Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sucker Punching the Block

Nothing steals a writer's literary mojo worse than the dreaded plague dubiously dubbed as writer's block.  Just the mere mention of it makes my brain cringe, inducing images of my eager fingers strumming keys like mindless zombies in their battle against my stubborn synapses. I akin it to a singer stricken with laryngitis or a lawyer without an argument.  When a writer's creativity is suddenly and inexplicably stripped away from them, it's as though their very soul has abandoned them entirely. Our once snappy rhetoric is whittled down to mere preschool banter while previously perfect prose is rendered mediocre in comparison to used car commercials.

Lately, I've been experiencing a horrible case of the creative jitters.  The ideas are there (after all, I am writing a trilogy), I just have absolutely no idea how I'm going to execute them.  It's like taking a cross country road trip without the luxury of GPS.  You now what your ultimate destination is, you just don't know if you're going to take Route 33 through Nebraska or Route 41 and cut through Kansas to get there.  Both are great options but, in the end, one is going to feel inherently smoother and be less apt to construction delays than the other.

It's during these times of uncertainty as to the right path to take or even after you've decidedly taken a wrong turn that the plague strikes. Believe me, it happens to the best of writers.  Fortunately, like most hardships, the plague will lift and you'll be up and writing in no time.  Until then, I've both come up with and have researched some coping methods to help you weather the storm:

Resuscitate your social life--If you're like me, when you're in the midst of your writing groove, you tend to forget about the all important aspect of human contact.  It's as though you and your manuscript are alone on a desert island with no one around for miles.  E-mails and phone calls go unanswered.  You find yourself becoming completely out of the loop with all the gossip around town--strangely, you could care less.  In fact, if it weren't for the fleeting glimpses of you sitting at your computer with one hand firmly on the keyboard and the other one clutching a hammer, your loved ones may just have assumed you ran away and joined the circus.  Being dedicated to your craft is a wonderfully admirable trait, but when you find yourself eating, drinking and sleeping it, your writing will become less organic and more mechanical in nature ultimately blocking your innate imagination.  Take time away from your manuscript.  Visit your friends, go out and have fun, it will do wonders for your writing.

Hit the books--Aside from being an essential part in the construction of most every novel, research may also open the doors to new ideas for your manuscript that you never thought possible. In my current trilogy, I dabble with the use of adrenaline in the creation of a bio engineered race of superheros.  During my research on the effects of adrenaline on the human body, I discovered a whole slew of health complications including pretty significant cardiovascular repercussions I was obviously (as I am no doctor) unaware of prior to my writing the series.  This new bit of information--aside from being incredibly necessary-aided in the creation and incorporation of certain elements within my novel that I wouldn't have conceived of before essentially preventing the construction of the proverbial brick wall.

Analyze nothing--One of my biggest hangups inevitably leading to my writing demise is my tendency to over analyze every little detail of my work. It's good to take pride in your work, to want to put your best foot forward, but when you're beating yourself up over a misplaced comma in your first draft, chances are your brain won't allow you to focus on much else aside from the technical aspects of your novel.  Save the analysis for your revisions and just write with the uninhibited spirit that drew you to the profession in the first place.

Prompt yourself to write--Get away from your manuscript altogether.  Writer's Digest (as well as other sources easily located by typing "writing prompts" in ye ole' Google) offers an assortment of writing prompts to readers. Such writing prompts allow you to think about other projects other than your own novel and the problems you may be encountering with your writing of it.  To be able to think outside the box or to write about a shipwreck when you've been toiling over an alien invasion allows your creative juices to unthaw whereby enabling them to flow again.

Just say "no" to writing--The most talented of athletes suffer from injury; the most celebrated of chefs burn the risotto and even the most prolific of writers suffer from writer's block at one time or another (Stephen King, Ralph Ellison, FS Fitzgerald, and  J.K. Rowling, just to name a few). To some, the condition is so crippling they literally cannot think let alone pen a coherent sentence.  If this sounds like you, it's time to take a step back, turn off the computer and leave your work space behind for less frustrating environments.  Take a walk, people watch at a local park, go to the beach, take a nap or, even better, indulge in some retail therapy.  Giving your brain a break is like taking a week's vacation away from the office (for those of us who can only moonlight as writers).  The harder you work and the more you push yourself past the writer's block breaking point, the increasingly more susceptible you'll be to burnout and a flat-lining productivity level.  Writing is suppose to be fulfilling with an added cup of fun.  If writer's block has left you questioning that sentiment, then it's time to take a step back, relax, and allow your brain a chance to recoup.

