From the 2014 archives at ShadowSpinners, here are some of my thoughts on writer’s block:
The idea of writer’s block gets a lot of attention. I’ve always interpreted it as some kind of psychological block to writing, and while I can imagine such a condition, I can’t imagine it would be too common among writers. Much more common, I believe, and perhaps sometimes mistaken for a psychological block, is the experience of being stuck on a difficult problem.
I’m right in the middle of a summer long campaign to finish the 3rd book in a fantasy trilogy. It’s a project I’ve been working on for around twelve years all together, if you include a few years when nothing got done. And in that time, believe me, there have been times when I felt stuck. I struggled to figure out a particular plot line, or how to turn some necessary action into an exciting scene, or how to develop a specific character or theme over the course of a 300,000 word trilogy.
The first couple times I got stuck like this, it felt like a catastrophe. This thing can’t happen because of that other thing, and that character can’t be in this place at this time because how would he have gotten there, and so on. You’ve written yourself into a corner, and how the hell are you going to get out?
Over the years I’ve learned not to panic or despair. It never helps anyways. There’s always a solution; the trick is finding it. Sometimes it requires a day of hardcore thinking, the kind that makes your brain hurt and your sleep fitful. Sometimes it requires a long walk, a hot bath, or a few hours of looking at birds out my back window. Sometimes I just need a day off. In any case, it’s important to acknowledge that we need time to process problems when they arise, consciously and subconsciously.
Sometimes the answer comes to me in a flash, but if not I move on to the next step. When all the thinking and loafing around starts to feel indulgent, I pick up a pen and start writing ideas down. I brainstorm solutions and variations. I draw diagrams, make notes, and outline possible scenes. Finally, if I’m still not sure I understand the solution I pick the best idea I have and just start writing it. I don’t commit to using it yet. I treat it like an experiment. But more often than not, if I’ve gotten this far, the problem dissolves in the process of writing.
So while I don’t put much stock in the proverbial writer’s block, there are definitely real problems big enough to get stuck on. Luckily, getting unstuck is pretty straight forward: think/rest, brainstorm, and write. Repeat as needed.
*First Published on ShadowSpinners, August 2014.