“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper
until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
So I have been writing about writers block.
I find it to be a fascinating phenomenon.
I know a few writer friends who complain about it.
That’s probably the reason I am writing about it here.
Wikipedia tells me that Writer’s block is a condition, “primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”
I am reminded by the article of how some great authors have apparently been plagued with
the condition, to the point that their careers were destroyed.
Now it would be my guess that the underlying cause for the writer’s block–things like
anxiety disorders, major depression or alcoholism, were the reasons that the writers
were blocked to that degree. Of course it could be argued that the Writer’s Block
caused the depression etc so perhaps its a kind of vicious cycle. I don’t know for sure.
But I am continuing to address, the subject even if I don’t know if it exists or not.
And today I am addressing the strange bugaboo–
The Idea— and how having one or not,
stops writers from writing.
I wrote a post a few weeks back about ideas
In that post I quote Neil Gaiman who says–
”The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole.
Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build:
making it interesting, making it new.”
But even if ideas aren’t the hard bit I still hear people complaining about them
in two ways.
“I have so many ideas but I can’t seem to get to writing them so I don’t write”
“I haven’t got an idea about what to write about so I don’t write.”
Ok so then two separate cures are in order.
But first, What is an idea?
The dictionary defines an idea in a lot of different ways.
The three that I think are most useful are:
1. a mental concept
2. an impression
3. an opinion, view, or belief:
Usually when writers say that they have an idea for a play, or a story, or a screen play etc–
they are using definition #1 a mental concept. They are thinking of either the narrative,
or the characters or the event, that causes a chain reaction and so on.
Sometimes they are thinking of all of these things–but in a general and conceptual way.
I know writers who can tell you in a couple of sentences what the idea is.
They have a powerful burst of inspiration and they see it all in their mind.
“It’s about a pair of star crossed lovers who would
rather die than be apart–and so they do die.”
But the story or play is not a mental concept and so the idea is not enough.
So if you are this kind of writer and you get the mental concept kind of ideas–
but you are stuck on how to write the actual play or story or what have you–
I think that the cure for you is to immediately begin to outline the idea as quickly as possible.
At least as much of it as you can. You can start from the end and decide what ultimately happens.
They both die.And then go back to the beginning to figure out how.
Some writers start at the beginning and outline the “beats or scenes of the story.
They give the scenes titles.
THE PHONE CALL
MARY RECEIVES THE PHONE CALL THAT CHANGED HER LIFE
Phone rings. We see Mary listen. She gasps and faints.
The outline helps the writer contain that powerful burst of inspiration–
so that it doesn’t escape or fizzle out.
It helps lay out the story and show you what parts of the story you know
and don’t know.
The outline of course can be changed and tweaked and restructured but
it allows you to keep the chaos of possibilities at bay.
And you can work on a scene– in any order, without confusing yourself.
SCENE ONE THE BED CHAMBER OF THE DUCHESS
The phantom pirate climbs in the window with his dagger and approaches the sleeping Duchess–
And then if you are a little shy on the details–you are missing some technical info–
like how to kill a duchess with a dagger perhaps–
or even how to scale a castle wall,
you can jump to another scene.
Some writers tell me they can not work–without an outline.
So hurry up. Take that mental concept of yours and create the outline immediately.
Ok. But then what if you are suffering from the other
kind of not writing.
You might be like me.
My kind of idea is more like Defenition #2 An impression.
I will have a fuzzy emotional or visual sense of something.
Some injustice. Some struggle or paradox.
It’s an idea suggesting itself but it’s not very clear.
I have to write to clarify my thinking.
I am like an archaeologist digging and sifting through the layers, of my own imagination.
I don’t know exactly what I am looking for, but I know it’s there–and I will
recognize it when I write it.
So the cure for me is to write my way to the idea.
So you see if you get these kinds of ideas– or even no ideas at all
the cure is to write your way through to the part of your imagination where the ideas are.
But you know–ultimately I think the only cure for any kind of writer’s block is to write
and keep writing–anything at all and to do it every day–which is what I am about to go
and do right now. How about you?