In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: Writer’s Block and Coming Up with Ideas
* The Numbers
Quote of the Day
“You can not do this from critical voice. You must learn it by reading and typing in openings of top bestsellers (stage four writers) and pay attention to what they are doing. Then you just trust your creative voice to add what it has learned into your stories over time.” DWS on learning pacing
Note for any RSS readers: I added the above Quote of the Day after I initially posted today’s edition of the Journal.
Topic: Writer’s Block and Coming Up with Ideas
From a commenter on a recent post:
“I think it doesn’t help to say writer’s block doesn’t exist. That becomes very frustrating to someone who actually has trouble coming up with ideas. … I struggled with ideas so much that I stayed stuck on one novel for a long time because I didn’t have any other ideas….”
There’s a great deal more. You can read the comment in full at https://hestanbrough.com/the-journal-fact-or-fiction-indeed/#comments.
Here’s my response, shared here because I thought it would make a good topic:
I think we might be defining writer’s block differently. The clearest definition I’ve seen is “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.” (online, Merriam-Webster). It has nothing to do with coming up with ideas. That’s a whole other problem.
In this blog, which is intended to help writers, I can only pass along what I know. Perhaps it doesn’t help you in particular for me to say writer’s block doesn’t exist, but there’s no way to tell how many other people were helped by the same statement. In any case, I can’t imagine that anybody was harmed.
With that in mind, re writer’s block, years before I became a very prolific novelist, I used to tell people this: “If you believe writer’s block exists, then write about the writer’s block.” Yes, even in the midst of a story or novel. Chances are, the act of writing something will ease you back into the story line.
And that wasn’t original to me. SF novelist CJ Cherryh used to tell people if they thought they were experiencing writer’s block, they should stop writing in the middle of an action sentence or scene. (Her tongue in cheek example was to “Put the character in the shower. You’ll have to write him out of the shower and that will get you back into the story.” Then she grinned. “If I believed writer’s block exists, I’d have a very clean character.”
None of my literary or genre-fiction heroes or heroines have ever talked about writer’s block except in response to a question. Those responses ranged from “It doesn’t exist; next question” (my personal favorite) to more elaborate responses like CJ Cherryh’s above. Maybe they’re onto something.
For me, writer’s block does not exist, period, but that’s because I don’t allow my conscious mind to intrude on my writing. If I feel a little stuck, I cycle either through the writing (for flow) or the reverse outline (for the timeline) or both. That gets me back into the story and the flow and I am unable NOT to write. So I guess I have the reverse of writer’s block.
Re coming up with ideas, I’m pretty sure I’m safe in saying every writer has been there. Like every writer I know, I used to believe ideas were rare and special gems. But they aren’t. And the more importance people attach to them, the more difficult they are to come up with, and the more importance people attach to them. It is the very definition of a vicious circle.
Today, again, I literally can’t NOT have ideas. There are reasons for that, and the chief one is that I stopped “trying” to have them (conscious mind) and just let them come. The more tightly I focused on getting ideas, the more I lost sight of all the ideas flying past me.
Finally, if you “struggled with ideas so much that [you] stayed stuck on one novel for a long time because [you] didn’t have any other ideas,” that seems to me a different problem altogether.
When most people talk of a problem coming up with ideas, they mean for a new story or novel. If you mean you had trouble continuing with a current work “because [you] didn’t have any other ideas,” my (and I’m betting DWS’) only advice would be to let go of control and just write the next sentence. Let the characters tell the story that they, not you, are living.
Again, every writer I know has been there, and frankly, it’s Writer’s Hell. I personally overcame it by trusting DWS enough to actually try writing into the dark. But maybe trusting isn’t as easy as I make it out to be. Maybe it worked for me because I was so bull-headed and determined to make it work. Perhaps I’m very fortunate that I was able to do that, because for me, it worked.
So my advice, as always, is this:
1. Come up with a character with a problem in a setting. This is the idea stage.
2. Write the 300-1200 word opening. This is the beating writer’s block stage.
3. If it takes off (and it usually will) write the next sentence and the next until the characters lead you through to the end of the story or novel. If it doesn’t take off, send it to the trash and either write a new opening on the same idea or write an opening on another idea.
I know this sounds trite, but it isn’t, and I know it sounds repetitive, and you’re right, it is. But again, all I can tell other writers is what I know works. Had I not trusted DWS enough to actually try WITD I have zero doubt I would never have written a novel, and I would have written very few short stories, if any. Because why should I if it isn’t fun?
I’m also aware I’m not a very forgiving guy, of myself or anyone else. If I want badly enough or stringently enough to do something, I simply find a way to do it. If I can’t do something because of some physical limitation, I drop it and do something else. Today, in writing, I study those who have come before whom I admire to figure out how they got to be who they are, and then I try it.
Back when I couldn’t come up with ideas, frankly, it pissed me off. (Pardon the language, but no other word carries quite the same emphasis.) So I found a way to come up with ideas: I stopped thinking about them and trying to come up with them, and I was happily deluged.
When I decided (conscious mind) I wanted to be a novelist and realized trying to “think” my way through a novel idea-by-idea would be far too much like work, I was ready to say screw it. Then a perfect storm hit: I rediscovered DWS, from whom I learned Heinlein’s Rules and WITD, and I’ve never looked back.
As a direct result of that, today or tomorrow I’ll finish my 56th novel (all of which are selling well enough) and have written well over 200 short stories.
Again, I can only tell you (collectively) what works for me. Just as DWS could only tell me what works for him (and so many others). But only I could sit down and actually do the “work” of putting words on the screen.
In the beginning, it wasn’t easy for me to sit down at the keyboard and overcome the myths, but doing so has provided the biggest possible reward of my professional life. I wish the same for all of you.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Formatting Meets Craft” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/formatting-meets-craft/. I haven’t read this yet, but it sounds interesting.
See “Reader Friday: Are You Publishing Too Soon?” at https://killzoneblog.com/2021/02/reader-friday-are-you-publishing-too-soon.html.
See “The Therapeutic Value of Reading” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/the-therapeutic-value-of-reading/. See PG’s exhaustive take.
See “The Dark Triad: Psychopathy, Narcissism, and Machiavellianism” at https://leelofland.com/the-dark-triad-psychopathy-narcissism-and-machiavellianism/.
The Journal…………………………………… 1270 words
Writing of The Journey Home: Part 6 (novel)
Day 10… 3615 words. Total words to date…… 41146
Day 11… 3621 words. Total words to date…… 44767
Day 12… 4018 words. Total words to date…… 48785
Total fiction words for February……… 14411
Total fiction words for the year………… 111889
Total nonfiction words for February… 4610
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 29940
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 141828
Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 55
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 215
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31