Nanowrimo stuff: Dealing with writer’s block

Writer’s block happens, but it doesn’t really happen. There are writers out there who do not want to write, but they are not suffering from this mythical “block” that keeps writers from penning their masterpieces.

I’ve been blocked before. Sometimes it lasts for days, sometimes for weeks and sometimes for years. These are three very different kinds of issues that have to be dealt with in three very different kinds of ways. For the nanowrimo edition, I’m going to be talking about the day long and the week long bouts. The months to years long bouts is a completely different kettle of fish.

People are individuals and there are thousands of reasons why people stop writing. I want to talk about just a couple. When you’re working on a nanowrimo, nothing is worse than getting stuck. Here are a few things that can help.

In my opinion, there are two main reasons why you are not writing when you have time to write but just can’t. If you’re a working professional with a family and a frantic social life, that’s one thing, but if you have the whole day to do nothing but write and you can’t stop searching youtube for Korean recipes to cook, that’s something you can do about it.

The way I see it, there are three main reasons why you are not writing today. One, you’re bored with what you’re writing. Two, you have nothing to say. Three, you know what you want to write, but you’re too scared to write it. The first two are kind of the same problem with similar solutions. The third one is both harder and easier at the same time.

If you are bored, ask yourself why. Victoria Nelson in her brilliant book On Writer’s Block reminds you that you probably started writing because you wanted to tell interesting stories that said and did cool stuff. Then something happens (*cough* writers groups) and you can get so caught up in wanting to write in the right way that you stop focusing on what you want to say and put all your attention on how you want to say it.

There are two kinds of boredom. Either you’re bored right now and you don’t know what to do or you’ve been bored for a while now. The first one is easy. If you’re bored with what you’re writing right now, just make the worst possible thing happen and force your characters to give up their brilliant plans and scramble. Sink boats, kill important people, have the magic woo fail or, what I like to do, throw frost giants at your characters. You will not be bored any more.

But what about your carefully crafted synopsis? What about it? It’s failed you at this point because you are bored. Make up a Plan B or F or Q or switch to a hexidecimal system system if you need to.

Have you been bored for a while and just slugging on, bored to tears but not sure what to do? This one is going to hurt, especially in a nano. Cut back to the point you were last excited about what you were writing and see where you zagged instead of zigged. Last year, I got into day 3 of my nano, about 7500 words and I got a kidney infection. Not fun, but when I was in the ER for five hours I reread Cy Gets a Sex Demon, the sort of prequel to the rebooted world I was creating in The Care and Feeding of Sex Demons. The voice in those three days worth of work was completely wrong for who Cy is. Cy narrates his stories as though he’s on a review board, trying to explain why he shouldn’t get fired/disintegrated/have his personality erased *this* time. The story I was telling was a standard urban fantasy.

*snip*

You can keep the words in another file and have them count to your total if you need to, but I didn’t. I started fresh on Day 4 and finished the book on day 12. I sold the book on day 18 and had rewritten it to a draft that I could share by day 30. (You can buy The Care and Feeding of Sex Demons at Loose Id’s website or on Amazon. It took three solid rewrites to get it publishable. It’s not a book you can skim, and you’re thrown right into the world, but I still love it.)

Which leads me to the third kind of can’t write, even though I want to, and that is fear. Writing is kind of like pearl diving. The deeper you go down and longer you stay down underwater, the better chances you have of finding a pearl, but also, you might drown or get eaten by a shark.

Okay, so it’s not a perfect metaphor. But the pearl-like writing that is out there isn’t going to be found in the easy to get shallows. Too many people have dug up those pearls because they’re safe and easy to get to. The writing/pearls that people want are out in the depths where dark shadows are lurking. You need to look into the darkness to find the writing that is going to cause the emotional response you need from a reader. Scooping up real emotion from the depths and smearing it on the page in a way that resonates. Any kind of writing, humor, dark fantasy, horror, science fiction, fluff or not, all need depth beyond the easy to reach shallows.

Having a deadline can be one of the best ways of silencing your inner critic that keeps you from reaching into the deeper water. It can be crippling, of course, but if deadlines leave you silenced, nanowrimo may not be your best choice. Or it might be the best thing you can do, but you have to be brave. If you flinch and assure the reader that there’s nothing to worry about, they’re not going to be as emotionally invested in the outcome.

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