Roadblocks in Writing

All writers at one time or another find themselves staring at an empty page or a blank screen, unable to tap into the inspiration well. Sometimes, this issue blocks creativity for a day or more. Sometimes, weeks or months go by where a person has given up, thinking there’s nothing to aid him/her during this crisis. For me, this has happened several times, and usually right after I’ve finished a novel. What’s an author to do?

Don’t despair. You can find a way to burst through the roadblock and continue down your creative path. Here are some tips to help:

1. Define what the problem is. Is it fatigue? If you’re not getting enough rest, this in itself will askew all aspects of your life, and not just your writing. Too much at home/work stress issues can block your thought processes and bog you down. Find a way to relax: yoga, inspirational music, read.

2. Edit work in progress (WIP), but be careful. Whenever creativity flows are dammed up, revising and editing a work can be dangerous because you can become overcritical of your own work and think everything that’s you’ve already written is terrible and start cutting everything. Don’t do this. Instead, reread your passages to pull yourself back into the story. Revisit the characters. Ask the characters questions or see if you understand why they’ve reacted to certain situations like they have.

My writing process consists of rereading the work I’ve written the day before. If I wrote fifteen pages the day before, I reread those pages to get back into the story. Sometimes, though, I’ll only go back three pages and revise. I’ve found often that those three pages are a skeleton of what was supposed to happen and after editing and perhaps adding more dialogue, those three pages turn into six or nine. By the time those pages are added, I’ve moved on into the next set of scenes, bypassing the roadblock.

3. Get rid of distractions. Turn off the cellphone. Don’t be tempted by the television or even start watching any show. Unplug the router. While these seem harsh choices to make, there’s a logical reason why avoiding these mind-numbing distractions will boost your creativity.

A lot of studies have been done about the dopamine rewards associated with the use of cellphones, the Internet, and binge-watching on television. (search: cellphone/dopamine for dozens of article. WARNING: NOT during your scheduled writing time). The dopamine effect actually numbs the mind, making you feel good, but essentially dousing your want to write more of your story or novel. As a writer and scientist, I’ve learned that I work best when I unplug the router because I love to research, and if I have access to the Internet, I cut my productivity by 90%. These entertainment factors lead to procrastination, which is costly to how much work you can produce.

4. Work on something else. Some authors work on multiple WIPs at the same time. I try not to do this, but I once found myself with three active WIPs, which can be productive. However, when it comes to the number of pages for each work, it can feel like you’re not finishing enough of any project to be effective. In my situation, I worked on all three until the strongest characters wrestled to the top of the other two. Then, I concentrated on that story.

5. Visualize the setting/characters. If you write fantasy or sci-fi, organize a box of pictures (from magazines or ones you’ve printed from the Internet) that you can keep in a box and thumb through for inspiration. Let’s say you’re writing a fantasy where your characters will enter a dark forest. Having a picture of a dark forest or a building you see deeper in the forest will spark your curiosity and interest, making you wonder what more is out there that you cannot see from the road. It’s this exploration that prompts you to follow your characters to investigate.

The opening for Lady Squire came to me based upon a picture I had seen in a fantasy magazine. However, the picture only jolted the idea. The story was quite the opposite of the what was in the picture, but it put one of my main characters in peril from the very beginning. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case, the picture was worth several thousand.

6. Listen to your characters. As I’ve mentioned, revision and adding dialogue enables me to add more pages to my stories at times. Sometimes, a character says something unexpected that might introduce another character later on. Ray Bradbury’s adage was: “Follow the characters.” That’s what I do. All of my stories have written themselves because I let the characters do what they must do. I follow with my computer and write down all I see and what they say. It’s a process that’s never failed me. Don’t be afraid to ask the characters question. Or ask, “What if?”

7. Keep your health in check. This is the most crucial tip. Exercise. Walk. Don’t stay sedentary. I speak from experience. You don’t need to be a weightlifter, but I stress you must exercise and eat healthy. The most dangerous part of our job as writers is being confined to a chair while we write. Exercise actually helps reduce stress, too, so you might find your productivity increases by walking outdoors or on a treadmill. Keep active.

I hope that these tips help increase your productivity if you’ve found yourself facing a roadblock that hinders your progression.

Until next time ….


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