Digging Through A Block

I don’t like the phrase writer’s block. It takes the responsibility off me as the writer and indicates that there is some external force that’s stopping me from writing. What really happens is one of two things: I’m being lazy, or I’m going in the wrong direction with my story. (As I write this, I can hear my character Lauren screaming from the open Word document “You moron! I don’t want to do that. I should ___________.” It’s quite shocking that she’s yelling at me this way as she’s normally quite calm and composed.)

After a dismal 400-word writing day yesterday (my typical day is about 1500 words), I was watching a really boring documentary about Mesopotamia at 1AM while writing in my journal and I wrote “I think I’m off on the wrong track. I need to write the scene instead of summarizing with Lauren thinking about it after the fact. Show, don’t tell.” Which proves that sometimes I need to take a step back from work, get really bored, write in a journal, and then I find the answer. It also proves that “show don’t tell” has been beaten into my head so much from writing classes and books about writing and beta readers that I’m even resorting to telling that to myself.

The very next sentence in my journal is “well, at least I figured out what’s wrong.”

If you’re blocked, ask yourself “am I being lazy?” And be honest. If you are, be kind to yourself. Maybe you’ve been crushing your word count goal daily for the past few weeks and you need the downtime. Take the day off. On the other hand, if you’re just putting off writing, get off the Internet, right now, and write 100 words. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back.

For me, it’s harder when the block is because my story has wandered away from where I had planned for it to go. I have a couple techniques for this. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was about 13. I like the leather covered ones, and I’m particular about my pens. I have three questions that I work with. Do my characters want to do something else? What other choices are there? And when should this change take place? Usually this process take a half an hour or so. Write freely, without stopping, for as long as you need to.

Now that I have found the problem, I have to trash the last few days’ work and fix it. I don’t like having to do this, but I have learned to be ruthless with my work. No one can kill my lousy work like me. So I do it. If I think it might have merit, I have a folder in my documents called “trash” where I put things that I have deleted but may be useful later. That generally doesn’t happen. Usually I look it over and wonder what I was thinking, clogging up my hard drive with that much junk. But it’s less traumatic than deleting it outright, so I work with it.

Anyway, now that my characters and I are in agreement about where the story is going, I think I can get some work done.


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