All artists will, at some point in their life, run full speed into an immovable wall of creative scarcity, and it doesn’t matter if your medium is page, screen or canvas. Staring at that empty space can stop any artist from creating. For writers, this means you may be suffering from the dreaded WRITER’S BLOCK. Symptoms may include sweaty palms, self doubt and loathing, and an inability to apply pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Sorry, there’s no hope. Give up now, go away, and do something meaningful with your life…
No, wait. Sorry. That was the inner critic coming out. You know that particular demon, don’t you? That voice in the back of your head that says things like, “This is stupid,” or “Why did you think you could do this?”, or even, “You know you don’t have any talent. Maybe you should take up uncle Andy’s job offer and sell used Winnebagos.”
However, recent medical studies have shown that there is a cure (well, not really recent…or medical…or even studies. But there is a cure, trust me). And you too can be performing again in three simple steps.
Step 1: Murder
That’s right. Murder. You know that inner critic that we mentioned earlier? Kill him. Beat him into submission with an imaginary lead pipe. Drown him in an acid lake on one of the moons of Ceti Prime. Dress him in red and lock him in a bull pen. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you’ve got to. Don’t worry about him too much. He’ll come back eventually, but until he does, you now have some freedom of creativity.
That inner critic is one of the largest bricks in the wall of writer’s block. As a writer, we tend to work alone way too much and, as such, have a tendency to listen to that voice more than is healthy. Sure, we need that critic from time to time, but when he’s stopping you from doing what you love, it’s time to let him sink into the icy depths of oblivion.
Step 2: Look at your map
It can be argued (and has been, time and time and time again) that writers fall into one of two camps. Pantsers or Plotters (sometimes referred to as gardeners or architects). Pantsers (aka gardeners) believe in letting their story grow organically while Plotters (otherwise known as architects) believe in creating an outline for their story.
For plotters, looking at their map is easy. They have an outline for their story so the know what should go where and when it should happen. If you’re a plotter and you’ve face-planted into the writer’s block wall, it’s more than likely because there was a problem somewhere in your outline. Maybe you left something out, or possibly worked too much into one section. Either way, go back and rework your outline. By the time you’re done, the creative juices should be flowing again, and you’ll be chomping at the bit to get more ink on paper.
For pantsers, it’s a little more difficult. Because they like to let things grow pesticide free (damn those pesky outlines), they don’t actually have a map, per se. This is where Chekhov’s gun is really important.
Chekhov’s gun is a seed (see what I did there gardeners?) that is planted early in the story that will become important later on. If in scene one, you mention a gun hanging on the wall, you HAVE to use it later, otherwise there would have been no need to mention it in the first place. So go back and sprinkle your seeds at the beginning. Doing so will let you harvest them now without any artificial contrivances and your story can keep growing.
Step 3: When in doubt, shout!
Sometimes, no matter what you may think, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and ask for help. There’s no shame in it. Every body does it. You know you want to.
Last week I stopped for gas and, since I was at a service station, I popped the hood and checked the oil. It was low, so I added a quart and continued on my merry way. I knew how to add the oil, but if you’d asked me to adjust the timing belt, I would have looked at you with the confusion of a toddler asked to do calculus. For something like that, I would have needed a mechanic. Some things I can do for myself. For others, help is necessary.
Writing is no different. Sometimes our creative oil wells just run low and we need to top them off. There are any number of ways to do this. I generally start by working on something new for a while. I have a huge folder that contains ideas, deleted scenes, and other bits of flotsam that I find interesting. Working on one of these for a short time gives my subconscious a break from the stress of my current work-in-progress and starts the refilling process.
When that distraction doesn’t work, I go with plan B, spit-balling. I go online or talk to my wife and ask if they have any ideas that may help. Some may see this as giving up, but I believe in the old saying, “Many hands make light work.”
Writing is often seen as solitary work, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But I can promise, if all you do is wait for the muse to strike, that empty page is going to stare up at you forever.
So now you have it, a simple three step treatment for the dreaded WRITER’S BLOCK. Now you can rid yourself of performance anxiety and live the active life of a writer you’ve always dreamed.*
*This is not an add or solicitation. Always ask your doctor if you are healthy enough to write. If you experience any breakout of hives, rashes, swelling at the injection site, arbitrary breaking out in song, or unusual growth of beer (mmmm, beer), please contact your medical professional immediately.