How about all three. After all, a legend is a story that typically includes an element of truth. It’s based on historical facts, but with mythical qualities. A myth is a story based on legend or tradition. An actual event is sometimes at its core, but that event has often been distorted by time. And a folktale is a story passed from generation to generation, often with more than one version, and again, usually contains some element of truth. So, you see, the three can easily overlap and be confused.
What does any of this have to do with writer’s block, you ask? Nothing really, I was just experiencing a little block as I tried to figure out where to start, and now I can.
No, seriously, writer’s block truly is part legend, part myth, and part folktale. Just think about it. You’ve heard the stories, the tales, and woos of being blocked, unable to write. The different versions, I’m sure, along with the many theories on how to combat it. So, let’s start with that element of truth, the basis of the block.
There's the Creative Block
This is where you’re having trouble coming up with an idea to even get started. You think it’s all been done before. Or perhaps you have the characters in mind but no storyline to put them in, or a storyline with no characters to fill it.
You’ve racked your brain while pacing the floor, staring a blank page, a blank screen, that blasted blinking cursor until you can’t breathe. Well, there’s your problem.
Don’t look within your head, search outside of it, and breathe. Visit someone, an old family friend, an elderly relative, and listen. Let them tell you a story or two. Go somewhere new and look around you. Sit somewhere in silence; people watch and observe. Go to a museum, preferably a local one where you’ll find an abundance of inspiring stories. Visit an art gallery and try to imagine what the artist saw in every stroke of the brush. And lastly, pick up a book and read. Read, and before you know it, you’ll be too busy writing to remember that you had any problem getting started.
Then, There's the Mechanical Block
This is where you’re perhaps on chapter four of twenty-four, and you simply don’t know where to go next. Maybe you’ve put your main character(s) in a corner, or like I once did, on the top of a mountain, and you can’t figure out how best to get them down.
If the block is mechanical, your cure could still be found in any one of the above remedies, but more likely, you'll need to take an altogether different approach. Before we discuss those different approaches, however, let’s determine if you are a plotter or a pantster because this may make a difference.
You may consider yourself a pantster—I’m a pantster myself—in which case you didn’t start with an elaborate outline that you spent hours, days, or maybe even weeks on, and I doubt you took the time to do any character profiles either. I mean, who needs to take the time to write all of this information down when it’s already in your head? And whatever information is missing, well, that will come as we write.
A pantster is a writer who doesn’t begin with a set plan or outline. We may have a notebook or file where we jot down ideas concerning plot or character, but that’s usually as far as we’ll go. We might know exactly where we want to start, an opening scene, if you will, and typically know how the story will end as well. It’s just the getting there that we allow to happen as it will, and if we’re going to hit a roadblock at some point, this is where it will happen.
A plotter, on the other hand, will spend those hours, days, or even weeks researching, planning, preparing and plotting out every scene and each character before they write the words “Chapter One,” in which case, you would think a mechanical block would never be an issue for a plotter, and you’d be wrong. It can still happen. Even the most prepared can discover a flaw in their plan, and this kink can put a plotter on their ass.
So, how do you overcome a mechanical block? Start by stepping back and looking at the big picture rather than where to next.
If you’re a plotter, look at your story arc as a whole. You should then be able to find that flaw I mentioned above, which is your first step at working your way past it. Note to Self: If you don’t understand what a story arc is, well, then you’re not as good a plotter as you may have thought, and you need to take a huge step back. Story arc is a subject all its own which I won’t get into here.
If you’re a pantster, well, you knew this was going to happen at some point, so stop complaining and look at how to fix it. For you, the first step is to make an outline of the story arc as you have it so far. And yes, this can be done in short form. We’ll talk more about outlining at another time, just like story arc, but for now, simply write a line or two that describes what happens in each scene or chapter that you’ve written. Next, leave a space, as much of a space as you need, and then write a line or two describing the scene in your head that you imagine will be at the end. By the time you’re finished with this exercise, you may already have found your cure, in which case you’re too busy to finish reading this article. If not, again, take a step back and view the picture as a whole, just as I advised the plotter above.
Whether you’re a pantster or a plotter, if at this point you’re still stuck, shut yourself into your writing space. Distractions are the devil. This means no phone, no internet, no games, and no television. And unless you are someone who actually gets inspired by music rather than distracted, none of that either. In other words, no noise!
I get my best ideas such as plot twists, scenes, dialogue, you name it when I’m driving, cooking, in the shower, and lying in the dark trying to fall asleep. You too? Of course. And you know why? Because it’s quiet. Or at very least, inside our minds it’s quiet. We’ve allowed our brains to empty and our thoughts to roam.
Another symptom of the mechanical writer’s block is our inner critic, which we inevitably have a problem turning off. We think our writing is crap, or that every sentence needs to be perfect before we can move on. If this is a first draft, and I imagine it is or you wouldn’t be having a problem in the first place, tell that inner critic to shut the hell up. First drafts are a loose sketch. They’re never perfect, and neither should they be. And besides that, no one is perfect, not even you. Give yourself permission to come back to whatever is giving you a problem. If it’s a particular scene, then skip it and go to the next. Yes, I actually said skip over it. Make a note and come back to it when inspiration strikes and you know exactly what you want to do there. No one will know, but you, unless you tell them.
If the problem isn’t with a scene but with a particular character—for instance, maybe you aren’t sure how the character would handle the situation at hand—then I recommend stopping and writing up a character profile.
Note: You’ll see a prior article regarding character profiles on this blog.
If this is your problem, once you know that character inside and out, your writer’s block will be instantly cured, and you’ll be jetting toward the end in no time.
If you’ve tried everything above and you’re still having a problem, contact me. Let’s figure out exactly what your symptoms are, and together we’ll find a cure.
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