Susan May says:
Thank you to Jennifer for sharing her insights on writer's block. I agree with everything she has suggested. I actually have starter's block when I get worried I am going to have writer's block. But really there is no such thing. If you sit there long enough, something will happen. And if you are really stuck, it could be you've gone down a wrong plot road further back, so go back and look for the sign. Even brainstorm with a friend about where to go with your blocked point. Now I shall hand you over to the very capable Jennifer Kloester to reveal her secrets.
There's No Such Thing As Writer's Block
"There's no such thing as writer's block!" I was at a writer's festival in Melbourne when I heard bestselling author Bernard Cornwell utter those words. At first I was shocked and then as I listened I felt an incredible lightening inside – as if the dreaded blank page had been dealt a death-blow. I almost cheered!
Cornwell explained that, because he viewed his writing as a fulltime profession, he didn't have the right to take a day off because he had 'writer's block'. "Nurses," he said, "Teachers, firemen or anyone who works a job can't take a day off because they have nurse's block or teacher's block or firemen's block. They have to show up, no matter what, and get the job done."
At the time this was a revelation to me and the idea has stayed with me ever since. But if Cornwell is right and there is no such thing as writer's block, then what do authors do when the words won't come?
Here's what I do when the words elude me and I appear to be in danger of producing nothing at all.
- I give myself permission to write any part of my book and, if necessary, to write it badly. Any scene, any bit of dialogue, a character description, back-story, the end, the beginning, the middle. If I can see part of a chapter – even if it's several chapters ahead – I'll write that, if I've got a character who's desperate to get onstage, I'll let him or her have the spotlight and all the time they want to tell me their story. If I can hear voices in my head, I'll let them speak onto the page
- I free write. This is where I set the timer on the HIIT app on my phone for ten minutes . When it starts, I start writing. Ten minutes, without stopping – even if that means typing the same word or sentence over and over again. With this type of writing I don’t worry about spelling or grammar or punctuation. This is rough, wild west sort of writing, where anything goes and my subconscious gets free rein. The joy of writing like this is that it will often give me a sentence or two or sometimes even an entire paragraph that sparks an inspiration and moves my story along in some new and unexpected way.
- I force myself to write to the end of the chapter. This is hard and can be painful BUT the best thing about it is that, once I get to the end, if it's not the chapter I want it to be, it's very existence will often show me what it should be. It's kind of like creating a devil's advocate
- I remember that no one has to see my manuscript until I'm ready. This lets me write anything – anything at all, just to see if it works. Okay, so sometimes I feel embarrassed or icky or weird because my character is behaving badly or the action is bizarre or the dialogue is confronting, but if it's what's happening in the world of my book then I really have no choice but to write it. The best part is that, once it's written, if I don’t like it I can delete it.
- I follow bestselling novelist, Georgette Heyer's maxim that, "Writing oils the wrist". This is true. Writing usually begets writing. If I'm struggling to write then maybe I've let my writing 'muscles' get a bit weak and I just need to push out some words. We all know how easy it is to stop writing, to procrastinate and find a reason to get up from the chair every ten minutes. If this is you, then strap yourself in (literally – with a piece of string or a belt) and work your writing muscles by writing something easy. Blogs, diaries, letters and emails are great for this. Give yourself ten or fifteen minutes and write that overdue letter or email and, when you're time's up, don't think about it, just segue straight across to your manuscript.
- Write a sentence. Just one. Anyone can write one sentence. When you've done that, write another sentence. Then another. All books are written one sentence at a time.
- Have a deadline. This is a very effective motivator… in fact, I have a deadline – better get back to the book!
Jennifer Kloester is passionate about books and writing. She is the author of two books on the bestselling historical novelist Georgette Heyer: Georgette Heyer's Regency World and Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller. The Cinderella Moment is her first novel. She is currently writing the sequel The Rapunzel Dilemma. In her spare time Jennifer loves to travel and train in karate.
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