Writing Through The Block
By Kate Gould
I’ve always wondered how one overcomes writer’s block. Personally speaking, I have no difficulty starting out ~ the blank page does not intimidate me ~ but somewhere between the one-third and halfway mark writer’s block sets in and I have the darndest time writing through it. I tend to just ramble and ramble for pages until a flicker of a thought comes to light and then I have to go back and rewrite over the ramble. There must be an easier way. Thank you.
Rambling until a flicker of thought comes to light isn’t necessarily a bad way to go about writing. It’s frustrating, irritating, and time-consuming – time that may feel like it’s being wasted – but you’re still producing words. Your story is still being told. Regard your rambling as time spent finding the right words. Yes, you then go back and cut out perhaps 99% of what you spent the last week getting down, but the words you keep have been through both a dogged immersion in your story and the cull that followed. That immersion is invaluable because it is time spent with your characters, plot, setting, description – every component of your writing, basically – exploring them, developing them, getting to know them, fixating on the who, what, why, when, where, and how of them. You might decide, after hours spent with them, to ditch the whole lot and take the story in an entirely different direction, but at least you’ll have spent that bit more time exploring them.
I’d recommend you go easy on yourself, too. Don’t think about what others might have to say about your writing. Focus on your own opinion of your work. Write without feeling self-conscious about what anyone else’s opinion. I’m sure you’re very well aware of it, but just in case you need reminding, no writer ever got it right first time round – revision is a necessary part of the writing process. Or, as Ernest Hemingway more eloquently put it, ‘the first draft of everything is shit’.
The practical remedies for writer’s block are divided in two. One is to keep writing. Even if you have to type ‘the cat sat on the mat’ or ‘the quick fox jumped over the lazy dog’ ceaselessly until some words of your own emerge, you must keep returning to the page. You could do what is known as ‘free writing’: a stream of consciousness approach in which you write whatever words come into your head. Don’t concern yourself with grammar, punctuation, spelling or the quality of your writing. Just keep putting words on paper. Any words are better than no words at all.
Don’t feel you need to stick with the novel on which you’re working at all times. Digressing into writing exercises, for example, keeps you at your desk and is a potentially productive procrastination.
As an alternative to a free writing approach, you could plan the progression of your novel. Gaining a sense of where your story is going could help you work out the steps needed to get there.
With this technique, you could either sit at your desk ad infinitum or decide on a routine – a set time during which you will write, regardless of what words come out. Routines can work well to provide you with discipline, if you lack it, and to make writing a part of your life rather than something that consumes it.
The other is to do the opposite: to step away from your desk and find something else to do in the hope that, while you’re not looking, your story will continue to germinate so that, on your return, the words will pour forth. Baking is a popular pastime amongst writers, though I’m not sure why. As are long walks and sitting on park benches. Take your notebook with you – even while switched off, your mind might just throw you a word or two. While getting away from writing, you could rearrange the place in which you usually write. This is procrastination like any other, but it has a sense of being productive, of assisting your writing.
Should you get desperate there is outside intervention, either from a professional or personal source. Assisting creatives when they are blocked is a specialism of some counsellors, though I’ve neither sources nor recommendations to back that up so I’m afraid I don’t know how effective they would be. Probably more useful are friends and fellow writers with whom you can discuss writing concerns, either in person or through forums. Share tips and vent. Find a sympathetic first reader – someone who won’t just say everything’s perfect, but who also won’t cover every page with red scrawl.
And if you happen upon a magical elixir that cures all writer’s block, do please let me know.
Best of luck.
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About the author:
Kate Gould has worked as an editor, book critic, columnist, slush pile reader, writing competition judge, hotel critic, magazine editor, English teacher, and research assistant. She is now Chief Editorial Consultant at The Fine Line and author of The Pocketbook of Prompts: 52 Ideas for a Story and The Perfect Word: The Fine Line Writing Course. Her book on flashers, Exposing Phallacy, is to be published by Zero Books.
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