As a professional writer, I’m often asked by other writerly types how I deal with writer’s block. And until recently, I’ve had a pretty stock response: if you want to be a professional writer, you learn how to write anyway.
And to some degree that’s true. Writing Professionally has a lot to do with Writing No Matter What. Digging deep and getting words on the page, even when you have a cold (sometimes), or wish you were working on That Other Project (usually), or want to take a nap (always).
But for some reason, the last time I was asked that question (by a lovely young woman at George Mason University, hi, I’m sorry I didn’t answer this better in person), it struck me that, while true, it wasn’t particularly helpful. So I spent some time on my drive back home reflecting on Writer’s Block, and discovered that I actually have three methods of attacking it, which I will share with you, for a mere $79.90:
1) Know what you’re doing
Generally if I’m having trouble writing a scene, whether it’s for a game, a short story, a screenplay, whatever … it’s because I don’t know what I’m trying to accomplish with the scene itself. The good news is, this isn’t a creative issue, it’s a logistical one. I just have to go back and look at what the story needs to move it forward.
Am I answering a particular question I raised earlier? Am I raising a new question? Am I creating a conflict between two characters, or resolving one? Once I’ve identified the purpose of the scene, it’s much easier to put the building blocks in place to accomplish that purpose.
2) Write Badly
If I know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m still feeling blocked, I probably just need to give myself permission to write badly. In these cases, I’m usually sitting there waiting for the perfect line or two to present itself to me, and then freaking out about how it’s not happening and oh no I’m not a real writer I’m a fraud and everyone’s going to find out and no one will ever pay me to write again ever.
Turns out, the best thing in these cases is for me to write badly on purpose. To write things like “This is the scene where John gets angry. ‘I’m so angry!’ he said angrily. And then he punches Bob with an angry fist.” Because once I’ve written something silly that I know I don’t intend to keep, it often helps me get over myself.
(And the Big Secret Trick about that is: as long as I’m badly writing things that need to happen to move the scene forward, when I go back, I don’t have to do writing anymore, I just have to EDIT which, mathematically speaking, is like eleventy-billion times easier.)
If neither of the previous two steps help, then I might just be out of words. So I need to fill back up. Which I do by reading. It sounds silly of course, but I’m a firm believer that reading and writing are intimately connected. Typically, I’ll find something totally unrelated to whatever it is that I’m working on. Anything, really, as long as it’s engaging. Sometimes I’ll read articles about space exploration, or what DARPA’s working on. Sometimes I’ll pick up a classic, like Don Quixote. Sometimes I’ll grab something newish, like Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey. As long as it’s engaging, it usually has a refreshing affect upon my brain-mush.
Typically, one to three of those three things is enough to jar me back into production. I might not feel inspired, but I’ll at least be back in the game, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is words.
Please make checks payable to Jay Posey.