No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Blocking Writer's Block

Writer's Block. No such thing.

It's a misnomer, IMO. Nothing is 'blocking' you from writing, except maybe if last week you had a falling out with the WGA and this week you woke up with your hands encased in a block of concrete. Then the phrase takes on a new and alarmingly accurate meaning.

I believe there are really only two reasons you're not writing when you know you should be writing:

  1. You cannot focus

    This is a legitimate reason and a common one: you can't write because you cannot narrow your focus enough to get 'in the zone' for writing. It could be disruptive noise from outside your room. It could be a physical problem, like headache or illness, constantly interrupting you with discomfort or pain.

    Or, it could be a mental problem. We all have our extended periods of ups and downs due to what's going on in our lives. There's not a lot you can do about the downs except wait them out, doing whatever you can to ensure they pass as quickly as possible. It's hard to write during those emotional troughs. On the other hand, some people use writing as an escape and a tool to get through those low times.

    Solution
    If you can't focus because of external distractions or internal physical or mental issues, don't beat yourself up over it. Wait it out. And don't punish yourself for not writing. Try scaling back your expectations during these times. Do some writing that doesn't require intense focus or your full attention. Take the opportunity to do more research, play with your plotline, tinker with yesterday's writing pages, and so on. That way you're getting something useful done and your time in the chair doesn't feel wasted.

    If it's an emotional issue preventing you from focussing -- for example, you just broke up with your partner after a long relationship -- consider using your feelings somewhere in your story. Can you add these thoughts and feelings to an existing scene or a character? Word of caution here: you need to commit to honesty if you go this route. And who knows. Writing through it might give you new insight into your own issues, as well as making your screenplay or novel more potent.
  2. You have no idea where you are going

    Oh, brother. My money is on this one as the major reason writers lose their flow.

    Assuming you've ruled out No. 1 as the source of your block, IMO the only thing left is that you didn't sufficiently map out your story before you started writing. Hey, but you don't want to crank out a cookie-cutter story, right? And that's what you'll get if you stifle your creativity by plotting everything from start to finish, right? Just imagine all the cool directions your story might follow by writing as you go, RIGHT?

    Ah, yes. You're THAT sort of screenwriter. The one who collects a bunch of ideas and sits down to write a first draft. As Bart Simpson might say, "Want a cool story, eh? No problemo. Put Nosferatu, Mighty Mouse, and Mr Spock together in a locked cage and the ending practically writes itself, man!" You're also the type of screenwriter who doesn't believe in writing a treatment first.

    Solution: Too easy. Before you write anything more, figure out where you are going! At a minimum, that means know your ending! So you already know your ending but you're still blocked? Then stop and find your story mid-point! Still blocked? Just keep breaking the large units into smaller ones. What you are doing here is finding and placing the stepping stones that lead you from the beginning of your story to the end. It doesn't matter if you don't lay down every single stone before you write a first draft. By knowing your ending before you start you always know where the path leads eventually.
Knowing this, kiss goodbye to "writer's block". What you are experiencing is, in the case of No. 1, a temporary writing delay out of your control; and in the case of No. 2, a temporary writing delay while you complete the story map you should have constructed before you began. In both cases, no harm no foul. You'll be back writing in no time.

Here are two articles from other writers offering different perspectives on the topic: Blast Your Writing Blocks by Angela Booth, and 7 Secrets For Beating Writer's Block by Shaun Fawcett. Both articles used by permission.


Blast Your Writing Blocks

by Angela Booth

Copyright © 2003 by Angela Booth

How many words do you write a day? Some novelists manage 2,000 words a day or even more, but most writers feel they've done a good job if they can turn out 500 to 1,000 words.

If you're writing zero words a day, you're blocked. Writers get blocked because they're anxious, or because they don’t have enough information.

Dealing with anxiety

Anxiety can show up in various forms, either physical, mental, or emotional. You may feel tired, or have a head-ache. You may decide that you're bored with what you're writing, or so depressed you can't think. Or maybe you convince yourself that you're just too busy (the lawn needs mowing, and you should spend time with the kids). You'll do your writing tomorrow.

The anxiety block is hard to manage because you often don’t realize that it is a block. You have terrific reasons for not writing. No one would expect you to write with a migraine, would they? And you really do need to mow the lawn.

The only way I've found to manage this block is to be tough on myself. I set myself a daily word target, usually 1,000. I may not reach that target, but before I go to bed, I MUST write 500 words. Every day.

Paradoxically, I've found that even when I'm not in the mood to write, or when I have a headache that would fell an ox, I feel better when I've written my 500 words. I often go on to write the full 1,000.

The most pernicious anxiety block occurs when you're convinced your writing is worthless. This block may happen as a result of chaos in some other area of your life: perhaps with relationships, or illness, or finances.

Handling this block takes careful management. First, try to see that it's a block, which has happened because of the stress you're under. Your writing is fine --- you've just lost perspective. If you can convince yourself of this, it's a major achievement.

Try to write anyway, even if you feel your writing is trash. If you can't, take a break from writing without feeling guilty. Relax, exercise, eat well, and indulge in a few movies, or a favourite hobby.

If this block lasts for more than a month or two, visit a therapist. There's no shame in this, and seeing someone can save you endless months of frustration.

Eliminating the "no info" block

You can also get blocked because you don’t have enough information. You're trying to write the final draft, instead of tackling the writing process draft by draft.

