July 12, 2012

Why I Don’t Get Writers Block

Writer's block got you? Try this.

Writer’s block got you down? Try this.

I know the popular lore is every author gets writer’s block–that frozen brain that blocks all efforts to put two words together, much less three. It’s that underlying conspiracy that would make the 9/11 Truthers proud.

Not true for me. My problem is too many things to write about. It might even be considered a focus problem. When I sit down to write, my brain skitters like a stone across the surface of a lake.

Truth, I find writing strenuous. Always thinking through someone else’s head (my character). Living in a virtual world where stuff happens that I’d never face in real life. There are a couple of things I do about that:

  • I start with a solid outline. I go through it like a nit picker, to be sure I include all the steps, transitions, plot twists. Is there logic in what’s happening? Or dislogic where required? My outline covers only plot, but it must integrate each character’s traits so it becomes their actions and reactions. If I get stuck writing the outline, I force my size ten feet into my character’s shoes: I sit back, stare at something far off beyond the confines of my property line and invoke that imagination the world has relentlessly tried to drum from my cerebral skillset. What would my character smell, feel, as she’s walking the corridors at 10pm on a moonless windy night? Stale food? Cigarette smoke? I’m thinking she’d be frightened, all alone, footsteps echoing off the bare walls.
  • I also start with a solid character fact list. I put everything down about the character that I would know if it was me–background, history, past traumas, foibles, passions, speech quirks, what drives them, their strengths and weaknesses, what their typical day would be, their part in the story, etc. I need to know them as I know myself.
  • After the character fact list, after the outline, while I’m struggling through the Writing, I pay attention to Point of View. Sometimes, I realize I’m writing a narrative, not the believable story of a single mom with money problems whose computer is being hacked by terrorists. I back up, find the spot I fell out of character and start over. Some people can work in an omniscient Point of View, but I can’t get involved enough in the story unless I’m in my character’s head. I have to think like her/him, feel as they do so I can write their parts authentically. This-all takes a long time, but along the way, I get a better understanding of my story. I believe it’s a significant reasons why I don’t get writer’s block. It’s also the reason why many good writers say the story “just unfolded” for them. Well, it did, because it was real.

If my imagination takes me somewhere I know nothing about, I…

  • Research. God I love the internet. If I’m trying to imagine what the Hudson River smells like in summer, Google has an answer. People blog about stuff like that! In this case, it was an efriend. If I’m wondering what stores I’d pass walking down Amsterdam in New York, Google Streetview takes me right there. It took me to the front of my character’s apartment (which turned out to be a factory, so I had to move it–thank you Streetview)

If you find the traditional cures like these four don’t work:

…try mine.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and four ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me.