Writer’s Block is Your Friend, Part 2
Or “How I stopped worrying and learned to love the block”
Click here to read Writer’s Block Is Your Friend, Part 1. It covers what to do when you can’t think of what to write.
This post is for those who know what they’re supposed to write next, but just … can’t … make themselves … write it.
Unlike the type described in part 1, this variety of writer’s block effects pantsers and plotters alike.
It looks like this:
You sit down to write. Then magically you find yourself on Facebook. Or you suddenly take up a new hobby that is not writing. Or you decide now is the time to organize your closet. Or maybe you jump onto KBoards and join in on a good old-fashioned witch hunt. Sound familiar?
You, my friend, are facing story resistance, and it’s not the end of the world.
It’s unlikely that you’ll overcome this state through sheer force of will. You’ve probably tried to power through already and ended up developing a bizarre condition where your eyeballs became magnetically repelled by the computer screen.
Story resistance can come from your story resisting what you’re doing to it, or from you resisting your story. Let’s start with the first kind.
When your story resists you, it means that what you’re planning to write in the next scene is the wrong thing to write. Your story knows it, your heart knows it, but you still want to push through because you’re on a deadline and readjusting your beats can be a real nightmare. But until you figure out why that scene is fighting back, you’re going to keep struggling.
And this is why I love writer’s block. It can be the red flag we need to keep us from wrecking an otherwise lovely tale.
Instead of pushing through and hating every second of it, ask yourself the following questions and see if one resonates:
- Does this scene increase tension? (If not, cut it or fix it)
- Am I asking my characters to do something inconsistent merely to advance the plot? (Your characters will fight back if you try this.)
- Does this scene belong somewhere else in the story?
- Does this scene need to be in the story? (You’d be surprised how often the answer is no.)
- Should this scene be set somewhere else? (Changing the setting can infuse the scene with new energy. Move it from a diner to an arcade, or from the front seat of a truck … to the back seat. Use location and proximity between characters to your advantage.)
If none of those shake the plaque loose, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer. [flips chart around] Oh, my bad. I mean, you’re struggling with your mindset.
Listen up, folks, because I’m about to airdrop a truth bomb.
You are scared to write the next scene.
If you’re a perfectionist, you’re worried that you’ll screw it up.
As a recovering perfectionist myself, let me tell you: you will screw it up. It’s the goddamn first draft! But here’s the great part: your perfectionist tendencies make you the best possible person to tackle it in revisions.
The next reason why you could be scared to write the scene is one that can affect anyone: you’re hitting your creative upper-limit.
Hitting your upper-limit just means doing something you haven’t done before, usually something you hadn’t imagined yourself capable of a short time before. It’s a scary feeling and can actually cause your body to go into fight, flight or freeze mode.
We’ve all been there. You’ve concocted a kick-ass scene where everything is going to come together in a complicated mess that, poof, slides into place in the most brilliant of ways! Only, what if you’re not the person to write it? What if you can’t do it? What if this scene, hell, this story is too big for you to write? What if it’s dumb and you’re an imposter and this scene is the moment when it will be exposed?!
Listen, I get it. I write a comedy series about God’s only begotten daughter. I ask myself on a daily basis, “Why are you the person to tell this story? What makes you so qualified?”
Here’s my answer, and you can steal it for yourself: I’m the person to write the story because I’m the one writing the damn story.
I know people read my books and say, “I could have done better.” A lovely few even go out of their way to tell me that. But guess what? They didn’t write it. I did.
You’re the one putting in the work, and if others want to write the same story but better, they’re free to give it their all because you can’t copyright an idea.
And yet, they don’t.
Upper-limit problems are not easy to work through. And once you make it through one, you can bet another is waiting for you down the line. (I highly recommend the book Playing Big by Tara Mohr for more on overcoming upper-limits. It’s written for women, but the vast majority of it can apply to anyone.)
Identifying upper-limits as the root cause of your writer’s block is often 90% of the battle. Maybe a year ago you didn’t think you’d ever finish a book, and then you did. And now you’re on book five of your series. That’s fertile ground for upper-limit issues. All it takes is your brain saying, “But wait, you don’t do this. You’ve never done this before. What makes you think you can do it now?” and then you slam face-first into a brick wall of oh hell no.
Try reminding yourself of all the things you’ve already done that you never thought you’d do. Remember the first time you got behind the wheel of a car and were pretty sure you would never be able to master both the break and the accelerator? And at one point in your life, you felt positively certain that you would never have sex. But you’ve probably done that, now, too. High-five!
Upper-limit problems can manifest in all kinds of ways, and they always begin when you’re about to do something important that you’ve never done before. Sometimes you get sick, sometimes your car breaks down and you have to clean out your savings to fix it, sometimes your friends throw a party and don’t invite you, and sometimes you get writer’s block.
Once you identify it and set your mind to pushing through the fear, you’re halfway there.
Again, you can borrow a phrase from me: I’m leveling up. Get out of my way.
So, while writer’s block can be incredibly frustrating when it stems from story resistance, if you can call it by its name and use it as an opportunity to reflect and emerge with a better story and a better you, it can quickly become your dear friend.
Or at least your frenemy.
And if you’re still stuck, which is entirely possible, it’s actually quite affordable to hire a professional to help you work your way through.
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