On Monday I ran a session on writer’s block, along with sessions on introduction to publishing and dialogue. Since I’ve already shared the same dialogue section from my story in a post earlier this week, and I’ve already posted about the query advice, I thought I would share some of the things the kids really seemed to enjoy from my writer’s block session.
First off, everyone can agree with this one central truth: Writer’s block is the devil. We’ve all gotten it. We all hate it. It takes all the fun out of writing. It can stop you from writing for ridiculous amounts of time. But because it is the devil, we should all agree on this: You cannot let writer’s block win.
Everyone gets writer’s block for different reasons. Sometimes it’s fear. Fear that what you’re writing is not good enough. Sometimes it’s lack of ideas. Sometimes it’s doubt. Sometimes it’s too many ideas trying to distract you.
The only way to get over writer’s block is to keep writing. While writing under the influence of The Block can feel like pulling teeth, you’ll never get out from under that dark shadow if you just stop.
There are a few tricks I’ve picked up over the years that, while not completely slaying the beast, at least give you some avenues for help away from writer’s block.
Structure Your Space Creatively
Humans take inspiration from their surroundings. If you doubt this, you’ve obviously never read a book, short story, or poem, or watched a film. What we surround ourselves with and how we live fuel our creative drives. If you have a dry and boring space, of course your writing is going to be just as contrived.
Top companies even acknowledge this truth. Have you seen Pixar and Google workplaces?
Tell me that working in a place like this wouldn’t push your drive to work and to create. Go on, say it. You can’t can you?
Alright, yes, most of us cannot afford slides instead of stairs or egg-shaped cubicles. While you may not be able to go as all-out in your space as these companies that rack in millions of billions of dollars a year, you can still structure your work space to help. Below is a picture of my friend’s work space. She has notes and timelines for various stories within reach. She has pictures at hand to strike up some inspiration. She even has notes of encouragement both on her pin board and on her computer.
(Note also the close-at-hand coffee machine and mini fridge. Essentials to those of you caffeine drinkers out there.)
So even if you’re like most of us and NOT ridiculously wealthy, you can still structure your space with your favorite inspirational things to make writing less of a chore and to help those ideas flow.
Set a Schedule for Yourself
If you talk to almost any successful author about how they right, you’ll find they have a method to the madness. Some have daily word count goals that they make themselves accomplish each and every day. Some have a set amount of time that they stay at their desk for. Some have a daily to-do list. Others just have a set space to write in.
The point is, find some sort of structure for yourself. Scientists have proven (in a sleep study, but I’m going to use it here anyways) that you can train your brain to behave a certain way if you do specific things for long enough. If you only lie down in your bed when you’re tired and ready to go to sleep, leaving if you’re doing something else or if you’re not tired enough yet, your brain will eventually go straight to sleep mode when you lie down. I hold that the same is true for writing. If you have a set time or a set place to write in, once you get to that, your brain will automatically jump into creative mode and the words will flow out a lot better.
Right now, I’m not the best adherent to my own advice. Being in a college apartment, I do my writing lying on my couch with my computer perched on my stomach. But I’m in the same position when I play games or watch shows online. I don’t even have a set time. With my schedule being all over the place thanks to jobs and classes, I write when I can. I have to employ other methods to get myself to write. Currently, it’s my Writing March Madness goal. I force myself to get those 500 words out a day. Then I reward myself with something because I’m worth it.
I always keep this step in mind, though. Someday, when I’m not a poor college student, I will get my dream office. What is this dream office, you ask? Well, I’d be happy to tell you. It’s a small room, because the truth is I don’t need that much space to write. The walls are lined with hip-high book shelves stocked with my favorite stories. The rest of the walls are made out of white board material. I have a variety of colors of markers. I write timelines, draw doodles, and make notes to myself on creatures, characters, and events. I feel no guilt about writing on the walls. I have a large, squishy beanbag chair in one corner. In the center of the room is a huge desk with a should-be-illegal-it’s-so-comfortable chair, stacks of papers and references scattered on top of the desk. With a room like this, the only thing I could possibly wish to venture out for is food, bathroom breaks, and the occasional real human contact (because my books wouldn’t be half as interesting without real human interaction behind them).
Now you’re planning out your dream office, aren’t you?
Have a Critique/Support Group
Critique groups aren’t just for deconstructing your work and giving you advice to improve. They’re NEVER about having a group of fan girls/boys sitting around telling you how fantastic your story is just the way it is (that is not helpful whatsoever; you want that, give it to your mom/dad/significant other/mostly illiterate neighbor).
