On Writer’s Block

450px-Iceberg_at_Baffin_BayI don’t have this problem. I have writer’s diarrhea. However, I did have this problem for a while. That is, there were years when I felt I should be writing, but wasn’t. There are also times when I’ve done non-fiction writing for pay, in various capacities, and I’ve waited until the deadline was strangling me.

I can’t tell you a cure all. Frankly, talk about first world problems! Maybe you should move on. Like a longterm crush, if it’s meant to be it will happen. Also there really are enough great novels out there, so don’t worry about it.

Sorry, that was probably me channelling some relative’s ghost – the one who lacked any filter between the fingertips (or mouth) and the brain.

But today I saw something in one of those forums I sometimes check out, someone earnestly asking about writer’s block. She wanted to know: Did other writers outline? Was that the problem? Would it help her if she could just learn to outline properly.

Outlining may help. Anything will help if you believe it will help. I doubt there is a secret formula for outlining that will cure writer’s block. Then again, given that there are a gazillion novels loaded up on the Kindle every hour, maybe there is and you are the only one in the world who doesn’t know about it yet.

That’ ok. I didn’t get that outlining-memo either, but here are three things I’ve learned that might be helpful:

(1) Follow Hemingway’s great advice. He said you should always stop your daily writing while you still want to keep going, “before the well runs dry.” That way, you’ll be eager to return to it the next day.

(2) Try a different approach: A few years ago, I took a storytelling workshop. I am NOT a natural performer, but telling stories – without notes – in front of even a small audience, helped me hone techniques that work on paper as well. Mostly, I learned to just “tell what happened”. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But sometimes we get so caught up in technique, and writing tropes like “show don’t tell” that we lose our focus.

(3) Try a “retreat” anyone can afford: I’ve participated a few times in the International Three Day Writing Contest. There is an entry fee if you plan to send your work in. I’d recommend paying it in advance as a way of giving yourself more motivation to participate diligently. If you follow the rules of the contest, you might not wind up with a masterpiece, but knowing you only have 72 hours to produce SOMETHING that judges will see, is a great motive to just keep going with your story. You are allowed to outline first, but not write a draft. I’ve never completely stuck to the outlines, always managed to discover things along the way, but what was most important was that I did just keep going. It’s also a good way of getting friends or loved ones to cut you some slack and give you some support – after all it’s “only” three days. Once it’s done, you might not have a masterpiece, but you’ll have something you can work with, AND you’ll have shown yourself what it is possible to do.

(If you found this advice at all useful or entertaining, please thank me by visiting the home page and/or maybe following my pronouncements on the twitter.)

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