Conversations with Myself: Where are the voices in my head?

Writers Block (Calvin & Hobbs)

This week I have hit what is known as “Writer’s Block”. What is this, you may be asking yourself?

According to Wikipedia, Writer’s block is a condition primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand.’s_block

Why do I have writer’s block this week, you may be wondering.

Well, so much has happened in my life since September 12, 2013 starting with my mom having a Colonostomy, visits to her while in hospital and coping with daily chores at home. Mom being given the diagnosis of Cancer and me, being the primary caregiver, having to be involved in all consultations with doctors, Oncologists and other medical professionals so I could explain to mom, in plain English, what the doctors were actually saying.

Then came the devastating news that mom would require chemotherapy for one week (Monday to Friday) every month, for six months. Prior to surgery, mom was adamant that if given the option of chemo or radium, she would refuse both however, doctors had other ways of convincing mom that she needed to give this a shot (even though there is no guarantee that it will help in her particular case).

Between working full time, changing Colonostomy bags, doing household chores (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry) and transporting mom to hospital for daily chemo, there has not been much time for anything else. By the time I’ve done the dishes at 10pm (22:00), I am ready to collapse into my own little bed to get some sleep before the alarm wakes me at 5am (05:00) the next morning.

Somewhere in-between all of this, I am supposed to be studying. I have registered for two modules at university this year which is done part time (via correspondence). With all the drama that’s happened since September 12, I have just about managed to get all the assignments done but very little studying has actually taken place. By the time 10pm (22:00) comes, I am way too exhausted to even consider opening a book – I tried last night and, if I managed to sit for 30 minutes before wanting to put my head down on my desk, it was a lot. I am meant to be writing exams on September 25 and 26 . . .

Having said all this, I am sure you will understand why I have “writer’s block” this week leaving me unable to produce any worthwhile reading material (assuming you consider my blogs to be worthwhile reading material). Hopefully, by giving you some insight into my real life, you will get to know me a little better.

Thank you for understanding. I will try to write something decent for next week but I know you will understand if you check for posts, and find nothing.

I found a blog which talks about ten types of “writer’s block” and how to overcome each type which I thought I would share with you in case you ever experience this yourself.

1. You cannot come up with an idea: you have a blank page and you keep typing and erasing, or just staring at the screen until you give up. You literally can’t even get started because you have no clue what to write about, or what story you want to tell. You’re stopped before you even start. There are two pieces of good news for anyone in this situation: (a) ideas are easy to come by, and it’s not that hard to get the idea pump primed. (b) this is the kind of creative stoppage where the typical “do a writing exercise” actually works. Do a ton of exercises. Try imagining what it would be like if a major incident in your life had turned out differently. Try writing some fanfic, just to use existing characters as “training wheels”. Try writing a scene where someone dies and someone else falls in love, even if it doesn’t turn into a story. Think of something or someone that really cheeses you off, and write a totally mean satire or character assassination.

2. You have a ton of ideas but can’t commit to any of them, and they all peter out: There’s the ideas that you lose interest in after a few paragraphs, and then there’s the idea that you thought was a novel, but it’s actually a short story. Often, the coolest or most interesting ideas are the ones that peter out fastest, and the dumbest ideas are the ones that just get your motor revving like crazy.

3. You have an outline but you can’t get through this one part of it: Some writers work really well with an outline, some don’t. There are two different reasons you could be getting stuck. (a) your outline has a major flaw and you just won’t admit it. If this is the case, you already know it, and it’s just a matter of attacking your outline with a hacksaw. (b) your outline is basically fine, but there is a part that you can’t get past because it’s boring, or because you just can’t quite see how to get from one narrative peak to the next. In either case, there is nothing wrong with taking a slight detour, or going off on a tangent, and seeing what happens. Maybe you’ll find a cooler transition between those two moments, maybe you’ll figure out where your story really needs to go next and, most likely, there’s something that needs to happen with your characters at this point in the story, and you haven’t hit on it yet.

4. You’re stuck in the middle and have no idea what happens next: Sort of the opposite problem to number 3 mentioned above. Either you don’t have an outline, or you got rid of it a while back. What tends to happen a lot – you were on a roll the day before, and you wrote a whole lot of promising developments and clever bits. You open your Word document today, and . . . you have no idea where this is going. You thought you left things in a great place to pick up the ball and keep running, and now you can’t even see the next step. Maybe you just need to pause and rethink, and maybe go back over what you already wrote. You may just need a couple of days to recharge or you may need to rethink what you already wrote. If you have been stuck in the middle for a while, then you probably need to do something to get the story moving again. Introduce a new complication, throw the dice, or twist the knife. If you’re stuck for a while, it may be time to drop a safe on someone.

5. You have a terrible feeling your story took a wrong turn a hundred pages back, and you only just hit a dead end: You made a decision that felt bold and clever – you threw the dice and dropped a safe on someone – and now you’re realising that you made a horrible mistake and you’ve gone off course. Worse, you can see where your story should be right about now, if you hadn’t made that dreadful error. If you’re absolutely sure that you’ve gone the wrong way, then there’s no point in proceeding. Is there any alternative to rewinding all the way to the original mistake and starting from there? You can also rewind partially, going back a few pages instead of all the way and then pretending you made the right choice originally. In either case, beware – you’re going to end up with two alternate timelines in your story, and it’s up to you to keep straight what happened in the timeline you’re sticking with, as opposed to the one you’re throwing away.

6. You’re bored with all these characters, they won’t do anything: Characters who don’t do anything aren’t interesting characters. Either what you’ve got here are your supporting cast, and you haven’t created your main character yet, or you haven’t found the thing that your characters really want, or the conflict that will spur them into action. You have some characters, but not a story, not yet.

7. You keep imagining all the reasons people are going to say your story sucks, and it paralyzes you: Otherwise known as the Inner Critic – you can’t make any choices, because you keep imagining how someone at GoodReads will tear you apart for it later. The person at GoodReads doesn’t exist, and it’s just your own internal critic talking here. You will need that inner voice of scorn later, when you’re revising but for now, while you’re working on a first draft, you have to drown it out. Chances are the ideas you’re putting down aren’t nearly as bad as your darkest fears tell you they might be. In any case, you can always fix it in rewrites.

8. You can’t think of the right words for what you’re trying to convey in this one paragraph: Just use the wrong verb for now, fix it in rewrites! Accept that sometimes hitting on the right word is partly a matter of visualizing the scene in your head. There’s nothing wrong with spending a day or two fussing over one sentence but if this goes on for a week, though, just pick a verb and move on.

9. You’ve had this incredibly cool story in your head, and now you’re turning it into words on a screen and it’s suddenly dumb: Is this your inner critic talking? Are you sure? Are you really sure? It’s possible that you’re actually seeing a real problem with your idea, and with the execution. There is nothing wrong with abandoning an idea and starting afresh but don’t give up too fast. It’s possible that part of your idea is salvageable, or that the idea is genuinely cool and you’ve gotten yourself stuck into a weak execution of it. Sometimes it’s helpful to step back and write a synopsis of the stuff you’ve already written, so that you can see how it fits together and whether there are some buried parts that should be turning points in the story. Sometimes it’s helpful to try writing bits of your story from a different character’s point of view, to see how they look from another vantage point.

10. You’re revising your work, and you can’t see your way past all those blocks of text you already wrote: Sometimes it takes a while of looking at your text from different angles to figure out where the problems are, and sometimes you need more feedback from more people to figure out where the real structural weaknesses are. You could try to rewrite large sections from scratch, without looking back at your original draft. Same story, new words. Sometimes, it is a lot quicker than trying to wrangle the words you already put down.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.