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How does one counter writers block?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by NinjaCat, Nov 19, 2020.

  1. NinjaCat

    NinjaCat New Member

    I’m at a loss, I’m at my wits end. I have so many ideas and inspirations but when I put pen to paper all of it goes flying out the window. And when I do create anything I throw it out 5 minutes later!

    Am I doing something wrong, what can I do to remove this writers block? What do you guys do to stay inspired when the inevitable happens?
    ShadeZ and Joieandlove like this.
  2. I got a bit of that today at least. spent some hours just trying to write one sentence and not liking it.

    what are your thoughts on drinking? have a few glasses of wine and you may find you write a whole bunch... it may not be good but it won't be blocked...
  3. NinjaCat

    NinjaCat New Member

    I can certainly try that, thanks.[/QUOTE]
  4. write drunk, edit sober, die young. just don't use it too often..
  5. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    rule of thumb:

    first draft of anything is crap. Just words.

    The trick is to keep writing regardless of what you think about the prior words.

    There are stages to what you are going through.

    The first hurdle is the first page. Finding the correct words to fill that blank void can be intimidating.

    The second hurdle is starting the second chapter. So much to write about. So very, very much...the temptation to do something else is strong.

    Third barrier sets in at about 10,000 words or the fourth chapter. By this point the key characters and setting elements are in place, but they don't quite fit your vision. And multiple issues lay ahead.

    After that, it's the 'Muddy Middle' - call it about 30,000 words in. You (the author) feel as though you are mired in a vast swamp of plot holes and lifeless caricatures instead of characters. Key issues seem unsolvable.

    Then, we have what I term 'just a few chapters to go.' The 'end' is *almost* in sight. It's just a few chapters away - and for the longest while, it seems to stay just a few chapters away no matter how much typing you do.

    And then, once you reach the end? Well, if you're smart, you'll set it aside for a couple months. Forget about it. Write something else. Do something else. Then, when you can barely remember it, you sit down and read the whole dang thing. Yes, a lot of it will seem like utter garbage. But quite a bit will hold your attention. Then....then you sit down and rewrite the whole dang thing, going through variations of each of the steps above.

    The secret to all this?

    1 - Butt in chair.

    2 - Grunt (optional)

    3 - Write. Every day. At least a little. Even if you *KNOW* it's garbage, write anyhow.
    Penpilot likes this.
  6. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    You need to figure out what exactly the block is. I've been writing for well over a decade now, and for most of it my "writer's block" was because of untreated/unmanaged depression or ADHD. Writing a 1k word story felt like an accomplishment and took me a week. Once those were under control, what was blocking me was my "inner critic." I would think of a sentence to write but then immediately think "no, that's not good enough, it'll suck." Drinking helped a lot with that, since it makes you go #YOLO and just write it anwyays. I was writing a lot of fanfiction at that point, and seeing people's reactions really drove me to keep writing. Until that point I was writing, essentially, for myself. It's very depressing to write something and no one reads it, but that's not the case with fanfics.

    So over the course of about a year I wrote 2 novellas and about a dozen short stories. I came up with tons, and I mean tons of ideas, but I also practiced a lot of things and got more comfortable with my skills. I finally tried taking another crack at writing my trunk novel. I changed some things about it to make it new and interesting (which is very important for ADHD). I also set up a pretty detailed outline, because in writing fanfics I realized that if I didn't know what was coming next, I would be paralyzed by choice and nothing would happen. So over the course of about 6 months I wrote 190k words of original content. Some days I would write 5k+ words, others I'd write maybe 2. But I made myself work on it in some way every day. I knew that if I got distracted by something else I might lose steam and the project would go unfinished. There were times when a chapter would be going very slowly, if at all, because I wrote myself into a corner or it just plain sucked. So I threw it out and started over and tried something else.

    Inspiration isn't a problem for me, I come up with tons of ideas, but there are prompts you can do. Learn to look at things you encounter and think about how they could make interesting stories. Start a tumbler or a Pinterest where you collect images, music, videos or even quotes that you feel have a seed of a story within them.
  7. It depends a bit on what your "normal" process looks like. Can you tell us a bit about that?

    First off, stay away from alcohol. A drink every now and then is fine of course. But it's not needed to get inspiration or start writing and using it as a crutch to get writing can lead to all sorts of issues.

