I was planning to talk about so-called Writer's Block even before I saw Al "threecifer" Boudreau's post on Facebook yesterday, but then I replied there (extensively) as my SciFi self. I'll rehash what I said here for those who missed it (or are not on Facebook). Click through to read it now.
Last year I wrote an article on Writer's Block where I noted I have never experienced this phenom (sorry!) and then I went onto detail a lot of tactics you could try to figure out why you're having writer's block and how to break it.
Today, I'm going to be a little more concise--I know! Prolific me, concise? Hard to believe! I have over 20 novels "in the drawer" as they say and about 12 short stories, 5 or 6 novellas. I probably have 8 new / unwritten books in my head as well. I am never at a loss for words and literally cannot fathom how any writer could ever be at a loss for words. Despite all this, I am very aware that many writers are struggling everytime they sit down to figure out how to do this thing I just do without thinking.
Tip #1 Stop Thinking So Much
I believe a lot of the writer's block issues out there are based in over-analyzing a situation. Just sit down and write. If you need to outline first, fine. Do it. Just make sure that when you sit down to write, you aren't rigidly or forcibly adhering to an outline at the cost of squelching creative flow. If your creative juices are flowing and you knowingly squelch the flow, you are creating writer's block. Do your thinking before you sit down to write and when you sit down to write, just write.
Tip #2 Start Writing More
The more I write, the more I learn about what I've been doing wrong--the more I do right, the easier it gets to write :) I know I'm on the right track when the writing flows and I know I'm writing in an effective manner when I go back to read it and still think it flows beautifully.
I know everyone's heard this tip, just keep writing, write everyday, the more you write, the easier it gets, but the thing is, it's true. The biggest thing you can do for yourself to unlock the block is give yourself permission to write badly. That doesn't mean you can get lazy and not bother to write well; rather, it means you shouldn't be afraid to write something that isn't quite "ready for prime time."
The most-powerful thing you can do to start yourself down the path of "freedom to write whatever comes out," is to learn how to edit. Then, when you're disgorging the first draft in an organic way, your backbrain won't be so worried about whether or not it's "good enough." You'll be able to let go and feel secure (subconsciously) that you can always fix it later. This seems obvious to those who are able to edit. However, for writers who have not yet learned how to edit, this subconscious concern can actually prevent you from writing. This segues nicely into Tip #3.
Tip #3 Learn to Edit
I feel writing is creative while editing is destructive--but not in a negative way, just in that deletion is one of the most powerful editing tools around. Most writers will add words to "improve" on something. Instead, try deleting it and writing it again from scratch--the right way this time. You'll get a much more powerful Big Picture. If you feel worried about writing something down "quickly, before you forget that perfect wording," consider the idea that maybe it's not a stroke of genius so much as a phrase of the moment. It might not be the best phrasing for you entire book, but rather, for your moment right here and now. Those are the pet phrases new and inexperienced writers desperately try to "save" and avoid "murdering."
If you think that "editing" means checking spelling, punctuation and grammar, in a way, you're right. That's called "line editing" because all it actually does is "fix" a single line. When you want to edit the entire book, however, you need to do more than tweaking words and checking spelling. You're not "polishing" a sentence when you're editing. You're modifying the entire book--paragraphs and pages at a time.
Now this is important: learning to edit is not necessarily about your finished product. It's about releasing your creativity. You can still hire an editor and have an objective third-party take care of editing your book after you've written it. Learning how to edit, however, frees you to just write. It elminates the worry and subconscious "self-censoring" that might be going on and resulting in what you're calling "writer's block."
Tip #4 Start Reading More
I think the #1 thing a writer needs to know even beyond learning the power of destruction (editing) is to learn the power of being a reader. If you don't read, you really can't expand your breadth and scope. You never see or learn how to use new "literary tools" if you never expose yourself to them. Reading others' work is how you expose yourself to new things you've never conceived of before. It's a way to find inspiration without ever deliberately seeking it out.
Just a word of caution: reading others' work for enjoyment, not necessarily for critical review, I have to confess, I often find my backbrain dissecting and analyzing how an exceptional author managed to get me, as a reader, into a certain mindset or mood. Especially if it's an author whose work I re-read. I'll analyze it the second or third time through, almost definitely. I'm still reading for the pleasure of it but now I'm learning from it as well.
This is how I actually learned to write multiple POV in the second person limited voice. I had no idea what any of that even meant let alone how to do it, before 2005. I happened upon two incredibly gifted authors (each with about 20 years worth of books in their body of work at that time) and I learned by their example--by reading their work multiple times.
The first was Suzanne Brockmann (a Romantic Suspense author who specialized for over 20 years in "stories about US Navy SEALs) and the second was Lois McMaster Bujold (a Science Fiction/Fantasy genre author whose "Vorkosigan Saga" has to be one of my all-time favorite series due to its literary artistry. Lois really illustrates how to use every last tool in the toolbox. Suz teaches by example how an author's voice can completely change the telling of a story--by using various "voices" more effectively than a ventriloquist!
I think going to a classroom to learn spelling and grammar and basic writing tools is a good thing but people who take a course in "Creative Writing" are misguided if they think that's going to turn them into a literary genius. That's going to turn them into a stagnant copycat. One has to read to expand and one has to write to implement what one has learned.
A writer writes. A writer who has only written one book is not a writer. A writer cannot stop at one. A writer writes (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, emails, whatever outlets they can find) and if they're not writing, they're thinking about writing.
Next week's Monday Marketing will be Immutable Law of Branding 7 (for Indie Authors): Law of Quality and then I'll be taking a week or two off while I move (not sure how all the dust will ultimately settle or when I'll be back online exactly) We'll talk quality next week and then I'll be back after July 4th.