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Block | Classic Block

To a writer the world is full of possible stories. One conversation could spark an idea for a novel. Or a dream could give us the entire plot of a short story. We don’t need to go far when our minds are alive with thought. It’s when nothing is going on in our heads we run into difficulty. With exceptions mentioned elsewhere this is usually a sure sign of writer's block.

Oscar Wilde didn’t believe the concept to be unique to writers, just, “All writing is difficult”. Terry Brooks swears it doesn’t exist so long as you have a strong enough outline. But what if it is the outline giving you trouble? The blank mind exists. The fault lies in believing it is a singular thing, when block can usually be attributed to multiple possibilities. Just look at this section. I've outlined multiple ways you can get glued and unglued. But Classic block is a different beast. That is when you've tried every trick you can find and nothing works. That is because our creative minds need to percolate. Let me explain.

Just plain stuck
The blank page can torment a writer with unreachable potential if we simply can’t produce anything original. There is adventure in telling a story, but there is drudgery also.

Following Anne Lamott’s advice to just let your ideas spill onto the page is a great and relatively fun way to begin a project. It’s exhilarating to spit out hundreds of pages of scene sketches, snippets of dialogue, and rough chapters. “Shitty first draft here I come!”

But at some point it will need to start to make sense. Back to the outline. Back to nurturing a story arc and rich characters with a tendency to tell you off. Back to being very deliberate about what you write and when. And sometimes that can get boring.

Boredom is an anathema to art, but sadly it is possible for the fire in your mind to fizzle when you need it most. Sometimes it’s caused by burnout. Most times it’s caused by nagging plot holes which will plague your subconscious until you do something about it.

Simply put. You can not continue until you have solved your problem. And banging your head against your wall leaves long hours for procrastination and exhaustion to sneak in. Snooze.

Writer’s Block is excruciatingly dull to experience. But it can be useful. Your brain is communicating with you. Somewhere inside you is the knowledge you hit a fork and went the wrong way. If you look at the problem slightly sideways it is actually a positive state to have reached. You know what you have is not good enough. It’s what’s to do about it which is the problem.

Obviously if you knew which part wasn’t working you would find a way to fix it. But the complicated process of reasoning out the mystery of a story is not so clear. Writing comes from within, and sometimes our subconscious is our worst enemy, guarding the gates of an idea until you finally extract from it the plot point you are looking for. Just how are we to combat such a devious enemy?

How do you tease ideas from your inner self so your waking mind has half a chance of putting it into words?


Do something else.

I’m not kidding.

Research something, learn something, engage your mind in something different. Watch a movie with a similar theme, or a fight scene you want to analyze. Explore a documentary about the time period your novel is set in. Write a short story about what your characters talked about at breakfast. Read a book. Read a book on writing. Read the news. Study something unrelated but interesting. As long as your mind is active the potential for inspiration is there.

Last updated March 16th, 2018


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