A few tricks that work, when trying to break through writer’s block

Posted by on Mar 16, 2013 in Career, Writing | No Comments

I try to write for about an hour each day in two 30 minute long power sessions, but sometimes even when I’m following along with my outlines or trying hard to keep to my scene cards, I just can’t quite get there.

It’s during these times that I reach for a few tried and true methods to wake up the talent.

  1. I try an Exercise.  There are dozens if not hundreds of thousands of these out there, but they have a core to them.  Take something you want to describe or know and develop that.  For example, I like the process oriented ones, where I take a repeatable task I do in a given day and I turn it into an action scene.  The more mundane, the more hilarious.  I once made myself laugh loud enough to scare the cats and wake my wife by writing a scene about a super-secret spy trying to get his credit card to read in an automated gas pump.  Another event was a series of trip ups as I described a particularly bad trip to the garbage can with the end of a Thanksgiving Dinner.  The important part is you develop your talent by writing and you break any road block by writing something that is nearly foolproof to get words flowing.  Your confidence returns with the stinging, pins and needle like blood flow of an arm that you’ve slept half the night on and you get back to what you’re getting or hope to be get paid for.
  2. Change perspective.  Modern authors write from every perspective ever defined, but focus in on the ones that sell.  Sometimes it’s worth it to crack open a book on perspective, maybe even read some great classic that came from it and try to write from the blocked scene from the perspective of some unlikely participant.  I was so blocked on a tense argument scene between two of my characters I added a prescient plastic figurine with the ability to see, move, and crawl around to the scene just so I could get something alien into the mix that would break from what I had been doing for 200 pages beforehand.  In this little twist, the alien is what aids you in inspiration.  My friend and fellow author Maureen recently mentioned to me that I have to keep a careful watch on the corrosion of my soul.  I considered her advice and what she meant by it.  Sometimes you have to sit down and write what you’re told to write.  That might be the next book in a series your editor is expecting on Friday, a chapter replacement for something you thought was already to bed or the treatment for a spec novel you really want to get out the door. You can’t just “waste” a lot of time on a segue into the inner workings of a fishing fleet, so you take the outline and notes and try to find a perspective that makes the mundane amazing.  My small plastic figuring tumbles around the background as the dialog flows around him.  Sweeping gestures by my main characters threaten his survival and livelihood, but in the end, he reaches safety, just as the scene closes.  I then take this first draft and make a second draft where I flip the perspective back to the original and exclude my small plastic minion from the struggle.  It’s surprising how much of what I needed in that scene is ripe for harvest, despite how much of my focus was on the strange and offbeat.  This is depending upon the elements of your craft that know what you need even when you don’t.  Combining with the flow above, this hidden drive will allow you to blow through many problems.
  3. Substitution and Subtraction.  Sometimes your writer’s block occurs in the middle of draft work, where you need to make modifications to a story, but are stuck starring at actual words instead of a blank page.  Authors have decried the blank page for decades, but there’s a scarier place.  Sometimes you’re starring at words you’re proud of and others are not.  Flow and Perspective changes might help you in some places, but not really here.    I find the only solution here is to go back to the outline and change something drastic.  I look for something I think is vital to the scene and I subtract and/or replace it with something truly off the wall.  The high speed car chase is instead a high speed boat chase.  The elevator is a hot air balloon.  The damsel in distress is an orangutan named Sue Ellen.  By changing the elemental actors and sprites on the page, you abstract them away from the prose you fell in love with and in that comic or broken sort of way, you reveal something about your constructs that are less than the wholesome.  You may find yourself married to one of these other topics, but your goal is to cut through the crap that’s blinding you to the next step in the writing.  You can excise those demons later, but for now, you’re trying to reveal the work beneath and sometimes substituting something in helps reveal the transitive property of your work and find which variables just aren’t working.
  4. Fix the bones.  The outline is the most powerful tool any author can have.  I’ll admit when I was taught to outline my first research paper, I balked at the card method, but now I outline out of need, not good habit or structural wisdom.  A good outline answers all of the questions before I come to it, and when I have an outline I have the rubric to evaluate the work once I’m done.  Best of all, when I codify that outline to the whole work or even the series, I reveal to myself all of the interconnected wonder of the work.  By fixing the outline, I fix the roadblock to understanding where the finish line was.



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