Writer’s block and why I don’t believe in it

As a writer, if you haven’t already, you will one day inevitably experience the phenomena that is known as Writer’s Block. In a way, it is a right of passage in the literary world; it’s something we love to complain about on Twitter and use as an excuse for procrastinating.

Here is what Wiki has to say:

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. This loss of ability to write and produce new work is not a result of commitment problems or the lack of writing skills. The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Writer’s block is not solely measured by time passing without writing. It is measured by time passing without productivity in the task at hand.

Wikipedia, 29/8/2020

The above article goes on to mention a number of factors that can stop a writer – physical injuries, little or no inspiration or new ideas, distraction from writing and so on. While these are all valid reasons for not writing, I wouldn’t class these as writer’s block; these are barriers to writing. Several writers I follow on Twitter have struggled to write due to the pandemic and the nightmare that 2020 has wrought upon the world, which shows that our environment and stressors also play a role in productivity.

I’m not talking about barriers though. I’m talking about when a writer is some way into their WIP (work in progress) and hits a wall. Hard. There is no way to move the characters, no way to back track, or to twist and turn. You’ve hit a brick wall and broken the proverbial axle, and now you can’t move.

A handheld drawing of a list of chapters. Between chapter 3 and 4, the story goes off its path and collides with a dragon, then Gandalf saying 'thou shalt not pass'.
This is why I’m a writer, not an artist.

So what should you do when you come across a crudely drawn wizard blocking your path, and you can’t progress your story? Here are a few methods I use. Note: this is what works for me. Every writer is different. The trick is to find what works for you. I don’t think it matters whether a writer is a plotter or a pantser; either way, the creative flow has been blocked and needs a good flush.

1. I Question Myself.

It’s not like we don’t already question ourselves every sentence, right? When I hit a wall, I sit back and ask myself questions like:
“Did I just add in drama that wasn’t necessary?”
“Was that even remotely realistic?”
“Am I rambling on about nothing?”
“Is this chapter working, or do I need to scrap 5k words and start over?”
“I’ve already written 50 traveling scenes. How can I make this one different without going over the top?”

I spent almost 2 days writing a chapter set within the city of Karatha in The Lowest Realm. In the original scene, a militia patrol rode through the town and searched the inn where my heroes were staying. I had them make this totally ridiculous getaway from the city, involving a large explosion and lots of unrealistic magic use.
I hit a wall. I walked away and came back to it, then deleted the whole thing. The entire scene was turned into an R&R scene (complete with some love-making wink wink), and paved the way to the next chapter. It also gave me a chance to delve into a little backstory.

2. Plot Check

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, you still need to have some idea of the story in mind, and a way to keep it on track. Some people choose to write scenes out of order and all over the place (which is fine if that’s what you like), but at the end of the day, the scenes/chapters need to be connected to each other and be relevant. I like to make a chapter list with a one or two word prompt for what will happen, and make sure I’m not straying from the path.

Ch 1. Visit the king.
Ch 2. Library.
Ch 3. Drama
…etc.
Whatever keeps you grounded and on the right track. This can also help with identifying plot holes.

3. Muse Check

This probably sounds ridiculous, but check your muse!! For me, my muse is music. I can randomly stumble upon a song which makes my brain explode, and I am suddenly able to write for hours, days, weeks, months, with just that one song on loop. I found this cover of Springsteen’s I’m on Fire by Mumford & Sons, and it pretty much gave me the super powers needed to write The Lowest Realm. Without this song, it still would not have been published.

Right now, my muse is broken. I have used her up, drained her soul, and I have been at a loss. I have found a 30 minute mix that has been keeping me focused, but to be honest, it has been a struggle. I have been listening to all sorts of music to try and find my new muse, but it could take a while.

This last week, I’ve been faced by my wizard scribble, and to be honest, I was once again hating where The Darkest Realm was at. I managed to cheat my word count goal by restoring around 3k words that I had removed in the rewrite, but after that point, I was stuck.

What do we do if we have lost our muse – or don’t yet know what our muse is?

Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Yesterday, I was beta reading a story for a friend. As soon as I read the words “leather jerkin”, I had a powerful wave of inspiration – that has nothing to do with leather jerkins, mind you (10 points for thinking ‘jerkin in the jerkin’ lol). I have totally just created a new element to The Darkest Realm, that ties in with my back stories, my forward stories, and the overall story as a whole.

I still can’t write!

If you have seriously hit the wall so hard that you’ve given yourself a concussion and can’t write, that’s when I suggest you put your project aside for a day or three, or maybe a week. Watch some movies, read a book, go for a walk. Give your brain time to air and reset itself. If you have looked at it from all possible angles, asked all the right questions, maybe your story idea is just not ready to be written yet.

I got to 20k words in the follow-up of Catalogue of Disaster, and hit the wall. After doing all of the above, I realised my idea didn’t have enough juice to make it a full story. When I sat back and thought about it, the plot does have potential, but it really wasn’t strong enough to write an entire book. I still have that half-written story, and will probably make it into a free short story in a member’s only section of my site down the track. But for me, I realised it was time to let go and sit it aside. I did this 18 years ago with The Lowest Realm, before I had my awakening.

TL;DR?

Writer’s Block is being unable to write due to issues within the writing, such as a blocked muse pipe, or issues in the plot plumbing. They can usually be fixed by analysing one’s work, and diagnosing that problem.
Barriers are things such as stress and the environment around us (AKA pandemic), physical barriers such as illness/injury, broken laptop, lack of inspiration.

Whatever is stopping you from writing, just know that you can (and will!) overcome it. Remember that writing is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes it just takes a bit of time to get the pieces aligned the right way so they slot in perfectly.

Happy writing, my frens xx

~AAC

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