Write badly--What?  Isn't that counterproductive?  Won't the Gods of Writing strike me down?  Chill, Mary Sue, it's going to be okay.  As a writer, it's essential to remove yourself from the anal retentiveness of proper grammar, spelling, tenses, and punctuation and just allow anything and everything to flow from your fingertips.  Writers can be their own worst enemy and, sometimes, when we beat ourselves up over the impossibilities of perfection, we fail to realize that such perfection can only be achieved by making mistakes in the first place. Let your inner child run loose.  Write about that scheming unicorn plotting to take over the Land of Nod with a wave of its diamond-tipped horn. Misspell words on purpose, throw semicolons and em dashes in the most random of places thereby telling your inner school marm to go to hell.  You'll be amazed at just how liberating it is to make bad look good. 

*For actual published examples of this suggestion, please refer to anything written by one or more cast members of The Jersey Shore.

Channel your inner Poe--Poetry is an amazing outlet for venting frustrations. Through poetry, I find release that even writing novels can't always offer to me. Often, writer's block occurs during times of sheer stress with the frustrations in life that are completely unrelated to the act of writing itself.  Channeling those frustrations and stressors through haiku's, rhymes, verses and sonnets is a great way to grieve losses, mend mental fences, or verbally bitch slap those who've wronged you without resorting to homicide (I'm kidding of course...maybe). By jotting down all your mental suppressors through creative means, you're now relieving your mind of its troubles opening it back up to the business of productivity.

Drop and give me 20--They say exercise is one of the best ways to clear your head.   However, as the indentation on my couch in the perfect shape of my fanny would attest, I have absolutely no idea whether or not that's actually true.  Though, despite my lack of working anything other than my typing fingers out, I believe that, for an author, exercise is like changing the oil in your car:  it needs to be done on a regular and consistent basis and after a set amount miles if you're going to prevent your engine from blowing up.  After even the slightest walk/run around my neighborhood, I find that I somehow feel strangely rejuvenated.  My head is clear and my thoughts are curiously more organized as though each step recharged a hidden battery buried within my cranium. Exercise gives it's participant an energy high that makes them feel as though they're able to conquer the world and what better time is there to write than when you honestly believe you can move mountains?

Mix it up--The beauty about writing is that there really are no set guidelines to go by.  Outside of the practice of proper punctuation and grammar, there are no steps one has to follow to adequately tell a well-written and compelling story. Actually, I find that just the opposite occurs if such stringent  steps are imposed. Creativity doesn't follow an orderly course--at least for me it doesn't.  If such an orderly course is imposed upon it, that's when real writer's block kicks in and the fact that I even have ideas becomes moot.  

There are certain scenes (or chapters, whatever you want to call them) in my novels that, when I'm outlining them, I get excited, giddy even.  So I start writing in anticipation of reaching one of those aforementioned scenes knowing that, when I get to them, they are going to completely blow my readers away (or so I like to think).  However, even though I know where I'm heading, the prospect of making the trip doesn't excite me as much and the more I push myself, the less I find myself able to write.  This brings me to my final suggestion:  Write those scenes/chapters that compel you to write them first no matter if they're in the beginning, middle or even at the tale (pun intended) end of your novel.  Your excitement for them will show through and, well, isn't writing something you're excited about better than forcing yourself into a roadblock in order to deal with the formalities first?

As always, I want to hear your input.  How do you cope with the sucker punch of writer's block?


Katie Dodge said...

Hey, just saw you on twitter and thought I'd stop by. When I get writers block, the best thing that get's my creative juices going in watching movies. They don't even have to be anything like what I'm writing, just a really good movie. Great post! :)

Anonymous said...

What a timely blog! I think my stubbornness complicated with other stress factors has really made me an ineffective writer as of late. The more I pushed myself to bully through it the more I digress.

I think a weekend free of writing and re-introducing myself to the human race is exactly what the doctor order!

Great post!

Draven Ames said...

You give a lot of good pointers that we can all use. When times get tough, nothing is better to spark the mind than a hot shower, I find. Maybe it is just me. A hot shower always does the trick though, and I don't know why. Do you ever try that?

I like the post of not writing. Sometimes R&R and socializing are the only answer. Great post.

Carol Riggs said...

Argh, thanks for the reminder to exercise! I can't seem to get my nose away from my computer screen most days, and breaks are GOOD things for writing. Nice to meet you and your blog!! Have a great writing week. :)

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Katie--Thanks for stopping by! Movies are also a good way to help a brain that just won't cooperate. Occasionally, I even write while I'm watching them, but usually that turns out to be counterproductive.

Sophie--The more I push myself, the more I find myself unable to write anything. Taking a break from it definitely helps. Especially when it becomes more of a chore than enjoyable.

Draven--Thank you for stopping by and the follow! I've never tried the hot shower routine although that does make sense as they're usually relaxing. Thanks for the idea.

Carol--Thank you! Nice to meet you as well. The whole exercise thing is usually overlooked by me. Thre are days when I'd rather walk across hot coals than do a single push-up. However, I do have to admit it does clear my head when I actually do jump on the treadmill. :-)