    A few things to try:
    - set up a routine. For me, I often listen to an episode of Writing Excuses. They're fairly short (under 20 minutes), they contain good advise and they get me in a writing mood.
    - write a detailed scene plan. Like ChasejxyzChasejxyz I have trouble writing if I don't know what I'm going to write. A two line outline already helps. But it's very beneficial for me to take 5 minutes before I write a scene to plan out the scene in detail. Not just "there was a fight", but how did it start, who was involved. I go from a 2 sentence scene description to 2 paragraphs or so for a scene.
    - shut off your inner critic. This is the hard one. Don't worry too much about the exact wording. You can fix that while editing. The only thing you can't edit is a blank page.
    - just write. Last night, I sat down to write and didn't feel like it. It was a slog, the first 400 words took forever to get on to the page. Each sentence was difficult (in part, because I didn't have the scene clearly in my head). And then, all of a sudden I hit a point where it just started flowing. And the next 700 words were easy. And the funny thing probably is that if I read it back, I can't tell which part is which. There's little difference in quality (take that, inner critic!) and there will be none after one or two editing passes.

    A few things to consider:
    - it's work. It's fun, and I do it of my own free will. But it's work. There are days when I don't feel like it, or when I wonder why I even bother and there are many more writers out there who are better than me. You have to put that aside. If you want to write you need to put your butt in a chair and your hands on the keyboard. And researching or outlining or worldbuilding does not count as writing.
    - every writer is different. There are as many ways to write as there are writers. So try different things and pieces of advice. Keep what works for you and discard what doesn't
    - "The muse" is overrated. Don't wait for inspiration to strike to write the perfect sentence. That sentence comes from first putting a crap sentence on the page and then improving it. The only time inspiration strikes for me is when I'm off doing something else and my subconcious fixes a problem for me.
    - in regards to editing, I actually do my first editing pass right after I finished a book. It's all still fresh in my mind and I know of a few things that need fixing. I do those and only then put it down to let it rest.
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    For the most part, I'm in the same mindset as ThinkerX on this.

    A lot of times the writer is their own worst enemy. Over thinking. Over criticizing. Over everything, except the one thing they should be over doing, and that's writing. For me, I actually don't like calling it writer's block, because there's sort of a implication that it comes out of nowhere, and it's not under the writer's control.

    I prefer to call it being stuck on a story problem. That implies that it's a problem with an answer and completely under my control.

    I ran around in circles with my writing for a very long time. What broke me out of it was I simply decided one day that I was going to finish the novel I had kicking around for like 15 years. I threw caution to the wind and just started writing. I stopped worrying about it being terrible. I just simply accepted that it probably was going to suck big time. Now, I hoped it would turn out better than thought it would, but it didn't really, at least not as a whole. It was 275k of crap.

    But, I learned a lot about what it took to finish a novel, and I proved to myself that I could do it. Also as I was writing, I read many books on writing and story structure. I took all those lessons and put them into writing my next novel. Rinse, repeat, and I'm heading into my 5th novel now.

    Writing is like any other skill. You have to learn how to do it and develop your skills. Just because you can put words to the page, doesn't mean you know how to write a story. If someone said they wanted to be a professional baseball player but never even played a game of baseball, what do you think their journey would be like? They'd have to start from the beginning and learn the basics. They have to spend time being a terrible baseball player, and they have to practice and keep practising in order to even have a chance at improving.

    The simple answer to writer's block is to simply write.

    For me, the more I wrote, the more I learned, the more mistakes I made, I realized that the most important thing about writing and being able to create and get through a story isn't about having answers or ideas necessarily. It's about knowing what questions to ask and when.

    The core of a story is person who wants something and how they go about getting it. That's the basic framework. Once you have the answers to what your main character(s) want and how they plan to go about getting it, that becomes the driving force that keeps the story and the writer moving forward. When you don't know what questions to ask, you don't know what function your ideas/answers serve, and you don't know what to do with them.

    For example. Luke Skywalker want's to be a pilot/jedi like his father. He also wants to rescue the princess and longs for adventure. Now, if you remove those desires, what happens to the story? Luke doesn't do anything. He remains a moisture farmer and stays on the farm doing nothing of note storewise, but he inhabits a world with Jedi and space battles and an evil empire and robots, all of which are cool, but he doesn't interact with any of them in a meaningful way, so they don't affect him in any way.

