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How to cure writer’s block

Posted by inkpop on March 26, 2010

inktips #22: Voices of Dragons author Carrie Vaughn gives advice on how to control the creative beast—instead of it controlling you

“Lots of published writers will tell you writer’s block doesn’t exist—or that they don’t get it because they can’t afford it.”

Carrie Vaughn sees their point, but doesn’t buy into completely. “In a lot of cases they’ve developed coping mechanisms,” she says. “Once you have those strategies, writer’s block really becomes less of a problem. You can control it instead of it controlling you.”

That’s not to say that Vaughn hasn’t experienced writer’s block herself. The author of Voices of Dragons, an adventurous story about the modern world of dragons (and the first novel outside of her Kitty Norville series), says she tends to get stuck at the halfway point of her books. “I don’t know what happens next—I have all these characters and scenes, all these balls in the air that I’m trying to juggle, and I’m trying to figure out how it all ties together,” Vaughn says. “I usually know how the book ends, but there always comes a point when I have no idea how to get there.”

The fact that Vaughn anticipates writer’s block is the first step to overcoming it. “I know to expect it and it doesn’t freak me out,” she says. “It means that it’s time to sit down, rework my outline, brainstorm all the scenes that could possibly happen in the second half of the book, figure out what makes the most sense and is the most interesting sequence of events, figure out what pieces of the puzzle I’m missing in the first half—and then just go for it.”

So what exactly is writer’s block? Vaughn says the “inability to write despite a great desire to write” tends to occur in one of two forms:

  1. You can’t get started.  You can’t settle on an idea or write “Chapter 1,” and stare at the blank page for hours.
  2. You get stuck halfway through. You’ve done a ton of work, but don’t know where to go next, or, worse, lose interest in the story entirely.

Got writer’s block? We’ll deal. Here are Carrie Vaughn’s preventative inktips.

FREEWRITE

“Just write whatever comes into your head for 10 to 15 minutes, even if you’re just writing ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over.”

That’s Vaughn’s leading advice for preventing writer’s block—freewriting help you to tap into your subconscious brain, which is usually very good at coming up with ideas. The practice removes a lot of the pressure writers feel to produce a masterpiece.

“I’ve had whole stories come out of freewriting sessions,” she says. “You can also start with a random question, like, ‘What would happen if I was kidnapped by trolls?’ and then just write everything that comes into your mind.”

You could also start with a photo from a magazine to trigger creative juices—you’ll be surprised how the smallest things can inspire creativity.

BRAINSTORM YOUR WAY OUT

If you’re stuck in the middle of a story, Vaughn recommends that you make a list of everything that could possibly happen next.

“Include the most ridiculous things you can think of, even, ‘Aliens land, abduct everyone, and take them to a planet made entirely of marshmallows,’” she says. “Mixed in with the ridiculous things, you’ll most likely think of something, or several somethings, that catch your attention and spark your imagination and make you want to get back to writing the story.”

SELF-ANALYZE

Have you lost interest in your story? It’s time to review your work.

Vaughn recommends reading your work to figure out the exact moment your excitement waned—maybe that’s the point when something went wrong in the story.

Vaughn recommends asking yourself questions like:

Did a character do something that didn’t fit with how that character normally acts?

Did something completely illogical and unbelievable happen?

Are you trying to force the story to go in one direction when everything in it seems to be leaning in another direction?

Vaughn gives a great self-analysis example from Star Wars: “Like you set it up so Luke and Leia would hook up, but discovered that Han Solo is so much more interesting and romantic and that Leia should really be with him, so you have to go back and give Luke and Leia a reason to not get together, rather than trying to force them together and leaving Han out in the cold,” she says. “Go back to that point, rethink it, and rewrite it differently.”

SHIFT GEARS

Need to take a stimulating breather? Go for it—work on something else for a while.

“I’m usually working on a short story and a novel at the same time, and when I get stuck on one I’ll work on the other,”  Vaughn says. “Then when I get stuck on that one, I’m usually ready to go back to the first project and move forward on it.”

Vaughn’s bottom line: The more you practice generating ideas, the easier it gets, and the less writer’s block will be a problem.

DON’T GIVE UP ALTOGETHER

Oftentimes new writers get discouraged when their writing isn’t going well, and decide to kill the project to start something new. Problem is that this gets you become good at starting a project, but you don’t have the practice of finishing it and writing the ending.

Vaughn advises against trashing your work. “The story you end up with may not be that great, but at least you finished and learned to work through the problems,” she says. “That will give you confidence on the next story.”

inkpop Forums Topic: Have you ever had writer’s block? What’d you do to fix the sitch?

The inkpop blog is written by inkpopAmy

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7 Responses to “How to cure writer’s block”

  1. These are great tips! I’ve done the freewriting thing, purely out of annoyance with myself though. 😉 I didn’t really think that it would help me out. I’m definitely going to use these in the future!

  2. […] Inkpop interviewed me on the subject of writer’s block. […]

  3. rainshadow said

    Wow. This helped me so much!

    I have finished a whole 2 CHAPTERS today via these tips!

    Yey, go tips 😛

    rainshadow

  4. I, too, gave the freewriting technique a whirl — it worked wonders!

    Writing inspires writing. Not writing inspires not writing.

    Freewriting worked so well, I actually created a whole writing community around it! I’m hoping more writers realize that a quick scribble is the only way you’re going to start writing.

    Too much thinking, and you’ll convince yourself your idea isn’t good enough.

  5. […] Carrie Vaughn, author of Voices of Dragons, at InkPop […]

  6. Markysan said

    I do the multiple projects thing and switch from one to the other when I get stuck in one.

    Before I switch prtojects I’ll think to myself “what’s the most logical thing to happen next.?” Then I’ll study that and ask myself “What is the opposite of the most logical thing?” I keep going and do a list… most amusing thing, most tragic thing, most bizarre thing… then it turns into a “choose your own adventure” story.

  7. […] am I just being lazy?  Is that different?  Last week I contributed to an Inkpop article on the subject, and I was asked to define writer’s block.  Here’s what I […]

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