When a group of writers gathers to share their experiences, the conversation inevitably turns to writer’s block. This was the case recently and I shared with a group of colleagues what I wrote in a guest post on Writer Unboxed. My contention is that most of what we call writer’s block stems from a gap–either in the story, the characters, a scene, or the overall work. You can read the post here.
If you buy the”gap” theory, this begs the larger question: once you know there’s a gap of some sort, what do you do about it? I experience writer’s block primarily at the scene or character levels. At the scene level, it happens when a scene just isn’t working. I can’t seem to create any tension or excitement. It’s a chore to write the scene. When this happens I usually slog through and finish the scene, even though I know I will probably cut it later. A bigger challenge is when I discover I don’t have enough scenes to get from one pivotal place in the story to another. This is the price of being a pantser rather than a plotter.
Writer’s block that stems from character issues is a daunting challenge. It’s a sinking feeling when the writer discovers his main character isn’t strong enough, or perhaps doesn’t deserve to be the main character. This requires an intense assessment of the character’s flaws. Does he have enough depth? Are the challenges you have placed before him important and serious?
When I think through either scene or character issues, what I like to do is get away from my writing space. Take a walk. Go for a run. Put on my ear buds and listen to music. Brainstorm solutions. It usually works and there is a body of research that indicates such “creative pauses” can unlock the brain’s creativity. There’s the work of Edward DeBono, described here. DeBono, a physicist and author, defined it as a deliberate, self-imposed pause to consider alternative solutions to a problem.
In an article in Fast Company, Martin Lindstrom’s take on the creative pause is that boredom might unlock creative solutions, but in today’s fast-paced world, there is little time for boredom. Cameron Moll suggested one might do some productive creative thinking in the shower. Read his post here.
For me, it’s a walk or a run or just some peaceful time away from the laptop. I let my mind ponder the problem and consider all possibilities. Try it sometime.
How do you unblock yourself? What are your strategies for overcoming writer’s block?