Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What is Writer's Block?

One of the many and varied discussions I have with my writer friends both in real life and through the blogosphere usually revolves around Writer's Block. Now, we've all suffered through this malady -- you've got this great idea going, going, going, and then the well of ideas dries up and you're left staring at the blinking cursor like a monkey doing an algebra problem.

We've all experienced the dreaded Writer's Block (it's happened to me several times during the course of writing both my MSs), but what exactly is the cause of this malady?

I submit to you, dear Secret Archives readers, than the cause of "Writer's Block" is nothing more or less than issues with the plot. These issues can include lack of certainty about the story arc, lack of knowledge about your character, perceived lack of research knowledge, and even lack of knowing where the story is going to go next.

Once you've figured out the plot and all conflicts related to telling the story, then Writer's Block falls away. Case in point: the rewrite I did last year of SON OF MAGIC, my epic fantasy, took approximately three months. Why? Because I knew the story and the characters backwards and forwards. Conversely, the first draft of CALLARION AT NIGHT took eight months to write because I did not know the characters or the plot nearly as well -- information I'm figuring out right now via some scene development documentation.

Once I get a handle on the characters, story, and other facets of CALLARION AT NIGHT, I'm confident the next draft is going to go much, much more smoothly. But I'm interested in your opinions, dear readers. What do you do to conquer Writer's Block? Read a book? Watch TV? Plug away at the tale until your eyes glaze over?

Let me know in the comments!


Rick Daley said...

For me, writer's block is often a fancy term for procrastination. It's rare that I can't think of anything to write; it's not so rare that I just do something else for a while.

I outline my stories, and if I'm in a scene that I can't sort out, I'll go on the the next scene, knowing that I will come back to the trouble spot during the course of revisions. The important thing is to finish.

Gary Corby said...

Let's say you desperately need heart surgery. How do you feel about the surgeon walking into the ward that morning and declaring he's having Heart Surgeon's Block? But don't worry, he's sure he'll be over it in a week or two.

Amalia Dillin said...

I find the quickest cure for my writer's block is going back and fleshing out a little bit of history, or doing some solid research. But it's been a VERY long time since I have suffered from a writer's block that lasted more than a day or two, and that's so short it might as well just be called distraction or procrastination, or a frustrated moment. You're right though, knowing the characters backwards and forwards makes a HUGE difference, and it certainly makes writing much much easier.

Valerie Geary said...

I don't believe in writer's block. I think people can become fatigued... in which case... a few days of lounging in the sun with a good book and a pina colada is a good remedy. Otherwise, "fake it 'til you make it". Write. Even if it's crap. Then your brain won't have enough time to build a wall against your creativity.

Adam Heine said...

The only times I can remember having the block, it's what you said: plotting issues. Frequent causes are (1) Description or Action needs to happen and I realize I have NO IDEA what the scene looks like; (2) character needs to make a Critical Decision, but the motivations I outlined for her SUCK; or (3) my Awesome Idea to raise tension means my characters are stuck in a Predicament with no way out.

I find talking to myself while doing some other task that requires little to none of my brain is a good way to find the solution.

Joshua McCune said...

Usually no block, though I do come to slow points in the river (quite often) where, as you pinpoint, I'm trying to figure what comes next (Deliverance style).

L. T. Host said...

You know I agree with you. For me, it all comes down to plot. To get rid of it, I talk to myself under the guise of having a conversation with WF til I figure out what I need to do. He does help, but I feel bad-- it's usually me just going back and forth with myself. But it works, so he's going to have to suffer. Haha.

Unknown said...

I usually just work on something else. If I switch to another piece entirely it just postpones the problem but if I go back --or forward --in the same piece it can help me sort out plot problems or even just lull me back into the tone of the story.

Susan R. Mills said...

I totally agree with you. Whenever I hit Writer's Block, it's because I'm not sure where the story is headed. I'm there right now because I can't decide between two endings. I just keep plugging away. I'll figure it out eventually. I always do.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Writer's block means I haven't spent enough time thinking about my story. When I'm pounding away at a scene it's usually because it's already written itself in my head. But if I'm stressed or super busy, there's not a lot of thinking time allowed.

Davin Malasarn said...

I realized the only time I got writer's block was when I was writing for someone. Now that I try to focus more on just amusing myself, I don't think I've been blocked for at least of couple of years.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

To me, Writer's Block is taking the kids to their activities, spending time with wife, doing laundry/dishes, eating, basically anything that takes me away from the keyboard.

But yeah, if I don't have an immediate answer for a plot issue, I just keep working on it, and eventually the answer comes to me...usually when I'm at one of those said activities away from the keyboard.

Matthew Delman said...

I've been away from the computer for two days straight -- shocking, yes I know, so I'm only getting to these now.

Rick -- I've started doing that now, instead of worrying away at the problem spot like a dog with a bone.

Gary -- Fair point, sir. Definitely wouldn't want a heart surgeon to suffer from heart surgeon's block.

Amalia -- That's oddly happened for me as well. Research tends to unstick things.

Valerie -- I've noticed that more and more. I swap between working on the main story and fleshing out backstories now. That tends to help a good deal.

Adam -- Your second point has happened to me with regards to my villain's motivations. I realized he was driving so hard against the protag for a relatively silly reason. Once I changed that, he became easier to figure out and thus write well.

Bane -- If anyone was going to reference Deliverance I knew it would be you.

L.T. -- Ah yes, the conversation with one's partner that leaves them confused about what the heck you're talking about. The missus has been on the receiving end of those quite a bit.

Taryn -- Interesting point.

Susan -- Ah, alternate endings. How so much not fun they are.

Stephanie -- I hear ya. Stress doesn't allow much thinking space to consider plot arcs or your characters.

Davin -- See I have the opposite problem. I've never had writers block when writing for someone, but I almost always get it when writing for myself.

Andrew -- I get a lot of my plot-unsticking resolutions while driving to and from work. The exact place that I can't write anything down, of course. Go figure.