Saturday, June 5, 2010

Writing Through the Block

Hans the Younger Holbein--Eramus Desiderius of Rotterdam A few days ago I was visiting Mason Canyon’s blog, Thoughts in Progress and saw she’d posted on writer’s block. Mason writes for a newspaper, and she mentioned that when you’re writing articles for a periodical, you’ve at least got a format to follow for your story: who, what, when, where, why and how. Mason said, “By answering those questions it helps overcome any writer’s block I have.”

Most of the writers I know don’t have a whole lot of trouble with writer’s block. Many of us have trouble harnessing all the ideas we have and deciding whether to channel them into the current manuscript or save them for a future book.

But I think we’ve got to all have days…whether we call it writer’s block or not…that we just can’t seem to jump into our manuscript. Maybe it’s more of a hesitation.

For me, this happens for a couple of reasons:

I’m worried about screwing up an important scene. I’m not exactly sure the best way to approach the next part of the story.

For me, the only way to handle this hesitation is just to jump in and write as fast as I can without thinking about whether it’s good or bad. I’ll tell myself that it can be as bad as it wants to be…that I’ll toss it all in the trash later on if it’s really awful. Once I’ve taken the perfection pressure off myself, it's easier.

And sometimes what I’ve written is horrible. But I’ve gotten past the bad spot. And usually there’s something there—some kernel of an idea or a scrap of dialogue—that I can actually use. There’s been some good advice online recently about handling writer’s block…and even writer’s hesitation. :)

Here’s my friend Cleo Coyle’s take on it (on Terry Odell’s Terry’s Place blog):

I seldom have writer’s block because every day I try to seek out something new that will spark ideas, fuel the creative engine, inspire my spirit. This is something most writers know, yet we all still need the reminder from time to time. So here it is— If you have writer’s block, learn something new (or something more) about your setting, background, or your character’s occupation. I guarantee that block will soon disintegrate.

Roni Griffin from the Fiction Groupie blog gives pros and cons of both the “write, no matter what” side (this would be the one I fall on) and the “take a break” side.

Here’s an excerpt:

Write No Matter What: Pro:You keep yourself in the habit of writing daily even if the words aren't going to be used later on. Con: You may write a lot of words you'll have to scrap or write yourself into a corner. How many people finish Nano and say "Hey, got my 50k words, but they're all crap"?

The "Take a Break" Argument: Pro: When you take some of the pressure off, your mind can relax and work on the story issues. How many times does the answer to a block arrive while you're driving or showering? Con: All that free thinking time may lead to SNI (shiny new idea) syndrome and you may be tempted to move onto another project instead of finishing the other one.

Roni recommends a combination of the two approaches.

So how about you? Are you always flush with ideas? Do you ever have writer’s block…or writer’s hesitation?