Thursday, August 25, 2011

Busting Writer's Block

Last week, I talked about writer's block being a lie that keeps writers from their dreams because it hides the real reason writers don't produce:
1. Intimidation
2. Sloth
3. Perfectionism
4. Guilt
5. Rather talk about being a writer than write

Regardless of the reason, hiding behind writer's block will stop you from doing what you want to do--write! Here are some tips for busting the lie of writer's block.

#1 Sh**y First Drafts. In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamont talks about giving herself permission to write a "sh***y first draft." The idea is that you can always fix your prose, your story, your characters---but only if write it out first.

This is the best advice I can give someone who feels intimidated by the task or shackled with expectations of perfectionisn. Give yourself permission to write tripe. Order yourself to put words to paper (or to the screen), even if (as one presenter at CWCO put it), you end up with a virtual "steaming pile." When you are done. If you let yourself--make yourself--do this, one of three things will happen:
1. You will discover you wrote better than you expected.
2. You will write junk that you can fix.
3. You will burn part of all of the work in the name of public safety, but you will have written. And havin written once, the next time will be easier. There is a saying that the first million words you write are practice.

A last note on this--resist the urge to edit while you are writing. Make notes if needed, but get the entire thing written unless you already know you can finish the task.

#2 BICHOK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard: You cannot be a writer unless you write. You can make writing a habit.

This is hard. Remember my analogy last week that plumbers don't get plumber's block? If they did, they don't get paid. Ditto the reporter--reporters don't get writer's block. No work=no pay.

Many of us aren't there yet, however, so we need other ways to motivate ourselves. Maybe write 20 minutes, then play a game? Go out to dinner when you finish that novel? Have a special place to write--or leave your house until you have the habit. Some authors make mock-ups of their covers to motivate them. Others take their day's goals before the Blessed Sacrament. Find what motivates you and do it.

#3 Set realistic goals. This helps Guilt as well as Sloth. If you are busy and writing is a sideline, developing the habit is more important than the actual number of words you produce. For an example, when I still had a baby and a toddler and homeschooled my older two, my goal was simply "one sentence before bed." Now, with older kids in public school, I can devote a few hours a day. In both instances, I kept a habit of writing.

#4 Don't control your creativity. Perfectionists hesitate to start a project until they think they are completely ready to do it. Those who are intimidated worry that their creative ability isn't up to the job. Others find a story stalls because the characters won't do what they want them to do. Some would-be writers never get past the research stage.

Let go and let flow! You can't always control the direction of the creative process. Let your characters lead you in the story. Start writing that article and discover what the Holy Spirit (or your subconscious) drives you to write. Stop researching, outlining, profiling, and write. If you run into a fact or a question or a scene you're not sure of, just flag it and move on.

#5 Stuck, still? Take a break and write something else. Can't figure out the next chapter? Skip it or write a different scene with the character--or a character interview. Can't figure out the next chapter on your book? Write a related article. Start a new project if you like, but remember to come back to the original one and finish it.

Writing is 10 percent creativity and 90 percent productivity. Even more, when creativity stalls, productivity can get it started again. The lie of writer's block, however, can stop you from seeing that.

Got questions or a comment on writer's block? Post them. I'll answer as best I can, and maybe blog again on it next month.

1 comment:

Fr Jim Tucker said...

When I read your line about some writers don't ever get out of research mode - I'm guilty as charged!

Just what I needed to hear.

Fr Jim