As an aspiring novelist, I am no stranger to the demon that is commonly referred to as ‘writer’s block’. Over the years, numerous experts have written books on how to overcome this problem. Whilst no expert, I have discovered a few insights of my own to share with you today.
How much planning has gone into your work? You may be the kind of writer who has an idea, and simply wants to put pen to paper, and get it down as fast as possible. This is fantastic, and I wish you well in your endeavours. However, if you at some point along the way encounter writer’s block, it may be because you have not planned. Planning doesn’t have to be a long and drawn out process, unless you enjoy this aspect of writing, but it is a good idea to have a vague notion of where your book is going as it does help you keep on track. It’s a bit like carrying a map with you on a long walk, in unfamiliar territory.
Has your writing reached a dead end? This can come about through a lack of planning, or may simply be because you have gone off on a tangent, and deviated from your original path. If you find that your characters have no place to go, and that they are boxed in, it can leave you feeling frustrated, irritated and wanting to jack it all in and give up. This is a sure-fire way to succumb to writer’s block. To rectify this, figure out where you went off course, and go on from there.
Are you working on a boring transition? This is one of the major causes of writer’s block for me. When I first planned out my novel, “Finding Freodholm”, I used a number of Post-it notes to describe each scene. This was really useful, as it meant I could move things around, add and delete scenes, until I had found the right order and number. However, a number of them were what I call transition scenes. This is a scene or a chapter in which I need to show the passing of time, and the gradual changes in a character or scene that go with that. Probably the best visual example of that is in the movie Notting Hill, where Hugh Grant’s character is seen walking through the market as the seasons change, and the characters change with it. There is even one lady who is pregnant and then later is pushing her baby in a pushchair. Visually this is stunning, and the music helps too. So how can we get this down on the page without boring ourselves and our readers in the process?
I try to add spice. This doesn’t necessarily mean mass drama. In the case of Notting Hill, the things I remember are the changing seasons, beautifully depicted, and the lady with her baby. What are the points of interest in your transition chapters, and how can you spice them up a little? Get yourself interested in these parts of your work, and your readers will stay interested also.
Are you writing about a particularly challenging event? So many writers will tell you that they live the emotions of their characters as they write them. If you are working on a particularly challenging or traumatic event for your character, then it is highly likely that you will be affected by the emotions they are feeling, and may shy away from them. In order to reach any kind of redemption or hope at the end of a book, it is sometimes necessary to walk across some very hot coals. Be gentle with yourself during these times. Do things outside of your writing which nurture and care for you as a person. But write all the same. It may feel as painful as giving birth at times, but it is worth it in the end.
Do you have other claims on your time? Be realistic about how much time you have for your writing, and don’t beat yourself up when you get busy in the real world. If you are trying to write when having a full time job, family commitments, or other distractions, don’t turn your writing into yet another chore by expecting too much of yourself. Enjoy the time you have to write, and express yourself in any way you fancy.
Is the world hitting you where it hurts? I don’t know about you, but I am something of an emotional sponge when it comes to events that are going on around me. For example, I was in Atlanta when September 11 happened, and in North Carolina when the 7/7 bombings happened in London. I wasn’t there, and yet I felt deeply the loss, pain, and sorrow of others who had been affected by those terrible events. The same goes for Paris. In the aftermath of world events, and also personal sorrow, I find it almost impossible to write. During those times, I put aside my novel, and write poetry to try and express my feelings that way. Perhaps you could try and do the same?
Do you find yourself rushing to the destination? When I was studying for my Masters degree, a professor told me that I needed to learn to enjoy the journey, as well as the destination. At the time, I found his advice frustrating. Since then, I have started to understand what he means. In the world of writing, we all want to be a published author. We all want to ‘have’ written a novel. But how many of us actually enjoy the journey that is writing one.
I often have occasion to fly back and forth to the States to see family. When I do, I break down the flight into 45 minute segments. This seems to be my average concentration span. I eat, sleep, colour, write, read, play games, listen to music, and watch TV/films, all in 45 minute segments. Because of this rotation, I never get bored, as I am always moving on to the next thing.
Writing a novel is a very long journey. How can you break it up into bite-sized chunks, so that you will never get bored or lose stamina? Perhaps you could write for half an hour, then read for half an hour, then plan for half an hour, then rinse and repeat? Figure out the rhythm that works best for you, and go with it.
There are plenty more insights into why people suffer from writer’s block. I’d love to hear your’s so maybe we can make this list more comprehensive. Feel free to leave comments below. Happy writing!