Friday, August 27, 2010

Writer's Block

It's been a couple of days since I've added to my book. Some of it's school: this was my first week back, and I spent five hours on homework yesterday, without even finishing what needs doing.

Some of it's this blog: I'm really enjoying writing these little posts, but there are only so many hours in the day - an hour here is an hour not spent there.

The last factor, though? Writer's block. Just a wee little bit.

I'm going to handle it shortly, but before I do, I thought this would be an appropriate moment to share my thoughts about the subject with all of you. For example, what to do when you realize you've bumped into it.

*clears throat, prepares index cards*

Writer's block is something probably everyone has felt at some point, if only while doing a creative writing assignment for school. I'm pretty sure it's happened to all of you. It happens to me periodically. More often than most, I'd imagine, since I'm writing every day now. It's frustrating. It puts people off writing entirely, sometimes.

Here's the thing:

The natural state of the human mind is to imagine things. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: people imagine things all the time. Indeed, this is what makes us special: humans can conceive of things that do not, in fact, exist. We can think past what is, to what we'd like to see.

Imagination is why we've gone from mud huts to space shuttles over a scant few thousand years, while the rest of the animal kingdom mostly just reacts to us.

Writer's block is the aberration. That's why it feels unpleasant: that's not how things are supposed to work.

Fortunately, the root of it is simple, at least for me. I've likened writing to Solitaire before. Well, when you're playing Solitaire, it is possible to select your cards in such a way that you cannot proceed. You have cards left, but you can't clear them: there are no valid moves left.

In my experience, writer's block is like that. It's the culmination of a series of missteps during earlier parts of the story that prevent me from accomplishing whatever I need to do in the scene I'm working on right now. Sometimes, the problem is huge: I have, on two separate occasions, scrapped 50000+ word drafts because I just couldn't fix them, and started the entire book over.

Most of the time, though, things are simpler than that. I just look back at what I'm working on and figure out where I went wrong. I isolate whatever earlier elements have now proven incorrect, carefully remove or adjust them, then get on with my work. That's all I'm going to have to do once I'm done here: I can feel that the problem is smallish. My week's just been tiring.

If it ever happens to you, try to think about it that way: consider where you want your story to go, and think about why it can't. Then, adjust the work you've done accordingly. Not everything you put down is going to be right the first time. That's natural.

As a further bit of trivia: this is why sequels take longer and tend to be harder than original works. Every sequel has a little more baggage than any book that came before it: more details to keep track of, more little discrepancies, more potential plot holes to navigate around.

Both times I've started a series, the whole thing has slowed down for me immensely at the third volume. Indeed, book 3 of my first series is where I threw up my hands and started writing the current one - that volume remains unfinished. Just something to think about, when you're waiting for the next book by your favorite author, wondering when they'll get off their behind and actually get it done.

Anyway, I'm going to go fix my problem here so that I can enjoy my weekend. Hope you all have a good one, too.


  1. This is more or less the problem GRRM's been on. He hasn't said what the actual character issues are (to avoid spoilers), but refers to it as the "Meerenese knot" (which hints strongly at what characters are involved, anyhow).

    Granted, I think he was saying he finally has it more or less untangled, but given that a published writer -can't- scrap previous work and rework canon (without consequences, unless you're a comic book writer, apparently), they do have some distinct limitations to work within on that score.

  2. Well, if you've done your job right - and I'll talk about what I think that entails, at some point - reaching into a whole earlier book shouldn't be necessary to fix this stuff. Like, I've never actually adjusted an earlier book to fix a later one, even though mine are in a drawer.

    (It's not a principle or anything - it's just that it's too complicated.)

    About comic books - I think there's something else going on there. I mean, it's true that hacks make these sorts of mistakes because they don't care about what they're doing, and plenty of hacks have found their way into that industry.

    The other thing, though... they're continuously trying to appeal to a new set of readers, which is why a lot of their characters are on cosmic treadmills instead of narrative arcs. It's sort of expected that they'll periodically reboot to catch a fresh generation of kids.