    So yeah, try learning about writing, practising writing, and simply just write. Allow yourself to be terrible and learn your lessons.

    I don't know if this will be helpful to you or not, but good luck.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
  9. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    As someone with severe dyslexia, writers block is the least of my problems. What I get down on the page on the first pass is usually unreadable, simply because the spelling and grammar are so terrible. Editing is a real issue. So if you've got ideas and you can get readable words down on the page you've got the most important stage done, no matter what your internal critic thinks. See the positive side of things!

    I find that I need to be in the right mood (or frame of mind, if you like) to get started with my writing. Listening to music or going for a walk in the forest are usually enough to get me in the mood. After that it's just (?) a question of starting to write. I try to set aside certain fixed times for writing, and I do sit at a desk to do it, because I find a fixed routine helps my wriitng discipline.

    I find inspiration comes in many forms, so I keep a separate random text file with all those text bits I write when I feel inspired. Usually these end up somewhere in whatever novel or short story I'm writing, but sometimes they lie there maturing for a while. Don't feel you have to concentrate on whatever writing project you have going at the moment, write whatever you're inspired to write about and then see where it fits later. Writing something, anything, is the most important thing.

    Some writers plan their stories like Ike planned the Normandy landings. I don't, because I can't. For me, that sort of planning wrecks my inspiration. Instead I start writing something based on an idea or some inspiration and see where it takes me. What I'm working on at the moment has taken some very unexpected twists. With that said, I do always have an idea of where I want the story to end up, which means that whatever I write and put into the story needs to go in that general direction. (This is why I have a random text file, so that whatever doesn't fit also doesn't get lost.)

    A glass of wine is very pleasant when writing late in the evenings, but I don't think you should use it as a crutch. If you find you need alcohol to do something then you've got another much bigger problem which you need to deal with.
  10. ladyander

    ladyander Scribe

    I think probably a better approach is figuring out why you have all these ideas and stop writing when you work on them. Because what people call "writer's block" can be many things so there is no real answer. We can all just throw darts at it and we may hit something. Writer's block for me isn't really a thing.

    I learned if I can't write, there are reasons why I can't write. Learning what those reasons are helped me out greatly. Also, sometimes those reasons have nothing to do with writing at all. Sometimes it's just me being silly and I just need to write instead of procrastinate.

    I can tell you that you're better off not relying on substances to help you write. You can easily get to the point where you rely on the substance and not the skill and discipline you built.

    Also, I don't rely on inspiration. Highly overrated to be honest.

    Inspiration is great for starting a fire, however, it doesn't maintain it. You need to feed it and feeding it, doesn't mean, immediately write it down and start working on a story from it. No, you need to give time for that idea to flesh itself out and simmer. To refine it. To start planning on what you want to do.

    The idea of writer on the seat of your pants is nice, but some writers need structure. You might be one who needs actual structure. That doesn't mean you need to outline down to the scene, but you need some direction. There is a balance and each writer has their own process. You learn how much information you need to know beforehand so you can start a story. And I can tell you that this isn't a set parameter. Some stories require more time invested beforehand.
  11. Sometimes I find it's a need to remind myself to simplify. When I get bogged down, it's usually because I'm trying to keep all of my ideas for a character/story in my head at once and I don't want to forget anything as I write forward and I end up forcing the issue.

    This can easily become a drag on my progress.

    I'll share something that was suggested to me a few years back and I find it works every time for me.

    I was asked to try diving into the first few chapters of a middle grade fiction. You can do this by browsing a middle grade book on kindle or amazon with a preview. The one thing most middle grade books have in common, due to their intended audience, is they're consistently simple in structure, prose and presentation. So, I'm immediately reminded how THAT is the only goal I require for early drafts no matter the genre I'm writing in: Keep it simple, uncomplicated and follow a goal/action, obstacle, resolution, pattern scene after scene. I don't want to bog early drafts down with trying to write the best chapter in the world and struggle to fit every little detail, twist or world building fact in.

    I reduce it to the bare necessities.

