I am over-the-moon excited to have Robin Benway on my blog today! You know how much she made me laugh in the hilariously fun Audrey, Wait! and made me a grinning fool on the elliptical at the gym with spy-alicious Also Known As recently. Today she is tackling writer’s block and it’s definitely a must read!
As a writer, I get asked a lot of questions, but a few pop up quite regularly:
Can you send me a copy of your book?
What do you do all day?
What’s your next book about?
No, seriously, what do you do all day?
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Ah, that last question. Writer’s block. So ubiquitous in my life and I’m not even sure how to spell it. (Is it writer’s block? Do I put the burden on all writers with “writers’ block”? Is there even an apostrophe? Frustrating on so many levels!)
Writer’s block is tricky because every writer is different. Some writers never deal with it. (HAHAHA SOB.) Others, like me, feel consistently mocked by that blank page and that teasing, blinking cursor. So here’s the plan I use to overcome my own personal writer’s block. Enter at your own risk.
1. Take a Hike
When all else fails, go outside. Take a walk. Stop trying to read everything single thing that was ever put on the internet. Get some fresh air already. Unplug your wireless internet and go offline for a few hours. (“But what if someone needs to get ahold of me?” you gasp. Don’t worry. If they need get ahold of you, they will. They’re doing amazing things with carrier pigeons these days.) Those adorable kitteh pictures will still be on Tumblr when you get back, trust me. After all, it’s hard to write about the world when you’re not part of it. If you can’t go outside, then open a window. (“But it’s winter!” you cry. Just open it for minute or two. You won’t freeze.) Breathe in some fresh air and clear your head. Meet a friend for coffee and don’t talk about writing.
Okay! So you unplugged for a few hours! You went for a walk and now you’re ready to sit down in front of your computer and open that document and…hmm. Okay, the words aren’t quite there yet, but they will be! You’re going to write a paragraph so beautiful and brilliant that Kirkus will weep butterflies and your parents will declare you Their Favorite Child Ever. Any…second…now. Yep. Okay, maybe not.
Plug the wireless internet back in, kids. It’s time for Phase 2.
2. Turn It Up
Sometimes after I take my head-clearing, fresh air-breathing walk, I realize that, well, that didn’t work. I’m still stuck. The words are being DIFFICULT. In fact, I’m starting to think that the words might actually hate me. And worse, I’m starting to hate the words right back.
Time to watch TV. More specifically, time to watch some music documentaries. There’s something so inspiring about watching other people word hard at being creative! It reminds me that writing is a constant process, that some days are cruel and some are perfect, and even the most artistic people struggle with their jobs sometimes.
I mean, Jack White talking about technology and creativity? Yes, please!
Katy Perry singing, dancing, and doing 82945207 costume changes in the time that it takes me to decide whether or not I should open my eyes in the morning? Sure!
Sigur Rós performing in the middle of Iceland without any electricity while still sounding amazing? Twist my arm!
Wasn’t that invigorating? I feel so ready to sit down and write 20 pages! Let’s do it! Right now! Get to work!
Oh. Oh, dear. It’s happened again.
3. Feel the Fear
By the time I get to Phase 3, I’m out of ideas. I’ve walked, I’ve talked, I’ve watched television, and I’m forced to realize what the problem is: it’s fear.
Sure, I can blame the words, but the truth is that they’ve always been there. I know what I want to say, what I want my characters to do, and even if I’m not quite sure how to make that happen, I know which direction to go. I can always backspace, after all. I’m not committing to anything permanent, at least not yet. Such is the beauty of a first draft!
No, the problem is the fear of putting the words down onto the page. What will my friends and family think of them? What if my editor reads them and thinks they’re terrible and decides to cancel my contract? What if everyone on Goodreads reads my book and gives it one star? What if that one blogger hates it and uses a lot of gifs in their review to make his/her point? By the time my fingers hit the keyboard, I’ve psyched myself out so badly that it’s no surprise I can’t type any words. The brick wall I’ve built is so high that my hands can’t even reach the keyboard.
So to quote that famous saying, feel the fear and do it anyway. I do whatever I have to do to turn off all the voices except my characters’: I’ll use noise-canceling headphones without listening to music (surprisingly effective); I’ll read my WIP out loud; I’ll even make up a scene that’s just two characters talking, no plot allowed, just enough to remind me what they sound like.
The first hundred words are always the hardest, but then they just start to come naturally, and pretty soon, the only voices I’m hearing are the only ones that matter. It might take a few tries at first, but I tell myself that the words that land on the page are the ones that are meant to be there. I can move them around later, maybe even delete a few of them. (Sorry, words! It’s not you, it’s me!) It’s okay if they were a little late in arriving.
They’re there now.
How do YOU tackle writer’s block?? Is there anything Robin said that resonated with you? I know that, for me, getting OUT and walking does really help me. If it’s a blogging slump you are in, I wrote a post talking about ways to help get yourself out of that! ALSO, hell yeah Sigur Ros — I talked down the aisle to them! 🙂