Saturday, April 25, 2009

What if the words don't come? - Chloe Neill

Writer's block. Two of the most feared words in the writers' world. Whether it's exhaustion (too many deadlines!), repetition (too many volumes in the series!), fear (will my second novel be as good as my first?), or distraction (dog, day job, boyfriend, sunny weather), writer's block can be a crippling adversary in a creative life.

At one time or another, I've struggled with all of the above. Fear is a particularly big issue right now, as sales of my first novel, Some Girls Bite, have been strong. The doubts thusly begin to creep in. Will the next book be as good? Can I "repeat" the success? If this manuscript isn't as good, why bother working on it?

My usual approach is to force through it--to get out a few words (whether it be 10, 100, or 1,000) and focus on increasing the word count. As Nora Roberts reportedly said, you can't fix a blank page...but you can edit bad writing later on.

I take the same approach for exercise. If I haven't had a chance to run in a while, I'll settle for 10 or 15 minutes on the treadmill that next time around. It may not be great, but it's *something.* It's a building block toward a longer run. Ditto for manuscripts, which are a marathon of creative effort.

So, if you find yourself staring at a blank screen, or what can you do? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Find a different locale

Do you usually write on the couch? In your office? If you're finding that the words don't flow in your usual spot, try another place. If you work at home, get out of the house. This could be as simple as dragging your laptop to the sunporch or deck, visiting a library down the street for some peace and quiet among the stacks, or visiting a coffeehouse if you need the ambient noise to process. If the weather's nice, try a local park.

2. Skip ahead

Is the current scene killing you? Then skip it. Jump 20 or 100 pages ahead and write a scene that falls later in the book. A love scene. A fight scene. A great entrance or exit. Something that will get your blood and adrenaline pumping, and get the word count moving again.

3. Switch the medium

Do you usually type your manuscripts? Grab a favorite pen and notepad and try writing longhand. Although it may take a little longer to handwrite the words, writing in longhand offers one important benefit--no distractions! There's no wireless internet in a paper notebook and, thus, no excuse to check out the news, update your blog, add a Tweet, or check your sales figures.

Not that I'm guilty of doing any of those. Repeatedly. :)

The argument works in reverse, as well. If you typically handwrite, spend a few minutes on the computer. Don't even bother opening a word processing program--type in the body of an e-mail. Maybe you're exercising a different part of your brain, but the switch seems to help me focus.

4. Find some inspiration

If you find yourself staring out the windows when you should be writing, take your body's hint and get out of the house for a bit. Visit a museum or a gallery, and look for inspiration, visual or otherwise, that can help you get going again.

Check out a park: If there are folks around, what can you learn from their activities? Details for writing about that volleyball scene? Fighting tactics when the folks from the Society for Creative Anachronism show up for combat practice? Even a drive in the car can get you thinking about meadows, mountains, skyscrapers, barns.

5. Surf the web

The Interwebs are full of miraculous things. Research tools, news, pictures, etc. Put aside 30 minutes and allow yourself to surf. Browse wikipedia, check out the blogosphere, or visit a favorite news site. Get a glimpse of what other folks are reading, thinking about, *doing*. You never know when that sidebar story might become an excellent detail for worldbuilding.

6. Take fifteen...or twenty...or the evening

If you're truly struggling to concentrate, maybe it's time to take a night off. But instead of spending the evening tapping our five or ten words, or scrolling up and down through the manuscript--and making yourself feel worse for writing poorly--make a *conscious* decision to step aside, to listen to some music, or to just think about something else for a little while.

7. Give yourself a break.

The biggest consideration, though, seems to be patience. For better or worse, you've got to wait it out, struggle through it, eek out 100 words at a time, if that's what keeps the page count moving.

Good luck, thanks for reading, and thanks to Author Sound Relations for having me today!



Marilyn Shoemaker said...

As a reader, very interesting

Caroline said...

Hi Chloe! I was just doing one of your "tips" - surfing the web - as I'm procrastinating about starting a new book! I've cleaned out my desk today - started a story board of ideas and still haven't got to typing "Chapter One"! So now I've had my 1/2 hour "break" I will start my new book now. Promise...Take care - Caroline x

Estella said...

Good advice!

Ash said...

As a reader and hopefully future author, this is really nice advice for me to utilize :P

Chloe Neill said...

Thanks, everyone!

@Caroline: Good luck with the writing. I've just finished a 4-hour "break." Back to the keyboard...