Monday, 7 November 2011

Preparing for Writer's Block by Samantha Warren

You know it's coming... (source)

National Novel Writing Month has just gotten underway. We have weeks ahead of us to pound away at the keyboard, a hopeful glimmer in our eyes, and a burning story at the front of our minds. Right now, we have all the motivation we need. But if any of you are like me, that new NaNo blush will wear off quickly as I start to encounter unexpected plot twists, writer's block, and the general burdens of life. I can't tell you how to solve your plot twists or how to deal with the family that expects you to actually pay attention to them, but I do have some suggestions for writer's block.

First off, I don't believe in blaming writer's block or my muse for my inability to write. I call it writer's block for lack of a better term, but in reality, it's really just an inability to sit down and write. The reasons are different for everyone--lack of focus, failure to prepare, or, as is usually the case with me, pure laziness. So what do you do when you only have a month to knock out 50,000 words and can't afford to deal with it?

You prepare. You take the motivation you are feeling now and you get yourself into a groove. First off, I hope you all have a basic outline of your story. If not, sit down and make one now. Mine are simple, just five parts:

  • A beginning (who the main characters are and the main plot goal),
  • a first act (the protagonist begins their quest, meets the antagonist for the first time),
  • a second act (second meeting between the two, this time the antagonist gets the upper hand),
  • a third act (the climax, the final battle, where good meets bad and it all comes to a head),
  • and a resolution (where you wrap it all up in a neat little package).
If you don't have an idea of where your story is going, it'll be awful tough to get through those rough patches later in the month.

Now that you have your outline, come up with a plan on how you'll tackle it. Designate time to write each day. You designate time for work and family, right? Time to watch your favorite television shows? An hour a day really isn't that much in the scheme of things. I waste that much time flipping through crappy shows or hanging out on Twitter. And it's only for a month.

I also like to figure out how much I need to write in a week, keep track of how much I still need to meet that goal, and give myself a day off. I do better when I have a day or two to refuel my creative juices. It gives me something to look forward to. And I only get that day off if I've met my goal. Rewards are important, even the small ones.

And sedate your inner editor now, before he/she gets out of hand. I even turn off spell-check. It can all be fixed later. No author writes a gem right off the bat, and don't let anyone tell you differently. What we see in the end is sometimes so far from the initial piece, it's crazy. But that's ok. It's normal.

And when you do get behind and just want to curl up and watch TV when you have 25k left to go, I have four words for you: Suck it up, buttercup. Plop your butt in that chair, put your fingers on the keyboard, and get typing. It may suck, it probably will suck, but that's what NaNoEdMo is for. So write, and don't stop writing until you hit that purple bar.

Samantha Warren (@_SamanthaWarren) is a fantasy and science fiction author who spends her days immersed in dragons, space ships, and vampires. With her pet dragon, Anethesis, she ventured to the ends of the universe, but the cost of space travel cut into her sock fetish fund, so she sold her ship and returned home. When she isn’t writing, she’s milking cows or trying to feed them Pop-Tarts. She spends a lot of time in her weed patch (aka: garden), watching any show featuring Gordon Ramsay, or posting random things on her blog


  1. Really great article, by the way. I've never understood the term writer's block (that's not to say I don't suffer obstacles). For me it's just an easy catch phrase that becomes an excuse and a reason to give up.

    I think you outline perfectly how to tackle the obstacles that face each of us when we write: think it through, keep to a schedule and push on. Writing regularly and keeping to a deadline really helps me. I also think your best advice is definitely to 'suck it up.'

    One other thing that's helped me is to never be afraid of throwing it all out and starting over. This allows me to not worry about sucking and to keep writing. But...I always make sure I keep all my deleted scenes organized. I'm often amazed at how those pages I've tossed in a fit or a huff find there way back into the fold of my MS.

  2. Well said. I read somewhere that "happiness" is not a constant state of being that someone achieves and then maintains, but a series of isolated and fleeting moments to be cherished. I often feel the same way about the moments of inspiration that hit us as writers -- they're nice, but uncommon, and sometimes I tend to see the absence of those moments as "writer's block." But the only way out is through. Thanks for the post.

  3. I call them writer's stumbles! It's not a block really. The story plays out in my head and there are lot's of reruns. I know what's supposed to happen, what everyone's lines are and yet when I sit down to write it out, I stumble through it, feeling completely lost sometimes! I know with NaNoWriMo the objective is keep pushing forward!

  4. "Suck it up, buttercup." Best words of advice ever :)

  5. Thank you for the kind words, everyone. I thought it would be a good topic since "writer's block" and the "muse" are thrown around so much as an excuse to not write, but I knew from experience that I was just being lazy about it. I'm struggling with "writer's block" right now. I'm behind on NaNo, and the only excuse I have is that I'm not plopping my butt in my chair and writing. But today, I'm going to "suck it up" and write!

    Suck it up, buttercup was a phrase I learned back in college when I was working at a daycare center. A woman said it to her daughter one day and I laughed so hard. It's stuck with me ever since.

    Keep pushing everyone! Reach for that purple bar (and look forward to NaNoEdMo)!