    So an example would be:

    MC, who lives on a small island in an archipelago, sees a bonfire burning on a neighboring island, supposedly uninhabited, where she's never seen a fire burning before.
    MC wants to investigate but isn't capable of piloting a skiff on her own.
    MC confronts a secondary character who is resistant to helping and who seems remarkably uninterested in the odd, distant fire and puts her off.
    MC challenges the SC over what she perceives as fear and the SC shuts down and stalks off.
    The scene/chapter ends with the secondary character returning to the beach and agreeing to take the MC across.

    That's all I need, All the fancy descriptions/prose, backstory, plot twists, language, village/island names, the way the tides turn, realities of skiff travel or how far away one can see a bonfire at night can all come later in the inevitable multitude of edits and revisions when you're rounding the story into its final shape. For me, when I am stuck, the important thing is to free myself to getting back to creating simple scenes and moving forward. I write that scene, as outlined, regardless of what else I might want to fit within it. Just getting words on the page and moving forward. :)

    Good luck!
  12. I agree with all of the above. even the contradictory as every one has their own road.

    one thing that worked for me... long ago when I wrote my first book (no idea where that is now btw... as they say, first books should never see the light of day and this one never will) ... was I was totally alone with no internet/tv/books(at least that I had not already read).. and no other people about for about 3 weeks. Did not even have a computer so wrote the whole book on some old legal pads I found with a pencil.

    sometimes "block" is just distraction. If you got nothing else to do... sometimes you can just start putting pencil to paper.

    its a hard situation to get to - but you can simulate it by simply setting a time where you shut everything off in your house. heck go throw a breaker. sit in the stillness with a pad and just start drawing.

    This is one of the ways I teach design to my students. 30 second sketches. Draw a picture of anything.. in 30 seconds. keep doing it. then do 2 minutes, 5 minutes ... etc.
  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    It depends, but if you're on the first page of your first writing project, it's going to be rough. Like, rewrite the first page twenty times rough. Just force yourself to do it, scrap it, and do it again. Iteration is part of the creative process, and nothing really counts before your find your voice, so take a little time to start searching for it. This is where you figure out some basics things about what you do and don't want to sound like in your writing. At this stage you're probably not good enough to really nail it down, just try and get a basic feel for what sounds right and wrong for you. At this point it's honestly a force of will kind of thing, push through the garbage and try again until it starts to sound, maybe not good yet, but workable.

    If that's not where you are, see other answers.
    Ned Marcus likes this.
  14. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Inkling

    You didn't give enough information. There are different reasons for blocks, and so many different ways out of them.

    Are you a new writer?

    Have you written several books and become stuck?

    If you're the early stages of writing, then I'd recommend just continuing however bad you think the writing is (although I agree with Devor's approach too). Just push on. Finish your novel, if that's what you're writing. Or short story. The reason I say this is that many problems will resolve themselves by just continuing. Perhaps the beginning of the story won't make sense at the end, but that's okay. It's practice. Perhaps a new beginning will emerge.

    Reading on story craft might help, too.
    skip.knox likes this.
  15. Hir i-Chorvath

    Hir i-Chorvath Auror

    If you want to throw it all out when you write it maybe try using a word counter of some kind. I think the NaNoWriMo website lets you do projects that aren't necessarily the NaNo but you might want to double-check that with someone else.
    When I can't think of anything I usually just end up arguing with one of my characters until I can think of something. Most of the time it ends up being Rathalas even if it's not his book, he's annoying like that.
    ShadeZ likes this.
  16. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Maester

    I view writer's block as not knowing where your story is going. Having no idea what you want to happen past what you have already written. This is a result of not having a plan for the story. Perhaps the story is something that came as a flash idea or dream and you ran with it. However, since no extra thought was put into the planning you don't know where to go next.

    If you know where you want the characters to be at a few key points and at the end of the story both mentally and physically, the likelihood of writer's block is lessened. I have an outline of the plot for each of my stories. Once I start the story, anytime I'm stuck I skip ahead to a point where I know what I want to write. While I’m doing this, my mind will subconsciously figure out the part I skipped.

    Another option is to ask someone what they think would happen next in your story. Always be ready for ideas. Have a pen and paper, phone or other recording device around at all times. If an idea comes record it immediately. Then write, even if the ideas seem horrible.

