, yes, I do dare suggest it. I hope your pet project gets raging jealous that you would even think of writing something else.
How does one prevent this blockage from happening?
With my project Sirens, I have the entire story plotted out in a notebook. Beginning, middle and end. All of it. One of the things I’ve read about writing is to not plot too far ahead. Apparently, whoever wrote that was right, because now there’s no flexibility in the story. If this is a project that you’ve just recently plotted and planned, then there really might not be a problem. But if it’s something you worked out ahead of time, say like a year or more, then getting to work on it could prove to be just another way to get a migraine. Time has passed, and as much as you liked the plot you worked out, unconsciously things have changed. Even when you turn off your computer or put the cap on your pen, your brain is still writing. Even if you have to blow the dust off that notebook when you are finally ready to give it a go, your mind has still been working on that story, and it probably has some different ideas than what you previously wrote. When you write something down, even once, it’s carved in stone in your memory, which is a little different than the creative side of your mind.
I honestly believe that I left no flexibility in the story I waited over a year to start working on, and by doing so, even though my mind has been working on it ‘behind the scenes’, my memory has not. This is a conflict. Having some flexibility in the story could solve this problem. Something as simple as thinking of how you want the story to end, but not writing it down at all, can have a profound effect on the words you write, and the story you tell. Now you have some adaptability in the story, allowing your characters to have some breathing room.
Another way to prevent this is to avoid working on it too much at all. This is probably a little easier said than done because we always seem to be working on something, or at least have several irons in the fire, working on another side project surely couldn’t hurt, right? I personally have a hard time doing this because when I finally have an idea that wants to grow up into a story, I have to at least make some notes about it.
What should you do when you are ‘blocked’? Having a plethora of ideas to work from helps. I have several Moleskine notebooks lying around for just this kind of thing. Some only have a few pages of notes in them, but it’s usually just enough to get the words flowing again. This ‘block’ thing can turn into a kind of fear. Trust me, I felt it. Am I good enough for this? What am I thinking, writer’s write. I’m a failure. It’s easy to let those thoughts in. I started to think of all the things I’ve accomplished with writing, and though it is certainly not a lot by any stretch of the imagination, I realized that I’m only human, and I can write, that I am not a failure. Eventually the old drive kicked in. I’m back to writing, and really liking the words that are getting on the page.
Last but not least, it’s is okay to work on another project. It’s not cheating. I feel that working on something else right now will actually help me break through whatever is blocking me from Sirens. I have to accept the possibility that working on something else may not help me as well. That probably wouldn’t be good for Sirens, but it might be good for me, and I’m the writer, so it’s definitely me first, the story second.