Write Time, Wrong Time & Writer’s Block

These days I don’t get writer’s block. It’s not that there aren’t times when I can’t write but it doesn’t feel like some mysterious, debilitating block. Instead, I’ve learned that when there is a scene I can’t bring myself to write or some dialogue I dread or a plot inflection that doesn’t flow, it’s a SIGN. A sign of what? A sign that I need to re-think what I have in mind. It’s my sub-conscious telling me that what I planned doesn’t cut it. Put another way, if I don’t want to write it, my readers probably won’t want to read it.

An alternate title for this post  (albeit less catchy) is Write Time, Think Time. By that I mean, there are times when I am are ready to write and times when I need to give the project more thought before setting fingers to keyboard.

Many writer’s resources will tell you to just keep writing. They are correct that you shouldn’t stop writing for long periods of time but writing a bunch of crap isn’t going to help a whole lot. Sometimes, it is crap you can easily rip up in a re-write but all too often, it is crap that leaves it grubby prints on many pages, especially if it relates to key characterization or plot and how much doesn’t? Instead of chaining yourself to the keyboard for an evening, better to grab your iPod and take the dog for a walk. Force yourself to analyze what is making you reluctant to write. Then look for ways to turn it around.

My most recent example was a scene where I envisioned a flying boat surprising the protagonist (hey, I write fantasy). It would look first like a cloud in the distance, then resolve into a boat, then crawl across the sky until it was close enough to hail. I just didn’t want to write it so I went on a walk in the woods. Why didn’t I want to write it? I’ve written “something approaches from the distance and takes a while to arrive” scenes before. They are tedious to write even if you keep the word count down and since they summarize a span of time, not too exciting for the reader. So what to do about it? Simple, I had to make the boat appear suddenly. Flying boats only move so fast so that meant it had to drop into sight- maybe have it rise over a cliff edge or break from obscuring clouds. I didn’t like the cliff idea (very dramatic but not very sensible way to fly your ship). As it happens I wanted to establish that there were clouds of steam and ash in the area so why not combine the two? Clouds boil up, ash falls, when they clear: a ship! No more tedious approach and it covered two points at once: setting and ship arrival.

This is just a little example but the point was not to plod through and write the scene as previously imagined. The thing to do was to recognize that the lack of interest in writing the scene was an indication that I didn’t really like what I had in mind. Time to think then write. Sometimes to think through the blockage, you may also need to completely turn your mind away from writing but for me, most often some music and a change of scenery will do the trick.