9/04/2015

Writer's Block, and Why I Don't Get It

I came across an article on Lifehacker called You Don't Have a Creative Block. It references another article, which in turn quotes the author Jodi Picoult, talking about writer's block.

In it, she says:

"I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it—when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page."

I couldn't agree more.  I just finished up two outlines for two new novels, one 7,000 words in length, the other close to 12,000 words. Completing them took two months. An outline is creative invention in its most purest form: imagining a complete narrative, with a beginning, middle and end, incorporating characters, motives, action and theme. Each outline contains a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story. This is something I've done since early in my writing career, and most often the resulting novel is pretty close to what you'd find in those outlines.

Behind each outline is a great deal of writing you don't get to see - notes totalling 55,000 words for both projects together. Add in the outline themselves, and that's 75,000 words I've written in the past eight weeks or so: equivalent in length to a short novel.

So why so many words? Because that's how I avoid writer's block. I just start writing. If I get stuck, I summarise what I have so far.

But you can't force it too much: there will be days when nothing comes. But the act of writing out what I've come up with so far, I find, forces unexpected connections to appear. And even if they don't immediately appear, they'll pop into your head at unexpected moments.

What I do most recently is have a 'work diary'. I put in the date, scan the previous entry, then try and think my way further into the story based on what I've already come up with. I scribble down anything, on the off-chance it might mean something. I explore connections. Even if no idea is immediately forthcoming, I keep making notes, waiting for something to come.

And I do it every day.

For instance, in one of the aforementioned outlines, I wanted character A to find out something about Character C. Except Character C is CEO of a major technology company, surrounded by private security, and therefore untouchable. There was no way for A to find out anything. I was stuck.

So I tried looking at it from a different angle. I thought: what about B, who used to have a close personal relationship with C? Is there any reason they couldn't find out the terrible truth about C? And what if they rushed to a phone to tell A the news, then the call got suddenly cut-off...as if someone had got to them before they could fully warn A? And then what if...

And suddenly you're coming up with ideas.

So, really, there is no such thing as Writer's Block. Procrastination, sure, we all get that. But block? Doesn't exist. 
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