Writer's Block or a Creative Opportunity?
Writer's Block is an Opportunity
Writers hit walls and must face blocks.
But is it really a challenge?
What keeps a writer from falling into a hole and staying there? That is fully dependent on the writer. Some writers prefer long showers. A writer I knew lit candles as a ritual to start the writing process. When I hit a block, I go for a walk.
I am not a writer who refers back to the previous pages to try and get into the voice of the characters and the progress of the plot.
When I try to do this, I spend more time editing what I've seen rather than progressing in the story.
I will always refer to Jodi Picoult, author of novels like My Sister's Keeper, Wish You Were Here, and The Storyteller: "You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page."
While this, as well as a walk, would help me get out of a funk because it takes away any pressure for perfection, when I can't think of where the story should go next or why, I don't turn to a blank page and instead turn to a question.
What can I do to discover where the characters are going, why the characters are talking, or how they would react in a situation? Often, the question may have nothing to do with the previous pages of the story. I may be writing historical fiction and think, how would having a smartphone change this character's decision-making in this moment?
How could that be applicable to the greater story?
Instead of using an actual smartphone during a revision, I can realize that the moment isn't about the phone but about the character having access to information. How does having access to certain information in this moment change their decision-making? Would it? Could it? Would they choose to go left instead of right, would they stay and confront their shadow instead of flee? Or perhaps they would continue on the same path understanding there is no clear win for them at this moment.
Giving myself a question or finding a prompt when I am stuck breaks through a block because it forces me to look outside of the box I have created for myself. This can be as simple as moving a scene from inside a house to outside in a park. How do the characters act now that people are around them or how do the singing birds add to the situation, does it create a more romantic ambiance or does the beauty of the birdsong juxtapose the vile argument of the couple?
Consider the purpose and function of your writing elements, especially when facing a block.
What is the purpose of the protagonist, both in a specific scene and in the greater story?
What is the purpose of this setting in this scene?
What is the intention of the dialogue in this space?
How are these elements moving the plot forward with a deeper purpose than just getting from point A to point B?
Once you consider these questions, look at where you can leap outside of your comfort level, even if just for a writing discovery. Where can you write about your protagonist in a Romance and place them in a science fiction dystopian planet? Where can you take a hard-boiled detective and put them on a date with their high school sweetheart? It most likely will not make it into the story but you will find elements of the discovery that inform your current project.
Intention Creates Understanding
Because you reveal more about your character and the elements you are using-the intentions with which you are using them.
Creative Experiments Lead to Creative Insights
For a new exercise, try writing a Rashomon, a term based on Kurosawa's film model of the same name.
Instead of focusing on your protagonist in a scene, tell the story of a single moment from multiple, even conflicting points of view. Let the tension rise out of the conflicting ideas or perspectives, each one noticing something different but also revealing the inherent biases inside an individual. If your protagonist is alone in a room, perhaps someone sees them through a window, another person passes by the door in the hall, their computer camera catches them walk past.
Give yourself between 250-500 words. It doesn't need to be long; it just needs to get done.
Your writing, no matter how precious it may feel, is a laboratory eager for experimentation. This is the easiest way to avoid blocks.
How Did It Go?
Leave a comment, email me, or post your exercise below to show how you started and where it took you.