Jenny vs. Writer's Block

Goodness gracious, the late Cretaceous. Writer's block. It haunts us all, lurking round the corner, behind the coffee maker, under the sofa, behind our computer monitors, at the damp bottom of our empty coffee and tea mugs. Writer's block. The very name of it strikes dread in my heart, and I begin the descent through the various stages of grief.

Denial: I'm only briefly stuck. This can't be happening. This isn't really writer's block. It will pass if I can just finish this one sentence.

Anger: Augh, why can't I think of something to write? I was doing brilliantly before! I was a shooting star! I was awesome! I was so on a roll! And now I can't think of a simple way to end this sentence!

Bargaining: Look, look, character... with me here, okay? You and I, we've got a beautiful friendship in the making. All I need is to finish this sentence. That's all I'm asking. Just the sentence. Maybe if you're feeling up to it, we can even finish the chapter. But, for now, just the sentence.

Depression: You know what? Fine. I don't care. It's a dumb sentence anyway. This whole chapter is dumb. In fact, the book might be all dumbness. I don't know why I even started this chapter in the first place. I'm a horrible writer.

Acceptance: Yep. This is writer's block.

Yep. This is writer's block. I don't think that there is anything you can do to prevent writer's block any more than you can prevent death and taxes. You simply can't keep the creative faucet running full blast all the time. If you could, you might go mad. I don't know about you, but I have felt creatively exhausted: whatever part of me it is that vibrates to the nearly constant thrum of creativity roiling in my mind is just worn out. Sometimes writer's block comes in the mere mundane coarse of things: you want to go on, you're willing to go on, you're waiting to go on, but nothing if flowing. On other occasions, the sheer activity of imagination is just so overwhelming that you can't go on. You need a break.

What do you do when you need a break? If you're anything like myself (and I do apologize in advance if you are) it's almost impossible to stop the hum-thrum in your mind. Everything around you, your very existence, plays on your imagination like a bard on harp-strings. It just won't stop. So here, before I get to the mundane writer's block, I will set down a few hopefully helpful things to do when your creativity is completely fagged.

1. The God of peace.

In the midst of all the crazy whirling-dervishness of my imagination, I have an unwavering true north to orient myself to. Though the depth of him is incomprehensible, the straightness, the steadfastness, the constancy of my God is something I can fix my mind on, dwell on, dwell within, move within, and find all peace within. All my ideas, all my dreams, all my bright firework-flashes of imagination dim in comparison to the steady light of Christ. When I'm just worn out, when my own mind has beaten me to a greasy patch on the ground, there is a steadiness in Christ to rest myself on, an arbor on the long road to Heaven under which I can take my rest.

2. Music.

Everybody knows that David played to soothe Saul's restless spirit. Find a David, find something soothing to listen to. I know oodles and bunches of you like putting together music lists to help you write. Try doing the same thing, but for the opposite reason. Find some music that cradles your poor battered psyche like fuzzy socks cradling cold toes.

3. Sun bathe.

Again, if you are like me, the sun has a way of dazing and quietening you. Find a warm patch out in the fresh air and just sit. Sit on a blanket, if you like, or take a cat-nap on one in the sun. Fresh air, warm sun, a pleasant solitude, is just what a worn soul needs sometimes.

4. A little story.

If there is nothing else to be done, hand your imagination over to someone else to handle. Find a well-loved story - it needn't be a big one - and let its familiarity and beloved nature carry yourself off. The very fact that you have heard it a hundred times, and possibly know it by heart, is perfect. For comfort and rejuvenation, I go back and read The Silver Branch. In a while I may have the whole thing known by heart, but still I like to lose myself in the comfortable familiarity of the words, no longer needing to key myself up to pay close attention to what happens next, merely wandering through a dream which I have dreamt so many times that I know my way through with my eyes closed. It's relaxing.

Everyone understands that you can't keep pushing on and on and not expect a backlash of exhaustion. Your mind is the same way. Take a break. Take a break, even, before you reach the limp noodle stage. The world isn't going to implode if you shove the keyboard in, close the notebook, and put the pencil down for a spell. Running yourself ragged isn't going to help you make excellent literature. Sometimes writer's block comes around because, quite frankly, you need it.

But what about the common, bad-penny, unwelcome writer's block? What do you do about that? I'm going to reproduce it here, because that would be silly: Liz began by making a very nice post on what she does to combat writer's block, which I would highly recommend you take a peek at. As for myself, here is what I do to make my writer's block go away.

1. Reread.

When I'm afraid the spirit of the story is slipping through my grasping fingers, I go back and read passages I have already written. Even though my creativity isn't moving forward, it is at least churning over ground that I would like to continue ploughing. I prefer to reread the passages I think were particularly brilliant, which always helps me self-esteem.