Here's a handy way to prevent the "no info" block by taking your writing through clearly defined stages:

A. First draft: your thinking draft. In this draft, you write whatever you like. You're aiming for quantity here, rather than quality.

B. Your second draft. Your first draft has shown you what you want to say. In this draft, you have a crack at saying it.

C. Your clean-up draft. Your final draft. You've said what you want to say, now you get a chance to say it better. You clean up the redundancies and spice it up.

In practice, stage B may have several additional drafts, as many as you need: B1, B2, and more.

The easiest way to kill the no-info block for good is to allow yourself to write badly. Every day. This is because writing is hard when you try to think and write at the same time. Allow yourself to think on paper for as many drafts as you need. Then write the final draft with confidence.

Writing cycles

This isn't a block, it's a process. Everything happens in cycles, even your writing. Sometimes your writing catches fire. You're inspired. At other times, writing is like wading through quicksand, and it takes you forever to write 200 words.

Accept this. When you're in the low part of the cycle, aim lower. If your target was 1,000 words a day, make it 200. Or even 50.

Blocks are a part of the writer's life. Use the above tools to write your way out of them. As incredible as it may seem when you're in the middle of a block, the day will dawn when your block is not even a memory, and you can confidently say: "There's no such thing as writer's block!"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Writer, author and journalist Angela Booth has been writing successfully for print and online venues for 25 years. She also writes for business. On her Web site http://www.digital-e.biz/ she conducts workshops and courses for writers.


7 Secrets For Beating Writer's Block

by Shaun Fawcett

Most people can easily identify with the dreaded "writer's block". It is a well-known phenomenon that just about everyone has faced at one point in their lives.

I used to suffer from writer's block, big time! Thus, I know through personal anguish and suffering, that it is definitely not a pleasant experience.

Especially when the due date for one's project or paper is getting closer by the day, and the boss asks you "how's that project going" every time you don't manage to avoid him/her when you're sneaking down the corridor.

WRITER'S BLOCK IS FEAR-BASED

Writer's block is a fear-based feeling. For whatever reason, many of us have this incredible fear of committing ourselves in writing whenever we are faced with a blank page or computer screen.

Fear no longer! I'm here to tell you that writer's block can be beaten!

Just realizing that writer's block is really an irrational fear that keeps us from putting pen to paper is half the battle. It's actually a fear of the unknown, often coupled with a fear of failure.

We secretly wonder just what exactly is going to come out of this pen/keyboard, and when it does, will we be revealing some kind of incompetent idiot who doesn't know what they're talking about?

On the other hand, if we have done the proper preparation, our rational mind knows that we can do it just like we did it all of those other times before.

Unfortunately, fear often wins the day when it comes to writing.

As I stated above, I suffered from writer's block for many years and it was not the most enjoyable of experiences.

THE 7 SECRETS

Fortunately, somewhere along the way I did manage to develop a few tricks to overcome writers block. Some are obvious, others are not.

Here are my personal hard-earned secrets for overcoming writer's block:

1. Don't Write Too Soon

Before trying to write, it is important to prepare mentally for a few hours or days (depending on the size of the task) by mulling the writing project over in the back of your mind. (Just as athletes don't like to peak too soon, writers shouldn't write too soon either!).

2. Do The Preparation

Read over whatever background material you have so that it is fresh in your mind. I read through all background material carefully marking important points with a yellow hi-liter and then review it all before I start to write.

3. Develop A Simple Outline

Before sitting down to write, put together a simple point form list of all of the key points you want to cover, and then organize them in the order in which you are going to cover them. (I know, I know... your Grade 6 teacher told you the same thing... but it actually does work).

4. Keep research Documents Close By

When you sit down to write, make sure that all of your key background materials are spread out close at hand. This will allow you to quickly refer to them without interrupting the writing flow once you get going. I keep as many of the source documents as possible wide open, and within eyesight for quick and easy reference.

5. Just Start Writing

Yes, that's exactly what you do. Once you have prepared mentally and done your homework you are ready to write, even if your writer's block is saying "no". Just start writing any old thing that comes to mind. Go with the natural flow. In no time at all you will get into a rhythm, and the words will just keep on flowing.

6. Don't Worry About The First Draft

Once the words start to flow, don't worry about making it perfect the first time. Remember, it's your first draft. You will be able to revise it later. The critical thing at the outset is to write those thoughts down as your mind dictates them to you.

7. Work From An Example

Get an actual sample of the type of document that you need to write. It could be something that you wrote previously, or it could be something from an old working file, or a clipping from a magazine article, or a sales brochure you picked up. As long as it is the same type of document that you are writing. Whatever it is, just post it up in your line-of-sight while you are working. You'll be amazed at how it helps the words and ideas flow. The main thing is to have an example to act as a sort of visual template.

In my experience this last one is the ultimate secret for overcoming writer's block.

To help with this, be on the lookout for good examples of writing that you may see in newspapers and magazinesHealth Fitness Articles, and clip out the useful ones for future reference.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shaun Fawcett is webmaster of writinghelp-central.com and author of the new eBook "Instant Home Writing Kit". His FREE e-mail COURSE "Tips and Tricks For Writing Success", offers valuable tips on home/business writing. Sign-up for FREE at: http://www.instanthomewritingkit.com/free-course.html

1 comment:

Belzecue said...

Authors on the Web (AOTW) asked seven writers about writers block. Here is what they said...

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