The Under Ground Writing Project

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Writer's Blah, Part 3

Posted by Ali on February 7, 2013 at 7:00 PM

This post is going to wrap up a series on writer's blah, aka, writer's block. This is my sum-uption post and it has some links in case you're sick of hearing what I have to say about all of this and want to see if other people are smarter than me. (They are. Some of them.)

I started out with a block, and ended up with a completed story. It's roughly inspired by the Duchess of Bathory (beware before you Google, it's a grisly story) and the working title is "The Virgin Problem."

Working through my writer's block has helped me realize that the root cause of my wall was, as explained in Writer's Block: The 12-Step Cure, trying too hard to be a genius. I was having a hard time, because I was putting so much pressure on myself to BE BRILLIANT! The key solution, as outlined in the post, was to let go of the pressure. #1 in the list: #1: Don’t be married to results. It's not about writing something that will astonish and amaze your readers, it's just about writing something. If, at the end, it's not something you'd publicly claim, then that's fine. Call it a warm up and move on.

For TVP, I was stuck on plot, so I started mentally listed possible "what happens next?" ideas, along with "what's the worst that can happen? ideas. Then, I picked a combo and went with it. Maybe there was a more clever way to do it, but the main thing was, something happened next.

There are some good tips over at the Grammar Girl website in Overcoming Writer's Block. One of the tips I like a lot, and often use, is #7: If you are blocked in your usual writing place, try a new place. I call this Out of the House Pages. You can get bonus points if you go someplace else and write using media you don't usually use - i.e. write longhand instead of bringing your laptop. For TVP, I ended up writing 80% of it while sitting on someone else's couch.

I also really like Grammar Girl's #9: Get someone to ask you questions about your story. This happens a lot in our critique group, and it's great. One of the questions that comes up from time to time is, "Why today?" It's an infuriating, but important question. Why is today the day the character professes his unrequited love? He's kept it a secret for three years, why is this specific day different from all the others? This question also speaks to the idea of the inciting event. You need one, even in a short story.

Writer's Digest has a great article, 10 Creative Ways to Beat Writer's Block, that has some great ideas. My favorites, at the moment, are #4: Creating an Atmosphere and #5 Enriching Your Descriptions. When I have a solid idea, these are two areas where I'm not as strong. I get caught up in this happens, then this, then this... and I speed through. More than one person has said my style reminds them of TV/movie writing because there are a lot of things that actors and a stage would fill in that I've left incomplete. Filling in these things is something I'm continuously trying to improve on.

Interestingly, I find that when I'm goofing around and I'm working on a writing prompt that starts from atmosphere, or describing something specific, the more I delve into that process, the more readily a story evolves from it. For me, when I start describing a secret high-stakes poker game, I start wondering about things. Who plays a game like this? Why does it have to be secret? How high are the stakes? Money's boring, but if the loser dies... and so it goes. The story behind the setting starts to evolve.

Another tip, not specifically nabbed from a website, is to write an explanation of your story to yourself. When you get stuck, write yourself a letter explaining your goals/vision for the story. This is a way of thinking out what you're doing and the more you explain it, the easier it is to figure out your snags. Let's say you want to have your character experience a loss. By spelling out your intentions, it can lead you where you need to go.

"Dear self, I'm trying to figure out what Susie needs to lose. She has to experience a loss so she'll be in the right state of mind to pick a fight with Bob over something minor. They need to have the fight, because that leads to the climax. If her loss is too major, then Bob's going to be sympathetic instead of combative, so that won't work. So, I can't have Susie's mother die. Or her dog. Okay, no death at all. But, it can't be too minor, either..."

Now, my final link for you is 13 Famous Writers on Overcoming Writer's Block. The collection is very cool and diverse. Also, it has Neil Gaiman in it!

*If you completely disagree with any of this advice, or think I've missed something vital, I'd love to hear it! Seriously, leave a comment. (Alternately, if you think I'm brilliant and have just solved all of your writer's block problems, that's cool too.) If you've ever overcome writer's block, please tell us how.

Categories: Writing Process, Advice, Lists

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1 Comment

Reply Jenny Maloney
6:57 PM on February 10, 2013 
I suffer, very often, from the need to be brilliant. Or publishable. Or good.

Journaling actually works for me. I'm not a 'good' journaler - I don't have a consistant schedule or anything like that. Whenever I'm stuck I whine into the pages until eventually I get sick of hearing myself whine and I get back to work.

I've also found that writing math is inspirational for me...I figure out how many words I need to write until I'm finished. Breaking it down into something cold, like numbers, makes it seem much more manageable than thinking of it as 'literature' or 'an act of creation.' Gotta bring myself down from the high horse and back to leading the plow horse.

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