Tuesday, May 27, 2008



Often, if you ever feel stuck while trying to complete a short writing project, it is easy to deal with. Just put it on hold temporarily, and start writing another one. Simply writing something – anything – is the most effective way to instantly defeat the mythical state of writer's block! This antidote to inertia works every time, whatever it is -- advertising copy, a sales-letter, web site FAQs, a lengthy research paper, or even a fiction novel. But first, before going on, let me state firmly – there is absolutely no such thing as “writer’s block.”

Now, read that sentence *aloud* to yourself -- There is absolutely no such thing as “writer’s block!”

Have you ever heard of “bricklayer’s block,” “lawyer’s block,” “surgeon’s block,” “truck-driver’s block”? Of course not. So-called writer’s block is at best an artistic affectation, largely based on unattainable perfectionism. It does not exist in reality. At worst, it is a mental attitude that prevents a writer from putting the words down – nothing more. So the solution is simple. Write some words down – any words to start with – and you are by practical demonstration, no longer “blocked.”

It has dramatic and speedy results when you are writing ad copy, which rarely exceeds a few hundred words. But feeling “blocked” can be much more serious when it comes to writing a novel. You may have invested weeks, months, or years in your opus, and giving up on it after coming so far should not be an option. Instead, when you get stuck for ideas, do not know what to write next, or suddenly feel the whole book is a waste of effort, here is what to do:

Get some progress going by creating blank chapter headings for the next few segments. Then add two or three blank scenes to each. Ignore for now how long these are going to be, or whether you need one or four of them per chapter. You're just showing your brain the small incremental steps involved.

Starting at that seemingly “blocked” chapter, jot down one-line descriptions for the blank scenes. You are just filling empty spaces right now, so it does not have to be amazingly exciting. As you progress you might find yourself moving away from your plot. If that turns out to be more interesting - good. (The excuse of “writer's block” is often simply the result of trapping your characters in a dead end without any pre-planning where the story will go next.)

If that is the case with you, more than likely you have not done any preparation in the form of a plot outline of what your novel is going to be about. You would not jump into your car to drive across country without at least looking at a map first to see where you intend to end up. Same with a book project. Writing down even the barest rough outline first will do wonders for your creativity. So, stop trying to write any scenes or chapters at all, until you write an outline.

Only then should you dive back in to writing your novel. Do not agonize over the very first line on the very first page. Start anywhere. It could be at a point that ends up as Chapter Nine, or even the last page of the final book! That is a pretty good ploy, by the way. If you are already able to visualize and write the last page, it can provide you with a marvelous final destination, a creative magnet that can pull you through the manuscript to the end.

Describe an incident or scene that particularly interests you, regardless of where it may end up in the manuscript. Suddenly, you will be able to write down a scene which excites you, interests you. Has some life to it. Some juice in it. You feel in your guts it is a good scene; one that makes your tale come alive!

Don't try to write it fully immediately, though. Just write some more detailed notes for it. Over the next day or two, it will stick in your mind, and you'll be able to refine it, add to it. Still hold yourself back and don't write it yet. If you like, you can stop outlining other scenes now. Just keep replaying this particular vivid scene through your mind. If you are itching to write it down... well, there goes that mythical writer's block! Never forget -- you are writing a novel, not reading one. What happens next is completely in your hands, but this new freedom can sometimes make you freeze like a deer in the headlights. Do you leap left or right? Who cares? Jump in any direction. The important thing is to keep moving the tale along.

After you sit down to write this great scene, it may not come out on paper reading as grand as it was in your imagination. Refuse to have unrealistic expectations of how your words look first time out of the gate. On the contrary, expect some initial disappointment. As Ernest Hemingway said famously, “All first drafts are shit!” So do not worry at this stage. That final literary grandness will come later, after multiple changes and revisions. You will probably rewrite the whole thing several times before your book is complete. The main thing at this stage is to unblock the creative juices, to get the words down, not to expect creating a glittering first draft, instantly the best novel the world has ever seen.

After you've written that pretty-good dramatic scene, you can go back to modify the events and descriptions leading up to it. As you're rewriting these descriptions, your imagination will create other scenes – before or after the current stage. Now you have another segment to develop.

The point is, write scenes which are bursting to get onto the page, and for now skip the ones which seem like a chore at present. (If you yourself feel bored while writing them, imagine how bored your reader is likely going to feel.) Especially important for keeping a sense of swift progression, avoid long, overly-detailed transition scenes. For example, say you have a character in New York City who needs to travel to Calcutta. Unless something dramatic or relevant happens on the plane, you can end the NYC scene by hailing a cab for the airport. Then you can start the next chapter with a quick mention of Calcutta atmosphere, just to orient the reader. Use the same method throughout, to avoid any other discursive, needlessly-descriptive parts, and your novel will speed along – both while writing it and reading it.

Now, one more time: Read this sentence aloud to yourself:

“There is absolutely no such thing as writer’s block!”

Now, buckle down, and start writing some words on paper.

Monday, May 26, 2008




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