So, I try to have a coherent topic for these posts. I figure if I’m putting up content to try to encourage people to give me money over on my Patreon, I owe them good content. Today though, I’m cheating a bit, because it’s been a rough week, and honestly, I’ve had writer’s block from hell.
The thing is, I don’t really get writers block the same way most people do. I hear people talk about how their characters just won’t talk to them, or how they don’t know what happens next, now how they don’t have any ideas, and so on and so forth. When I get writer’s block, it’s generally none of those things. My writer’s block comes in the form of exhaustion. When I can’t write, I can’t sleep, and when I can’t sleep, I can’t write. It gets to be a vicious cycle, which is why I’ve only managed to turn out about 14K words this week instead of 20K or so on Transistor, plus whatever other things I happen to knock out during the week. But writer’s block is always a fun topic for writers to talk about, and also a fun way to piss off everybody around you, and hey, I’m sleep deprived enough to not care how bad an idea that is, so away we go.
I do want to start with a caveat though. If you are having difficulty writing because of depression, or some other form of mental illness, what I am about to say does not apply to you. It just doesn’t. Depression and other forms of mental illness are just that, illnesses. I wouldn’t expect someone who does manual labor to walk off something like multiple sclerosis, so I don’t expect someone who does mental labor to ‘walk off’ something like clinical depression.
That said, I think by and large, a lot of people who complain about writer’s block are people who have failed to learn their craft.
What do I mean by that you ask? Good question. I mean that there are a lot of people out there who are writing, and who are absolutely capable of producing wonderful stories, who don’t know how story structure works. They don’t understand concepts like narrative promise, foreshadowing, Chekov’s gun, characterization, character motivation and things like that.
Let me explain.
When I start writing, I generally have a pretty good idea of who my characters are, where they are, where I want them to end up, and the first two or three major plot beats. That’s it. Now, I don’t always work that way, but I have found that I generally have an easier time, and honestly I generally produce better work when I do. I am also about a million times less likely to run into the dreaded writers’ block. Why? Because I understand how story structure and craft work. I understand narrative promise, foreshadowing, and so on.
But how does all of that help with writers block you ask? Good question. It’s because if you know how all of those things work, if you get stuck, what you have already written will tell you where to go next. If you’re stuck, go back and reread what you have written, and ask yourself “What is the next logical step?”, “What would the character I’ve been writing for however many thousand words do in this situation?”, “What resolution to this situation is foreshadowed by what I’ve already written?”, “What have I promised the reader?”, “What gun did I show on the wall?”
I’ll give you an example. I wrote a story a couple of years back that I knew was going to end in disaster. It pretty much had to in order to set up the sequel. This thing is, I wasn’t really sure how the disaster was going to play out for the longest time, but as I got closer and closer to the end of the story, I went back and reread what I’d written up until that point, and something that stuck out to me was that I had made a point of the fact that the characters in the story always met by the bike rack after school. It was something that got mentioned a lot in the story, and in the end, the bike rack became my Chekov’s gun. The bike rack became a major player in the disaster at the end of the story.
What it really comes down to is that if you study stories, good stories, and you figure out how things are set up and then paid off, when you get blocked, you can go back and look at what you’ve written and then ask yourself “What have I set up, and if I were the reader, what payoff would I expect from what I have set up?” The story should answer the question for you.