I insist on calling them critique/support groups. If you are in a good group, not only will you get along with the other members and get and give helpful feedback, you’ll also grow to kind of like each other. When you’re suffering an intense blow to the ego, when you’re swallowed by the pressures of writer’s block, when you’re stuck and don’t know where to go, you’ve got your own built-in support group. Those people around you have been in the exact same place before. They can give you tips on where they think you need to go from there, as well as reminding you why you write in the first place.
Have Ready Writing Prompts
Currently, if you Google writing prompts, you get about 2,770,000 results. That’s a lot. But it’s also a lot to sort through, with few that are actually usable for a writer of comparable skill.
Now my favorite writing prompts, and the ones we spent most of the session talking about, are Writing Dares. Writing dares are unique to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November, where you have a month to write 50,000 words). The point of NaNo is to get those 50,000 words at all costs. You’re not allowed to edit at all during this period. Writing dares give you something fun to accomplish, keep you moving, and add fun into your writing again. Many of them are silly nonsense and will be edited out later. But the point is, they keep you writing.
There’s a nice list accumulated for these dares. The points don’t actually go towards anything. There are no muffins or cookies. The point of them is purely to have fun and keep moving. But here are my absolute favorites:
Play Chess Drunk
Include a scene in which two characters play chess while drunk.
+ If this takes place in a bar, club, or other place where people tend to go explicitly to get drunk.
++ If no one else in said establishment considers this odd.
+++ If they still play correctly.
++++ and muffins of questionable quality if one or both characters try to philosophize about the game and fail horribly.
Text Message Clairvoyant
Have a clairvoyant who only receives messages from the spirit world through text message.
+ If the character is a major plot point.
++ If the character is a major character.
COOKIE – The phone runs out of batteries at a major plot point.
“Are We There Yet?”
Include the line “Are we there yet?”
+ If it is not said by a child.
++ If said when actually at destination.
+++ If said by driver when at destination.
++++ If nobody has actually moved anywhere at all.
“He’s Dead. Or Gay.”
I dare you to include the line “He’s dead. Or gay. I’m not really sure which.”
+ If the remark is not intended to be homophobic and is not taken as such.
++ If it makes perfect sense in context.
The To-Do List
Have your character use your outline (if you used one) as a to-do list.
+ If they do it out of order.
++ If it includes “Buy Cheerios and goat milk”
“Here, I’ll Help You Kill Me.”
Have a character assist in his/her own death.
+ If it’s intentional.
++ If s/he’s not suicidal.
“How Many Souls Do You Think I Can Fit in This Thing?”
Have a situation where two souls inhabit one body.
+ If they are of two separate genders/sexual orientations
++ If more lost souls or something of the like keep trying to join with the character.
+++ If the phrase “How many souls do you think I can fit in this thing?” comes up… and is not spoken by the original owner of the body.
++++ If the second soul was gained in a totally unusual way, like it was hidden in an orange.
+++++ If the second soul really was hidden in an orange and there is nothing “chosen one” about it: One character ate an orange one day and woke up the next with an extra soul.
++++++ If the character feels the need to put on some obnoxious piece of jewelry or something similar as an excuse as to why s/he acquired an extra soul to keep their own self-esteem up and not admit that it was gained in a lackluster way.
(I will write a book with this idea someday)
Hold a scavenger hunt for all of the characters.
+ If they have to go back through chapters to find things.
++ If you mention this in earlier chapters, but it makes no sense until the scavenger hunt chapter
+++ If they get something important from a future chapter and bring it back to win the hunt.
Include the following conversation:
Character A: Why would you think I don’t like you?
Character B: You sent ninja assassins to kill me. Twice.
Character A: I said I was sorry.
+If Character A really did hire ninja assassins.
++If Character A is your MC
+++If the assassination attempts are completely justifiable.
Throughout the novel, have your characters refer to and mention someone named Tim. Tim never actually makes an appearance, but the characters constantly say things like “I ran into Tim at the grocery store and that’s why I’m late,” or “Oh yeah, I heard from Tim all about [important plot point].” The characters respond with things like “How’s Tim doing?” or “Tim. What an interesting guy.” But you never actually find out anything concrete about Tim or how everyone in the novel knows him.
+ If the villain and protagonist are both friends with Tim and when he is mentioned they stop fighting and have a nice conversation about Tim.
++ If Tim finally makes an appearance during the climax. He just walks by.
+++ If Tim is actually a duck (or something equally ridiculous).
++++ If Tim never shows up and is never explained. Ever.
On that note, get out there and keep writing. The worst thing you can do is to let writer’s block win. The way to slay that awful beast is to kill it dead by continuing to write. Get your sugar fix, get back to work, and good luck.