2. Fill in the gaps.

Every story has to have gaps. No one wants to read every little detail of every thing that happens to your characters. But no one says you can't fill them in for your own amusement. I thought up a whole new section to replace a bad one in Adamantine because I found myself piddling through writer's block and making up stories about what happens to my characters after the story closes. If your creative juices don't want to go the way you want them to, divert them back around by Clever Means. It doesn't have to be serious at all. It can be a mere conversation between characters, just a little something which might jump-start your imagination the way you want it to go.

He held his hand out to indicate Roman's height. "Roman was about two at the time, and a very precocious lad. We had all the folk out to shearing, and with that many people we all assumed someone was watching him. But the next thing we know, Aventine is screaming - screaming bloody murder - and we all look up to see Roman with a sheep's ear in one hand, and a pair of shears held up in the other, for all the world going to slaughter that thing. We were yelling and screaming, and trying to stop him. We had no idea what had got into his head - neither did the sheep, who was looking very askance about the whole thing. It turns out, he had been listening to Aventine's history studies on the old pagan religions, and he wanted to see if he could sacrifice a sheep too. Poor thing." He shook his head, laughing wryly with the summer sun laughing with him in the golden splash of his wine. "Roman was heart-broken that he didn't get to carry through."

3. Music.

Music, of course! Now, I don't usually need a specific genre, or tune, to help me get into the mood, but I know a lot of people do. I can put on Escala's Palladio and be happy as a clam writing a quiet nighttime scene. But when I need atmosphere, I enjoy some of Heather Dale's pieces, and there is almost always some song by Fernando Ortega to fit the situation. There are billions of songs out there, one or two or several just waiting to be picked up and listened to, to further your story.

4. Comfort food.

This is, perhaps, a bad habit. I find food very comforting, and as I am currently equipped with a decent metabolism and a routine walk, I can nibble as I write without much danger. Excessive thinking, epic journeying, close shaves, sudden glorious vistas - these sorts of things require a satisfied appetite to pull off, you know. If possible, make what you particularly like, and eat that. Or drink it, if you're a liquid sort of person. I indulge in tea most excessively. I find it soothing and familiar, and it helps me focus.

5. Stare at the computer screen.

Yes, yes, this is what I do. I stare. I stare hard. I stare with feeling. And, while I do so, I divest my mind of everything but the immediate scene and walk about in it, observing my characters closely to determine how A must lead to B must lead to C. You will be surprised how often C will wildly dive off into M which leads to a magnificent E, which escalates into W, which becomes the best piece of writing you have ever made. Just stare. Cats do it all the time, and everyone knows that cats are brilliant.

Except mine.

6. Read prolifically.

I have very intentions of doing this. I always have one or two or more books going at once, and I do read them, but I can't say I read prolifically. I read far too slowly for that. Nevertheless, the best place to get ideas is to go and look at other people's ideas. I'm afraid there is no use in worrying about trying to be original. We like to joke about good artists stealing from others, but the fact's true. Some are giants, and some of us see far between stand on the shoulders of those giants. There is a vast body of literature, of the written prying minds of men, just waiting for you to plunge in. Maybe I'm still sitting on the edge kicking my feet in the water, but it's done me good so far.

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." C.S. Lewis

7. Be a child.

Everyone has to grow up. Everyone has to mature mentally and spiritually, and I will most heartily disagree with anyone who would presume to say otherwise. Yet there is, as George MacDonald pointed out in his writing, a difference between the childish and the child-like. C.S. Lewis, too, knew this, much as he did not get on with children. Children see the intrinsic magic of the world as adults so frequently do not, uncluttered as they are by cares and worries and responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with responsibilities, though Christ tells us precisely what to do with cares and worries. So be child-like sometimes! Don't be afraid to step outside and look at the butterfly on the lawn and think, "What would I think - what would my character think - of that? Is it pretty? Is it majestic? What is it like?" And just run wild. Frolic. That's it, positively frolic. Let your imagination just wheel through a starry field of dandelions and something pertinent is bound to be tripped over.

2 ripostes:

  1. This was a lovely post! I myself have been struggling with writer's block for the past week. I haven't written a single thing due to lack of insperation, but finally, yesterday I managed to break that awful pattern. I wrote something! :)

  2. Oh, thank you so much for doing this post! It was so helpful for me to hear about how you combat Writer's Block. I absolutely love your last point about being a child. I am totally going outside in the sunshine to frolic today!
    And by the way, I love the Silver Branch too. Rereading old favorites is another great way to overcome writer's block. I've read the Silver branch a couple times too, but the book I always go to when I need inspiration is usually the Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. =)
    Speaking of books, I got your book in the mail yesterday! Thank you for the wonderful words you wrote in the signature! I can't wait to read it. I'm going to start it tonight. =)

    ~ Liz