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  • Hayden Knight

A Different Perspective on Writer's Block

Imagine you're the conductor on a train. It's a beautiful day. You've got fuel aplenty. Passengers are comfortable, fed, and entertained. You're fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

Then you hit a wall. A literal block has appeared before you on the track.



Writing isn't like this. It's more like you're conducting the train while frantically laying down the tracks ahead of you. The passengers (your characters) are irritated and restless and complaining. The weather is never right. You are definitely a week behind. You still hit that wall.


Either scenario finds the train - your writing - at a terrible end. How can it continue? There is a wall in your way, after all.


That can be an alarming way to see Writer's Block. As a literal block, standing in your way. It's certainly not helpful to look at it this way. After all, what can you do about a wall? Just sort of...plow through it? You'll just tire yourself out and make worse an already unpleasant situation.


The best thing you can do is take a step back and think before trying to barrel forward.


I believe there are two common types of Writer's Block:


1. The Chasm

Something is missing.


2. The Mistake

Something isn't working.


The Chasm


This occurs when something isn't there (like a bridge) that is necessary to move the story forward or strength it. Maybe your protagonist doesn't really have a strong antagonist. Maybe your sub-plot is under-developed. Or worse yet, maybe your main plot is not yet plotted.


My first recommendation is a GAP Analysis. This is more of a corporate performance-management thing, but it applies here as well. Make a list (even a mental list) of where the story/character is currently and where they need to be. These can all be in nice little columns. Between each should be an empty column - how does it get from where it currently is to where it needs to be. Write ideas. Good, bad, really bad, abysmal - don't judge. Set a timer for yourself for three minutes and write as many summarized ideas as possible. Don't judge. No one ever has to see these ideas if you don't like them.


Give yourself more time, get a friend involved, or just stop at the three minutes. Review your ideas and see which start leading you to more and more ideas. Run with that!


Rinse and repeat until you've made your way across The Chasm.



The Mistake


I also think of this one as "The Errant Punctuation". If you're at all familiar with coding - which I am only enough to make this reference - you'll know that a misplaced bracket or parenthesis or whatever can destroy an entire code. Nothing works because you added one too many parenthesis, but the program doesn't always know that. You certainly don't. So you did for hours to figure out where you went wrong. Highlighting sections, breaking them down in different documents, re-writing code entirely. And when you finally find the mistake, it's like the wheels have started turning once more. What was hopeless only moments before now runs like butter.


Arguably, the editing process.


I honestly think this is the Big Bad of Writer's Block. When you're missing something, it's much easier to find a solution. When something exists that doesn't work, not only is it harder for your biased brain to find it, but it's harder still to convince yourself it really is a problem. It's not as easy as knowing that extra bracket doesn't belong there.


Your best bet is the same whether you're fixing code or dealing with The Mistake form of Writer's Block: take a break!


Take a walk. Watch a movie. Do some chores. Completely take your brain off the work. Re-direct your thoughts if you start thinking about it. A little time away does wonders for our brains, as proven time and again by science.


The answer may come to you in a moment of "divine inspiration" that you've curated for yourself simply by taking care of your well-being.


If it doesn't, then it's time to kill your darlings.


The time-honored advice is...not my favorite. However, I've found that when dealing with The Mistake, it's often our personal favorite character or plot piece that is causing the problem. Consider what would happen if you removed each of your favorite characters/plots, especially if they are not essential to the main story.


If you're anything like me, The Mistake is hidden in that character that is just such a good character who only serves to weaken other, more pivotal characters and plots. Poor Edelyn. She will never make it into Queen of Magic, but still I love her.


Conclusion


To summarize, the best ways to kill writer's block are to take the pressure off and throw out your ideas about how it "has" to be. Pressure can kill creativity, and creatives are notorious for heaping it onto our own shoulders. Likewise, getting locked into a particular path, arc, character, etc, can act more as a ball and chain than a guiding light.


Take a break. Work without judgement. Try different things.


And, if all else fails, maybe write something purely self-indulgent. Bring the fun back into your work.

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