This weekend I drew a blank. I had my customary post to write, and I am committed to writing one a week, so I had to find a theme and an angle. Couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t think of anything to talk about. I’ve been working hard in my DDJ (aka Dreary Day Job) and have several articles, short stories and other texts I need to deliver, so I haven’t had much time to watch movies or TV and have been reading a couple of books I’m still not comfortable talking about. So this weekend I didn’t have anything to say. So I decided to post about Writer’s Block, that feared monster most writers have to face at one time or another.
In my experience, Writer’s Block is not a unified monster. There isn’t really just one kind of WB. I categorize them in two types: The Blank and The Fear.
The Blank happens when you just can’t think of anything to write about. That’s basically what happened to me this weekend. You want to write, you need to write, you’re ready to write, but you don’t know what to write. I don’t get this one very often anymore, because I’m convinced this happens because of a lack of preparation and lack of commitment. When you draw a blank you have already messed up. I’m always looking for concepts and stories to write. I have an Excel file with dozens of concepts I’ve been collecting for years. That’s my first weapon against The Blank. Also, I am always working on more than one story at a time. Usually, they’re in different stages. One might be still an infant, forming in my head. Another could be an adolescent, with a few pages written, but still being structured. Another could be in the writing stage. Another could be in the editing and beta reading stage. My pipeline is always full. So if I’m stuck in a story, I jump to another and I never draw a blank. So, preparation and a long-tail pipeline take care of the Blank most of the time. This weekend’s happened because I don’t have the same pipeline for blog posts. I used to. In the beginning, I was always writing at least with a two-week cushion. But that’s gone now and that’s my fault. I am not prepared enough for the blog posts and so this happened. Must work on it, and sorry about that to you, faithful readers.
The second kind of WB is what I call: The Fear. The Fear happens when you know exactly what you want to write, you have the story in your head, but you just can’t get to it. Something is stopping you. You find every excuse not to write. Many writers get puzzled by The Fear. They truly want to write. But they can’t. The Fear, however, does not need to be a mystery. The Fear, in my view, happens in one of two ways.
The Inside-Out Fear happens when your inner emotional and psychological barriers react to something you want the characters to go through. Maybe your mother died and you want to write about that, but you are not ready to do it, your mind finds it too painful to go through again. Or your character gets tortured and you find the pain too much to bear, because there’s no mistake – you feel it as well. Or your character falls deeply in love and you just had a break-up and can’t manage the happiness in your character. Whatever… In my view, Inside-Out Fear can be overcome if you ask yourself what’s troubling you and you face that fear. It’s difficult and you need to be brave, but it can help you in many ways.
Then there’s the Outside-In Fear, which happens when something deep inside you is telling you that there’s a problem with the story and you are not ready to listen to that voice. Maybe the solution you devised for your character’s problems is not a good one. Or maybe your finale is not satisfying enough in your head. Or maybe your structure is wrong. I’m struggling right now with my WIP novel and I know why it is: my idea of the ending is not powerful enough yet, and both my second act battle and my B story are still not very clear in my mind. And so I’m writing slowly and painfully. Important elements are missing. To overcome the Outside-In Fear you have to do three things: you have to admit something is wrong; you have to find out what that is, and you have to work until you solved the problem. Sometimes you need to research some more, sometimes you need to work on your structure, sometimes you need to find the right idea… It doesn’t matter. It’s work.
I believe the WB Monster can be defeated if you understand it. You cannot underestimate it, nor be paralyzed by it, or it will defeat you. Just try to understand it and calmly overcome it. It may take time and patience, but that’s the craft you’re in.
Most of all, the worst thing I think some writers do is give in to panic. They assume Procrastination, that constant distraction and looking for excuses that is many times typical of WB, is a sign of laziness or a weak strength of will. Sometimes they think they are just not made for writing and get depressed by doubts. But that’s mostly wrong. Procrastination always has a reason. There’s always a motive for it. It comes from fear of your inner demons or lack of preparation. Facing your inner demons can both be therapeutically and lead you to impressive writing. And lack of preparation is something you can fix: you only need to go back and go through the motions. Better still, Writer’s Block can be a very useful tool: it can work as an alarm that you have problems in your writing. That there’s something in your story that you need to fix. So you need to go back and look for what’s missing, for what you feel is wrong.
So don’t panic. Just remain calm, convince yourself that it will end eventually and then work it off. Be creative. That’s what I try to do. Hopefully, this is useful.