Writer's Block, By Maria V. Snyder

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Writer's block can be the bane of a writer's existence. Some writers struggle with this problem often, while others think writer's block is just an excuse not to write. Over my 20+ year writing career, I've experience what I call "mini-blocks" where I get to a point in my current work-in-progress and can't write. It's usually due to not knowing what's going to happen next in my story (I don't plot my books - I pants them :) or when my characters decide to take over the story and I'm resisting them.

For example, in SPY GLASS, Devlen refused to go away. I planned for him to rot in jail and be forgotten, but no, he resisted all my efforts until I couldn't write anymore. I dislike love triangles and didn't want to have one in my books. Desperate to fix the problem, I sent my half-finished manuscript to my critique partner, asking for help. Her response, "What's wrong with the love triangle? It's working, just go with it." She reminded me that's why I write "seat-of-the-pants" style is to let the characters evolve naturally from what's going on in the plot (in other words, don't try to muscle my characters into doing what I want). I also have a number of other "tricks" to help me when I think I've hit a dead end. I've complied some advice below that might help you get through writer's block:

1. Take a walk. Exercise is good for the mind and body and I've found walking helps me let my mind "float." While walking, I'm not actively thinking about my story or my characters or a complex plot issue, but I'm taking in the scenery, waving to the neighbors, and letting my subconscious wrangle with the problem. Many times when I return, I'm ready to get back to work. Letting your mind "float" also works in the shower. As my husband likes to say, I've gotten "lost" in the shower many times. :)

2. Give yourself permission to write bad. When I started writing FIRE STUDY, book 3 of my Study Series, I couldn't finish the first chapter - I was stuck. I sent the pages to my critique partner for advice and she said, "Holy telling with no emotion! This should be gripping, but it reads more like the directions on a frozen dinner. We need emotion, excitement, heart pumping adrenaline." Ouch! But she was right. It was cold and emotionless because I was frozen in terror before writing that book. POISON STUDY had gotten fantastic reviews and I'd already written MAGIC STUDY so I needed to work on book 3, but I was so scared I was going to disappoint my readers that I was frozen in fear. Once I gave myself permission to relax and write terrible and not worry about my readers, then the words flowed much better. No one has to read your first draft (unless you show it to them!). You don't need to worry about spelling and proper punctuation and finding that perfect metaphor. You can fix them during your second draft and layer in the metaphors. Also you'll surprise yourself when you read what you've written - it's usually much better than you had thought!

3. Take a break from your story. Sometimes a walk or a shower just isn't long enough. Sometimes you need to take a few days or a week off from a project. A little distance helps when you return and you'll see why you were stuck at that particular point in the story.

4. Phone a friend. I've mention my critique partner a couple times - she's been a big help with my novels. When I'm stuck or having difficulties, I send her my pages. After she reads them, she calls me and we talk about the story and sometimes brainstorm ideas. Even if you don't have a critique partner, talking it out to a friend or family member helps. It's helpful to get instant feedback and bounce ideas off another person.

5. Skip ahead. You don't have to write your story in order from the beginning to the end. It doesn't matter how the book is written, as long as you finish it. If you're stuck at a certain scene or chapter, then skip ahead and return to that difficult scene later. I don't do research for my story until after I know what I need to research. So when I'm writing about a glass artist making a statue, I'll just put brackets like this: [Insert scene of Opal making a duck] and keep on writing. When I finish the book, then I'll go back and fill in those brackets. You can do the same with scenes that are hard to write or that are stopping you from writing. Something like: [Insert witty banter between protagonists here], because some days you're just not feeling the witty banter and it might be more of a fight scene kind of day. :)

6. Give yourself permission to take a hiatus. Life is full of stress--job, family, friends, school, finances, commitments--can all interrupt your writing time and drain your creative energy. It can be overwhelming and cause you to have writer's block. During those times, there is nothing wrong with taking a hiatus until your life settles down. No need to add stress by thinking, "I should be writing." For me, my motto is "Family first." When my kids are sick or my husband has surgery, then I don't stress about writing (even with deadlines). I focus on my family. The beauty about writing is you can do it anytime, anywhere, and at any age. You shouldn't feel guilty about not writing (unless you spent the entire day sitting on the couch watching Star Trek re-runs ;).

7. Set small goals. When you think about writing a novel, an entire 100,000 word novel, that can scare the adverbs out of you! But if you think about writing one page a day for a year - that sounds doable. Setting short goals is a good way to approach a writing project without being overwhelmed. My short goal is to write 1000 words a night from Sunday night to Thursday night (unless I'm under deadline, then it's seven nights a week). Most nights, writing 1000 words is easy and I frequently go over my word count goal. Some nights, it's a slog with each word an effort to get on the page. But I stay at my desk until I reach 1000 words. If I make my weekly word count of 5000 words, then I reward myself over the weekend with movies and wine. If I don't, then I have to write over the weekend. This gives me the incentive to reach my weekly goal and less stress because I have a plan that I know I can handle.

8. Write everyday. Even though this is great advice, I wish I could follow it! I like my weekends off :) However, I've noticed that when I start writing on Sunday night, getting those 1000 words is much harder than by Thursday night. Each night, the writing is easier and my word counts are longer. Here's an example when I was writing DAWN STUDY: Feb 1 - 1003, Feb 2 - 1120, Feb 3 - 1194, Feb 4 - 1288, Feb 5 - 1350. Writing is like an engine - once it's hot, then you're running at maximum efficiency!

I hope these help you with dealing with writer's block!
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