Chapter Three of the Mark of the Cloven gave me some trouble. It decided to drop a writer’s block on me with, no doubt, lethal intent. Fortunately, I’m well versed at not only surviving such dangerous author-ly perils, but attacking them back with DeathScribe ferocity. I conquered the chapter despite it’s foul attempt. But the whole process of being stuck and then powering through got me thinking about the very first time I got writers block. Back then, I did not fare so well.
I was seventeen years old when I started writing an appropriately terrible book I called “The Tons of Airtala”. Yep. It had a magical island, tyrannical overlords, an enchanted sword, and, despite being very, very amateur and cliche’ had a few shining concepts buried in some horrible, god-awful, prose. I was working on what I was certain was a “masterpiece” when the block dropped. I was done with chapter five (these are teenager chapters mind you, chapter five ended on page twenty) and I hit a wall. I couldn’t think of what to do next. I came up with what I thought was a very clever solution; I added it to the story and put a wall in front of the main character. I figured I’d let them (the character, which is part of my mind) work it out and that process would cure my block. But my character couldn’t figure out how to overcome it any better than I could (wouldn’t that have been neat if he had managed it? Explain that) and once I’d added it I stubbornly refused to remove it and try alternatives. I threw in a gaggle of bad guys in pursuit, to up the pressure, force the character to solve it (and by extension) my block. It didn’t work.
I was in a jewelery and sculpting class at the time. We had an assignment to create a sculpture using lost wax casting technique. You carve something out of hard wax, stick it in plaster, throw it in a kiln and melt out the wax, then pour molten metal into the mold. Crack away the plaster and, viola!, a metal sculpture. I carved an open book with a big rock sitting on it, a pencil leaning up against it, and the words “Writer’s Block” on the pages. I thought maybe giving my demon physical form would help exorcise it. Nope. It didn’t work either. I’ve still got the thing laying around somewhere.
It took me years to finally figure out how to crack through a solid case of writer’s block. By the time I’d learned how to deal with it ‘The Tons of Airtala’ was a long discarded project and my poor character is still there, to this day, trying to get over that wall before a group of mo-bearded thugs catch him (if you don’t know a mo-beard is allow me to explain; it’s when your beard is shaved and spiked out to match your mohawk, usually neon colored. Yeah, in my seventeen year old imagination punks were hardcore fashionistas baby!). So, let’s not make his eternal imprisonment beneath the block be in vain and I’ll share a couple of my best tricks.
Trick #1: Bad Bookery
Buy a book in the genre you write (several if you write more genres) that you consider terrible. Some awful example of what you want to do. Something you consider straight schlock. DO NOT READ IT. Just put it on your shelf. Maybe mark it with a skull sticker or something. The next time you’re blocked, go get it. Just look at that cover for a few minutes. It’s awful. Your cover will be way better than that when you’re done. Now open it up, somewhere near the middle. Start reading. Don’t go back and look for the scene break, just start at the top, mid-sentence even. Read four pages, then close the book. Mid-sentence even. If luck has it that you happen to end in a good spot, screw that! Read until you’re halfway through a paragraph and close it. The goal is to cut yourself short.
The odds are that A.) the writing was so bad you’ll think “Egad! (you will, in fact, think Egad) I’m not nearly as bad as this author! I need to relax and just keep going!” And it’s true. You can’t write when you’re not relaxed. You’re better than some who’ve made it, you just need to relax and keep at it. OR, B.) you’ll feel an itch. Half sentences bug authors. Incomplete paragraphs bug authors. Unfinished scenes bug authors. Don’t belie
Exactly. You want to finish it. Grab that drive and roll with it.
Trick #2: The Importance Illusion
This one has a chance to turn on you and bite you in the ass, but I use it anyway. I look up Guy N. Smith. If you don’t know, and you likely don’t, Guy N.Smith has been writing for over fifty years. He’s got dozens and dozens of books out. His most popular series came out in the early eighties and is about an invasion of giant crab monsters. He got a movie deal. Odds are, you’ve never heard of him. Even if you have, chances are good that you’ve not read a significant portion of his work. Almost a hundred books and he’s still virtually anonymous. And he’s still alive.
History is replete with authors who were great, successful, and inventive only to be forgotten a few years later. Don’t believe me? Check out THIS LIST. Click on any of the authors you don’t know. Hundreds, no thousands, of books lost in time. This is the “bite you in the ass” part. Don’t let that discourage you! Sure, odds are our work will crumble to dust someday. We’ll make a splash now, it’ll fade to a ripple later, then someday it’s gone. That’s not bad! It’s just reality. But building up the importance of your story, focusing on being perfect, over-thinking a project… it’s pointless. Again, relax. We are not performing brain surgery on an entire population. We’re not responsible for solving global issues. We’re authors. We rise, we tell stories, we fade. It’s simple, awesome, and not something to worry about. Just tell yours. If you’re very lucky, your ripple will last longer.
Personally, I like to think about all the thousands of storytellers who never even had pen and paper. They didn’t worry it would last forever, or be perfect. They just told it. Nothing we do is too important to stop doing it.
Trick #3: Cheating
There’s one sure fire way to beat the block. It comes with a drawback, but if you’re desperate, it’s not so bad of a drawback. Here’s what you do; First, put a few post it notes of the scene ideas you have in numerical order on your desk. Write them out in big clear font. Then type the following into your story in all caps
I AM GETTING DRUNK NOW
You need that to know where you’ll start your corrections later because now you’re going to go have enough booze to get you somewhere between tipsy and sloshed. Then you keep writing. Don’t worry about typo’s, obviously, they’re going to be out of control. You’ll ramble. You’ll go off target. You’ll probably come up with stuff you don’t remember. Rush it. Do your best to stick to the post-it notes. Work fast and don’t stop until you have at least something written for each note. Then go dance, argue, eat nachos, whatever it is you do when you’re drunk. Eventually, you’ll pass out.
Next day, you’ll discover what you did and it’ll be far from perfect. But here’s the thing; you can edit it. And you can’t edit a blank page now, can you? Block defeated. It’ll take a hell of a time to fix a drunken prose session, but if you weren’t doing anything otherwise… consider it a success.
There’s three. I’ve got more, but this is running long and I think I’ll stop while I’m ahead. Besides, after that last tip, now I want a drink!
Oh, and if you’ve got things that help you “break the block” I’d love to hear them in the comments!