    “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” – Margaret Atwood
    Penpilot likes this.
  17. Joieandlove

    Joieandlove Acolyte

    I also have the writers' block badly, I was slowly getting out of it due to my writing groups in RL. Just sadly with COVO, they had to go all on hold. Right now I'm just trying to do anything creative to see if I can get my wits back up. Also rereading some of my old favorite books is also helping me work on a few ideas and I just plan a "free" write on a story I may or may not put up. Music and just daydreaming has also been a thing I do and helps to break down those walls a bit more.
  18. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

    I go to my original sources and almost idk emerse myself in the universe as well I can. For example I have a character named Zeke who I couldn't figure out, his race are carnivorous so I went on carnivore diet and researched ancient recipes and merged it with modern carnivore diet just to get random little details about the character. Zeke likes the taste of red meat a lot for example. Or I would make and sit by a campfire, or walk around in the cold in very specific attire (fur coat) the get an idea of how the feel of a fur cloak would be in winter or something alike to it. If it's a scene I will hang around outside or somewhere simalar to the scene so I get an idea how it is to the senses. Ultimately, this leads to inspiration in my experience. Music helps too.
    Hir i-Chorvath likes this.
  19. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

    Haha I get this. I have several particularly "argumentative" characters. Though I also try having conversations with them.

    Sample dialogues

    "So why exactly did Zeke kill that dragon?"
    "Ugh this again? She was going to kill that little human that I like so much."
    "So what about it? Humans die pretty easy. You've been around a few centuries you know that by now."
    "That doesn't mean I won't protect the ones that I love. Besides you're starting to sound like my sister."
    "But you kill hundreds of humans a decade."
    "Yeah but their raiders, slavers, and cultists. I was made demiduur to kill them."
    "Kill o e human but protect another it makes no sense. Besides you love dragons, you like them more than humans. Since you raised Sierra."
    "You're confusing love with I don't hate them anymore. If they go after that which is mine I will still end them."
    "Ah so it IS about your past life?"
    "Eh who knows maybe. But why do you care? I already killed her and you're happy with that scene you are just trying to figure out what I tell Coleson. Cause you know he saw the dragon crash and it's obvious you did it I mean you are a dragon slayer after all."
    "He saw that?!"
    "Damn it! That kid is going to see more of my personality than I'd like!"
    "Oh please, he already knows demiduur are a condescending highly predatory race. He doesn't expect humanity from you. The real issue is his childhood best friend was a young dragon. He is too close to the problem, he will be fearful of you no matter what you say. He saw you kill not only humans but dragons. For all he knows you killed it just for being a dragon on your hunting grounds."
    "Well it wont matter what I say. He is in Viigaris and needs my protection so the other demiduur won't kill him."
    "You want him to stay because the other will kill him if he denies the claim???"
    "No. But I do not have to explain myself to a mortal."
    "You do if you want to learn about him at all. Plus you like him."
    "Fine! I'll explain that the dragon was trying to kill him and that I offered it an alternative."
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2020
    Hir i-Chorvath likes this.
  20. Hir i-Chorvath

    Hir i-Chorvath Auror

    Haha, sounds like you have fun.
    My discussions with Rathalas usually end up being something like this:

    "Hey! I didn't do that! Fix that!"
    "What do you mean you didn't do it? You just did."
    "No, I did not. It's against the law to stab someone for no reason like that."
    "You stab people all the time for no reason."
    "Legally! I stab people legally."
    "Oh please."
    "No, fix it."
    "Fine, but if you didn't stab the man because he tried to kill you then what did you do?"
    "Really? You can't figure it out? If I didn't stab him then there is no other possible option? Nothing else I would do that you can think of?"
    "Thanks for the sarcasm, and what about the time when you killed the man for trying to steal from the street vendor?"
    "That was illegal and the laws in that area were harsher than they are here. Also, it's not illegal to kill elves anywhere. So, no, I can't kill him for trying to kill me."
    "And pirates?"
    "Are pirates, they break all sorts of laws and murder. They already forfeited their rights to live and-"
    "Fine, I get it. Bad example. What about self-defense?"
    "I can defend myself without killing people!"
    "Then what did you do?"
    "I- No. Stop it. If you can't figure it out then you don't deserve to know."
    "Then I'll just leave it the way it is."
    "Hey! But-but that's wrong! I didn't do that!"
    "I can't change it until you tell me."
    "Ugh. Fine..."
    "...I knocked him out."
    "You're ridiculous."
    "Am not."

    The conversation continued but went absolutely nowhere.
    ShadeZ likes this.

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