Hey there gang, and welcome back to Shelves and Stacks! As always, I’m your indispensible host, Jamie Thomas, promoting literacy one tome at a…a…Aw, crap! Not again! Don’t you just hate that, gang? You’re hunkered down in your comfiest chair, hunched over the keyboard (or type writer for all you hipsters and oldsters), and all of a sudden….BAM! Your brain blows a fuse, and you start spewing word vomit, making a fine pile of slurry where a great work of literature in the making had just been. What a revolting development, am I right? Now, just imagine you’ve got a grade, contract, the notice of an attractive love interest, or a literary festival to read at just on the horizon. (By the way, come to the Hill Freeman Library’s first annual Literary Festival this March 12th and 13th! This shameless plug brought to you by Harry’s Second Hand Emporium. When you need an extra hand (or an arm and a leg!) stop by Harry’s!) No pressure!
Freddie knows that feel. This feeling of stress, pressure and/or intestinal discomfort may be one of two things.
1. Your Grande Burrito making its presence known.
2. Writer’s Block.
If it’s not the tex mex talking, you may be suffering from a case of writer’s block.
The first step in defeating thine enemy is to know it. Merriam Webster (.com) defines writer’s block as “the problem of not being able to think of something to write about or not being able to finish writing a story, poem, etc.” So, by this logic we can assume that writer’s block is a wily little creature, lurking around in the back of our heads, chasing down, and capturing our ideas as they rush from brain to fingers.
Not that kind of wily. If our writer’s blocks were that kind of wily, we’d never have this problem, and we’d all be slugging it out in an oversaturated literary market.
Now that we know our enemy, why does he keep popping up, trying to lay hands on our roadrunners? Honestly, the answer to this question (like the taste of soylent green), varies from person to person. If you really want to delve into the psychological side of writer’s blocks, there’s a plethora of articles and theories (reputable and otherwise) online. Personally, I chalk writer’s block up to the three P’s: Psych outs, Pressure, and Panic.
Let’s say, you’re working on your latest novel, and it’s an awesome novel. It’s got everything: action, adventure, great one liners, dastardly villains, emotional clarity and enlightenment, vast worlds full of wonder, etc. This thing is gold, and it’s going to bring wave after wave of publishers to your door, begging and battling one another for the rights to publish your story, and all you have to do is kick back in your comfy pants and just make up a whole bunch of stuff while drinking a coffee and listening to episodes of Buffy. That’s when the horror begins.
Writer’s Block in Three Acts
Act 1: The Psych Out
As the aspiring author hunches over their work, cranking out draft, after draft, they wonder, “Is my work good enough? Is it marketable? Is it worth the shed blood of the ten thousands armies of publishers slaughtering one another on my front lawn? To write, or not to write? That is the question. Whether tis nobler to see this draft through to its end, or to bail and go watch Youtube videos?” Struck dumb with indecision, the author slowly pushes himself away from his work and ponders still.
Act 2: The Pressure
Unable to speak, the author has secluded himself to a small space under his desk where he rocks back and forth in the fetal position, feeling the crushing weight of the world pressing in from all sides. Cue musical interlude from David Bowie and Queen.
Act 3: The Panic
After a solid hour of rocking back and forth, the author begins eating his manuscript in the hopes of keeping its hideousness a secret from the world at large. He proceeds to run out of his home in nothing but a robe and his striped boxers. He gets as far as the local convenience store before he is tackled, cuffed, and carted away to the Belleview Home for the Delightfully Unhinged. He now subsists on a diet of tapioca pudding and crayons.
Pretty gruesome stuff, gang. So, how does an aspiring writer keep writer’s block from making them…well…you know…
The best plan is to have a plan. Lucky for you, I’ve got a whole stash of them that I’m willing to give to you (yes you!) for the low, low price of free!
You know, I spoil you guys.
8 Ways to Beat the Block (In No Particular Order)
1. Rough Drafts- If you’re approaching your writer’s block with a head full of ideas, and pages worth of notes, then a rough draft is for you. By forcing yourself to cut loose and just write your story, you’re able to lay it all out on paper, creating something tangible that you can begin revising. If nothing else, it gets those pesky investors/classmates/professors off your back. See the following link for more on the subject of rough drafts.
2. Write Some Hooks- For those of us who’ve sat through the endless barrage of TV commercials and movie trailers doing everything inhumanly possible to pry our hard earned dollars from our tired, overworked fingers we know all about hooks. Behaving exactly as they sound, a hook is nothing more than an attractive sounding blurb that tells us the bare minimum (with a little flash) about the product in an attempt to make us say
How does this apply to writing? If the author has no interest in the work, neither will publishers, critics and readers. So, start generating buzz by getting yourself on board.
3. Organization- The most boring of my techniques, but the most effective. When your head’s brimming with frothy grog of good ideas, it gets hard to pin them all down and start fitting them together into something of a cohesive whole. Using outlines, graphs, charts, index cards, and any other means of laying out your ideas.
If it works for the cartoon guys, it’ll work for you novelists.
4. Captions- Taking a page from Gary Larson’s classic one panel wonder, The Far Side,
my next technique concerns captions. Take a picture, any picture from your scrapbook, the internet, film stills, you name it. Just take an interesting picture, stare blankly at it, and make an observation. Turn a piece of Renaissance art into lowbrow comedy. Make monster movies into romantic comedies. Turn a Family Circus comic into the next Far Side. Get creative, and remember, (almost) nothing is sacred.
5. Your Head- Sometimes, we just need to clear our heads to think clearly. I recommend it whole heartedly. Sit back, relax, take a deep breath, and just let it all go. Release the stress, have baked ideas and bad vibes. Doesn’t that feel better? Are we clear and relaxed now? Groovy. Now, I want you to do as Jefferson Airplane instructs in their song White Rabbit. “Feed your head”. Get out there and watch some movies, go for a walk, read some books, chat with friends. Get inspired! Pull from what’s around you, find something new, and just start Voltronning that stuff together. You never know what you can find when you clean house (and then fill that house with brand new junk).
6. Bouncing Ideas- While brainstorming alone is a good way to get a downpour of material, a particularly nasty writer’s block can turn it all into a weak drizzle. When this happens, get together with friends and create a raging monsoon. Using others as a sounding board allows you to look at your ideas (and theirs too) in an open, honest “not locked up inside of your own head” environment. It’s easier to inspect your logic for holes if you’ve got an extra set of eyes. If you happen to naturally have an extra set of eyes, I still recommend this tip. If you think one set of eye strain is bad, try two. It’s brutal.
7. Short Bits and Flash Fiction- Similar to the captions method, Short Bits and Flash Fiction allow you to make use of our overly social mediacentric society. Using the status bar of your favorite social media site (which typically limits the number of characters you can input), create a short, detailed, and interesting story or blurb. Post it, and let the feedback come rolling in.
8. Stream of Consciousness- One of my personal favorites, stream of consciousness is a tried and true (albeit oddball) way to get a story out of your head and onto paper. Through writing (or my favorite personal favorite talking) and shutting off your filter, you can unlock concepts, plots, and characters that you may have had stashed away all along. If you opt for the more vocal method, don’t forget to bring a tape recorder along, otherwise you may find yourself crafting your next masterpiece from…”the home”.
See what I mean?
By using one or more of the eight methods, I guarantee (well, 98 and ¾% anyway) you’ll find the means to slay your dragon, and get back to your story. If not, there’s always the teen vampire novel. It’s easy to write, and after awhile, you won’t mind the sparkles so much. This has been your weekly dose of Shelves and Stacks. As always, I’m your host Jamie Thomas reminding you to…to…Sigh…Not again.