Writers of all types seem to fall into the dreaded black hole known as writer’s block with alarming consistency. That awful feeling that sweeps across the brow, like the huge lake effect snow dump we all recently watched attack Buffalo. It approacheth nigh, then it descends, but instead of snowflakes that won’t quit, we get word drought.
But is it really writer’s block?
I’m sure it often is. Sometimes even the most cooperative brain comes up dry. I think it can be caused by illness, stress, even burnout. It feels debilitating, because it is. It’s like a disease. We get sick when something stops part of the body from working right. To a writer, being able to put words onto paper in a satisfying way becomes a normal state of existence. Take it away and it leads to a sick feeling that can last a long time or not so long. It can sometimes be cured with sheer stubborn perseverance, but often it has to run its course.
I’ve never had a lot of trouble with traditional writer’s block, but there’s another condition that mimics it. I call it a stuck place. It usually revolves around writing myself into a corner. I mentally sit there, watching the words I thought so clever when I first wrote them cluster and clump awkwardly, mocking my inability to sweep them away so I can at least take a few fresh steps beyond them.
I always manage to unstick my flow, but it takes some time. It’s not really about the words themselves. The plot is the culprit. Or, a slippery thread thereof. Once characters take on a life of their own, they can get ahead of themselves. Themselves actually being their creator, of course.
It’s a pretty weird feeling, having your own brain outthink itself, but it happens. I’ve found a few ways to force (more like coax) everything back in line.
The easiest way only works for the very patient. Wait it out. I’m not very good at this, but I’ve found that given enough time, the plot point that’s gumming up the works will work itself out in my head when I’m not trying to think about it. Suddenly, it will fall into place spontaneously, and I’ll know what to write next. It has been as simple as adding half a sentence to connect dots I couldn’t see until I stopped looking for them.
The stuck place can also be jarred loose by absolute distraction. Do something entirely unrelated to writing. Don’t even read or watch anything. Bake cookies. Go shopping. Play chess. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Maybe the muse gets jealous and double times the plotting muscle.
My best way is to listen to music. There is a symbiotic relationship between my writing process and music. I don’t listen to anything while I’m actually writing. I want quiet space for the voices and ambient sounds in the world I’m creating to fill. When I’m not writing, my love for music (mostly from the great wide world of alternative), often turns my brain into a plotting machine. Voices, snatches of lyrics, melodies…these can all “generate” dialogue, characterization, and plot. If I can hit just the right song, I’ll get enough of something new to write myself back out of the corner that plagues me.
The funny thing is that sometimes what I write to get out of a painted into corner takes me to a place that’s better than what I started with. As long as I can eventually get back on track, I shouldn’t complain too much about those hitches. They’re probably some astute part of my brain’s way of telling me to slow down, regroup, and find a better way.
Whether truly blocked or only temporarily cornered, anything that calls a serious halt to the writing flow needs to be respected. It may be trying to find a way to growth. That’s a good thing, even when it’s difficult to overcome.