Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Block Party :: Dealing with writer's block (Redux)

Everyone's talking about Writer's Block all of a sudden.  I think it's the looming aspect of NaNoWriMo that brings it out of people, that fear of getting to day fifteen and getting stuck.

I usually don't get writer's block.  Which isn't the same as saying I never get stuck or write myself into a cul de sac.  To my mind, that much-feared malady exists on a far more epic scale than merely running out of words for the day.  That happens all the time.  In my world, writer's block is about running out of words for the month. I had it once - that sick feeling that it was gone and would never come back - and I got over it once I figured out that the secret to finding the next word really was writing the next word.  That's the dumbest-sounding advice anyone can ever give you, but it's also true (and #5 on my infamous list of Writer's Block cures, for those keeping score).

Personally, I think that a big part of writer's block is the fear of it happening much more than the actuality of the thing.  It's the bugbear under the bed, the monster in the anxiety closet of too many writer's offices.  So what do you do to disarm a bogey man?  We mock them, of course.

So, in the interest of a bit of fun and making fun of the bugbears, I've generated a list of some of my favorite and most oddball advice on writer's block...

Send in the monsters:  
"One thing that happens with comedy writers is that they are all really good at coming up with beginnings... really good set ups, but they can't figure out how to pay them off. What my father figured out was, if you can't get out, you just either blow something up, or eat something, or just throw penguins in the air."  - Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson

It's hard for a non-functional scene to continue if a monster runs in and eats everything.  But it's not about Cookie Monster running into the scene and gobbling up everything in sight.  I don't know about you, but there are no monsters at the end of most of my books.  It's about getting out of the scene any way you can once the business is done.  Cut it off and move on and if you have to, you can clean it up in post. 

Remember Chandler's Law.
"When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand." - Raymond Chandler

This is the tried & true default position for mystery writers on page and screen and has been since the man said it.  If you're writing a kids book, maybe it's a squirt gun.  If you're writing science fiction, it's a ray gun.  If you're writing a farce, a lit bomb.  And if you're writing a melancholic disquisition of the futility of modern life and there's no room for a man with any kind of gun, make it a banana.  Those things are lethal! 

I know that I restated this as 'Kill someone' on my last list, but you don't have to kill anyone to do this.  The trick isn't always about finding the next word so much as it is about finding a way to move the scene into a new and more urgent place.  Change the game.  It's hard to lose at chess when you're playing Monopoly.

Go to the library.
"I can’t function as a writer unless I’m reading somebody else — somebody better than me — and stripping off parts and reverse-engineering special effects and so on as I go. Maybe I need somebody to compete with, or just somebody to remind me that things that seem impossible are in fact possible (for other people)."  -Lev Grossman, The Thief & The Soloist: A Very Brief Taxonomy of Writers

Like the man said.  Sometimes all it takes is reminding yourself that your task is attainable because that guy did it.  And in all honesty, if you need to do this, why not go the extra mile and read something bad  I mean anything you can find that's distressingly terrible.  You know the book I'm talking about, it's hovering in your mind's eye as you read this and the bile rises in your throat at the thought of cracking that cover.  And as you read it - whatever it is - constantly remind yourself that if that shlock found a publisher and an audience, what are you so worried about?  Now put that crap away and write something good, would you? 

You are human, deal with it.
I can't find the exact quote, but Margaret Atwood once said that if she waited for perfection, she'd never write anything.  Most of every writing books I've read have two parts.  Part One: The author coming to terms with their own fallible humanity.  Part Two: Convincing the reader of theirs.  Let me summarize and save you the read: Because you are human, you're not going to create a perfect story. It's high time you got over it.

Now go away.
"Writing is 10% talent and 90% being able to ignore the internet." -Unknown

Never was so much time wasted by so many while so few knew how to get things done by turning it off.  This blog included, why are you reading this when you could be writing?  Now off with you, you've pages to type.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).