On really good days, writing doesn’t feel like work, it feels like a slot machine paying off – the right words come tumbling out and fill the pages so rapidly that I am no longer certain who is in control of the story – me or it. On really bad days, I feel like I am on a literary snipe hunt with a flashlight and gunnysack with a hole in the bottom. I’m starting to discover that there is a vast range of variables and contributing factors to writer’s block, but in the end, the only way to fight through it is to write. I’ve also discovered that naming my fear – referring to myself as having writer’s block – can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, or at least reinforce and exacerbate my fear that the words have dried up like the blood spatter from a zombie headshot in the Mojave.
Writing, particularly fiction writing, is a labor of love – a commitment to breathe life into a story from a flash of an idea, or a skeletal outline. Sometimes we’ve got to rob some graves and piece together the exquisite corpse, and then jumpstart the monster’s heart with a surge of electricity. I’ve recently been feeling a whole lot like I’ve been robbing the wrong graves, prying the words out of my skull and examining them in the harsh light of day – and finding them inadequate. But writer’s write, and so I persevere. I don’t wish writer’s block on anyone who has a love affair with words, but in case you ever find yourself wrestling with this brain-sucking, inertia-inducing hydra, here are some of the strategies that keep me sane enough to pass in society and producing creepy crap.
Write something, every day. Even if it is 250 words, or just a sentence – move your story forward. It may require revision or editing later, but advance the story with what you know of it, and don’t wait for the perfect words to manifest if it feels like they are holing up drinking tequila, trying to outwait you.
Jump to a new scene or POV. Sometimes approaching the story from a different angle can loosen the block. Jump ahead to a different scene, try a flashback, or relay events from another character’s perspective.
Watch the movie. That is, play it out on the big screen in your mind. Imagine what the characters are saying, what they are thinking or doing, just as if you are watching a blockbuster film of your story after optioning rights to it for mega-millions. Then write what you saw.
Ask the characters. Discretion here is important unless you want to end up experiencing the world of psychotropic medication, but ask your characters wassup. Ask them why they did or didn’t do something. Ask them what they are going to do next. Let them tell you. Jot down their dreams, desires, and motivations. The more real they are to you, the easier it might be to get in their head as the action unfolds.
Up the ante. Ratchet up the tension, introduce some horrible, unanticipated barrier, kill somebody, raise the stakes, put your character through the wringer and see what they do under pressure. It’s cathartic. It’s fun. When you’ve painted yourself into a corner plotwise, or need to get out of the mire, Raymond Chandler advises “when in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Modify as needed for horror fiction: “when in doubt, have a zombie stagger through the door and nosh on someone.”
Moonlight with another project. Spend some time on another story, and give yourself a break. It can also be fun to try your hand at story prompts or writing exercises – anything to spark your creativity and get the words moving.
Location, location, location. Change up your writing space. Try writing somewhere new or unusual. Or try writing differently, not harder. If you usually type on a laptop, switch to pen and paper, try dictation, or tell your small child or family pet the story and stop worrying about using the right words, just articulate the essence of the tale.
These are just a few of my favorite strategies for getting unstuck; what are some of your favorite tricks, tips, or techniques for battling the block?