The Catch-22 of Writer's Block

What comes first the writer's block or the blank page?


Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for a light to turn on without flipping a switch.

I spend a lot more time than I like looking at a blank Word document with my blinking cursor taunting me as if I've fallen into it's trap. The trap is writer's block and its net is a catch-22 that can feel impossible to escape. It goes like this.


You can't think of ideas, so you don't write. But since you don't write, you can't get any new ideas. Thus the cycle repeats.


I used to think that it was useless to put a single word to a page until I had an idea of what I wanted for a scene, or a chapter, or the book as a whole. I'd draft outlines and redraft them every time a scene drifted away from me. And that's the funny thing - scenes did have a way of drifting.


It always sounds odd when writers say that their characters have minds of their own. Sometimes they don't do what you had planned. That's because of that phenomenon of the writing experience where the ideas that come to you while writing are not always like any of the ones you preplanned. There's something about the act of writing that changes the creative process.


I love outlines and I'll probably continue to write and rewrite them my whole career. Still, no matter how detailed I am when thinking through scenes in my mind, something strange always happens when I put that scene down on paper. The story shapes itself.


As I start writing one line, the next comes to me, and then the next until I have a paragraph, a scene, a chapter. Inevitably, the ideas start flowing as if someone has flipped a switch in my mind. Then, the next day or sometimes even the next scene, the writer's block falls back into place and I'm back in the dark about what to do next.


The outline helps, but only so far. What really helps is writing. Writing, even if there's a chance that a whole scene will be cut, a chapter thrown away, a bunch of gibberish tossed in the rubbish heap, is the best cure for writer's block.


It can hurt when pages are trashed and you feel like you've wasted your time. It's frustrating throwing your hard work away. What's even more frustrating is not having any hard evidence of your work in your hands. At least with the pages you have something to crumple up in frustration.


And I usually learn something from those wasted pages. I learn what the characters should not do - a fate they weren't meant to follow. In a strange way, those lost scenes are like peaking into parallel universes where, yes, maybe the characters could have done that, but that's the wrong reality and, sorry, but I've got to get back to the universe in which my main character would do this instead. When you finally hit the right reality, it's like a spark has lit up a world of ideas and the creative juices start flowing again. Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for a light to turn on without flipping a switch - you'll stay sitting in the dark as long as you don't get up and click the light on.


So, I've got my light on, my creativity flowing, my pen to the paper (or hands to the keyboard) and I'm ready to see where the story will take me today.


Thanks for reading!



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