Saturday, November 17, 2012

Writer’s Block? I Don’t Have…Oh, Shiny!

Last year when I began my monthly turn here at Novel Spaces, one of the things I mentioned in my “all about me” blog posting was that I don’t believe in writer’s block or the notion of waiting for The Muse to strike. To me, these terms always sounded like a fancy way of saying, “I really, really don’t want to write today.”

Now, bear in mind that this is just my way of not letting myself off the hook when it comes to this kind of thing. Of course writing can be hard, and some days it seems like the words just don’t want to come out and play. However, in my experience, what a lot of people try chalking up to “writer’s block” instead can be explained by a simpler yet less exotic-sounding term: distraction. Oh, yes, distraction is as much the enemy of writing as it is any other endeavor, perhaps more so because you’re usually working alone, with no one to spot you. Therefore, distraction, once it seizes hold of you, often is able to maintain its grip because—more often than not—there’s nobody around to call you on your shenanigans. Having regular deadlines is a nice way to battle this demon, but there are those times when even that doesn’t seem to wield a big enough stick.

Distractions are everywhere, aren’t they? Facebook and Twitter, video games, DVDs or Netflix, that Finding Bigfoot marathon on the Animal Planet: Traps, folks! Every single one, and those are just off the top of my head. I’m as susceptible as anyone to such frivolous time sucks, and my home office is an arsenal of bad influences. I write a lot of media tie-in fiction and magazine and web content, so a television in the office is a necessary tool. It’s also a siren, luring me in with promises of a favorite movie or TV series season set from my rather sizable collection. I don’t have a game system in my office, but I do have a fully functional Star Trek arcade game in one corner. Hey, I use it to…uh…research, you know…space combat tactics. Yeah, that’s it.

As for the actual writing, there are times when I experience difficulty with thinking too much about what I’ve already written, and not about what I’m supposed to be writing at the moment. Even though I often preach “Write now, edit later” as a quick, sensible writing tip, it’s another easy trap, and I’m pretty sure every writer at every level has fallen into it at some point. On other occasions, I stall because I realize I haven’t given sufficient thought to the scene I want to write, where I want the character and plot to go from this point, and so on. Or, maybe my original idea for the scene just stinks. I’m not one of those writers who can just sit and figure out those sorts of things, so I go and do something for a little while that doesn’t require a lot of thinking—exercising, cutting the grass, washing the car. More often than not, my little writer brain unknots the problem while I’m engaged in that other activity, and then I run back inside and jot down some notes so that I’m primed the next time I sit down to start banging keys.

Another trick I use is to set aside the project du jour and start a bout of “writing freeplay,” where I just get stuff out of my head and onto the page. Sometimes I don’t even bother with the laptop and go with pen and paper, or one of those composition books like we used to have in school. I have a handful of those things, their pages filled with all sorts of random, nonsensical scribblings I used as a warm-up, and this sort of exercise often helps get my brain into gear for the day’s “real” writing. Maybe it’s notes for another project, or some dialogue snippet, or backstory for a character that might not even make it into the story I’m writing, but at least I’m working the muscles. It’s a quick little self-therapy session that helps me back on task.

What gets in the way of your writing? How do you fight distraction? Do you have your own little tricks or rituals you call upon to get you back on track?


Charles Gramlich said...

I think I need quite a bit of writing "freeplay." When I get locked into projects and don't let myself do that, I think my writing gets dull.

KeVin K. said...

Okay, reading Dayton Ward posts would be on my list of distractors...

The only non-writing distraction for me is politics; but it's a big one. I'm a political junkie and cannot resist a really stupid conspiracy theory is. (Last night I lost an hour firing salvos of facts into moronic blogs decrying Obama for relieving General Carter Ham and Admiral Charles Gaouette of command for attempting to save the embassy in Benghazi on 11 Sept. General Ham's routine rotation had been public knowledge for months and Admiral Gaouette's strike force had been in the Pacific, en route to its deployment at the time. I have resolved to not check for reactions until after I hit my word count for today.)

I can distract myself within writing as well. For me research is the rabbit hole; I can go in planning on five minutes checking a fact and come out an hour later with four pounds of fascinating and irrelevant information.
Long ago, when I had a workshop, when I was stuck on a plot issue, I'd refinish pieces of rescued furniture. These days I do things like wax half the car or partially organize tools I no longer use until my writer brain finds a solution. When I know what I want to write but the words won't flow, I do what you do: freewrite. I have dozens of planner pads filled with random notes, ideas, etc., I scrawled to get my prose pump primed.

Anonymous said...

I love your title. I have to turn off Facebook, blogs, twitter, email.. all the internet distractions that I can rationalize are my "networking/ platform building" tools, therefore part of the writing work. Nonsense. Writing is part of the writing work. Ahem, now if you'll excuse me...

Dayton Ward said...

Yes, research can be another double-edged sword. The novel I'm currently writing has required a lot of research, particularly since I've set so much of it during the 1940s-1960s and I want to make sure I get the little details right. The subject matter has directed me to a variety of different resources, and I've found myself so caught up on reading that I've forgotten to take notes, let alone write any of the story.

As for Facebook, Twitter, blogging and so on, they're all a vital part of the writer's platform, but they're also a huge time sink if you're not careful. Thankfully, most of the people who read my blatherings in those venues are aware that I'm sometimes required to leave them to chat amongst themselves as I head back to work :)

G. B. Miller said...

Family distracts the hell out of me, so the only time I can any kind of normal writing down (original or editing) is on the weekends.

I don't get writing blocks per se, as the last one that I really got was back in '07 and making a comment on a news story launched me on a quixotic journey to where I'm currently commenting on your cool blog post.

Anyways, when I do get stuck, I whip out my handy-dandy pen and paper, and start writing out blog posts. Usually does the trick as by the time I'm done, I'm more than will to get back to that writing thang.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

What Kevin said - I love politics, too, and in the face of the latest outbreak in Gaza I've been firing off salvos of facts myself to correct this impression that the fighting is centuries old and that Israel, despite its embargo and its illegal settlements, is completely blameless. In fact, as a former student activist I have to say I find FB and Twitter excellent ways to promote outreach. What I do now, though, is take myself off to a corner with my AlphaSmart and then return to the desktop every few hours for social media breaks.