Sunday, June 22, 2014

Breaking Through Writer's Block--guest post by Dan Levinson

Breaking Through Writer’s Block
By Dan Levinson

It can be far too easy to let lack of inspiration take away our ability to put pen to paper; to let it shatter the joy that comes from that wonderful dance of our fingers upon the keyboard. Many times, we instead find ourselves staring out the window, watching the rain; we glance at the clock, only to find we’ve whiled away half the day browsing the internet, finding out who wore what on which red carpet, and which no-longer-tween celebrity just broke up with her boyfriend.
It can be a challenge to refocus, to force ourselves to look at that oh-so-depressing empty page. How do we find the strength to go on, to push forward?
First, let’s address what is, in my experience, the chief cause of writer’s block: fear.
Writer’s block is much akin to a schoolyard bully, that oppressive playground punk who makes us shrink away from the things we want to do. Want to take a big writing risk—the writer’s equivalent to swinging on the monkey bars? Too bad, because our terror of being unable to live up to our own expectations—and the expectations of readers—creeps in and paralyzes us. Am I good enough to pull this off? Will people like it? Does it work in my story?
As these questions twirl round and round in our heads, we once again find ourselves thinking about anything but writing. The bully has made us back down again, and all we’re left with is a blank sheet and a heaping helping of dissatisfaction.
So what to do? The answer is: Just go for it.
Write something. Write anything. Let it be bad. Don’t judge it. There’s no need to listen to the criticism of your inner editor demon. Even if it’s awful, that’s the beauty of writing: You can always go back and change it. For now, however, the most important aspect of breaking through the block is getting the ball rolling.
Now, here are a few tips that have worked for me to make that happen . . .
#1. Get in the character’s head.
I don’t mean in a general sense; I mean sink down into that exact moment where you’ve hit the block. Ask yourself: What is my character thinking? What is he feeling? What is he physically seeing? Doing? Forget about moving the story forward for now. The important thing is to regain your momentum; anything extraneous you can always remove later. Even if writing about your character doing the dishes gets you back into the flow of writing, do it. Whatever it takes.
#2. Try writing longhand.
Sometimes changing up our process can clear out the fog. Most writers these days use a computer (or laptop, tablet, etc.), so it can be an interesting and liberating experience to try it “old school.” There’s less pressure for everything to be “perfect”; you know you’ll have to type it in later, so corrections can be put off until then. Furthermore, having the opportunity to cross things out, make notes in margins, get a little sloppy can make us feel more free to make mistakes; on the computer screen said mistakes are summarily erased from existence, and the page is restored to a state of unmarred perfection. That’s a heavy burden.
Another advantage of writing longhand is that we can force ourselves to be free of distractions. Take a notebook and, if the weather’s nice, go to your favorite park; or visit your local library, bookstore, or coffee shop. Leave the laptop at home. Granted, in this day and age you’re likely to be carrying a smartphone, but I find the temptation far less on a mobile device. If necessary, turn off your wi-fi and data plan, just to give yourself an extra barrier.
#3. Speed through transitions.
I’ve found that blocks can arise from getting a character from point A to B. “John” needs to get uptown, but first he needs to leave his apartment, walk to the subway, wait for the train, and so on. Or we could simply write, “John left his apartment, and caught a train uptown. A short time later, he emerged from the station . . .” Voila! Done. It can always be expanded upon later, but often the best thing to do is expedite and move things along.
#4. Get to the cool stuff.
A lot of times we have particular moments we’re writing toward, but there just ends up being so much in between where we currently are in the narrative, and where we’re champing at the bit to get to. Instead of drawing things out, do away with delays. Simply take the story there.
However, if there are things you absolutely must address before moving things forward to that section, figure out ways to punch them up. I find writer’s block can emerge when I’m trying to deal with a section I find boring or uninspiring. A powerful way to deal with this is to come up with unexpected, unplanned moments to insert into these otherwise pedantic portions of the narrative that get us amped up; ideally they should be rife with tension and conflict. You might end up with something amazing you never anticipated.
 #5. Don’t force it…Actually, do.
Just put a sentence on the page. “The wallpaper was red.” “The sky was overcast.” “The car’s tires squealed.” It doesn’t matter if it isn’t good; you can always remove it later. The important thing here is to build momentum. And you can’t build momentum if you don’t write something. Anything. Don’t judge it—for it’s that judgy inner editor that keeps you afraid from putting something poor on the page in the first place. Just press on, and you’ll be surprised at what comes out.
Dan Levinson
Author of Fires of Man--Available June 17

Twitter: @ReadDanLevinson


Supposedly, the war between Calchis and Orion ended decades ago. But upon reporting to an isolated Orion army base for basic training, Private Stockton Finn learns the war still rages, only the weapons have changed—most disturbingly of all, Finn has been selected to become one of those weapons.

Across the border, young Calchan farm boy Aaron Waverly learns all too well just how determined his country is to win the war when he is abducted from his family's property by a sinister government operative known only as Agent. Trapped in dreary new surroundings, learning deadly skills he's never before imagined, Aaron struggles to reconcile his ephemeral faith with his harsh new reality.

As the two nations hurtle toward a resurgence of open hostilities, Finn and Aaron, along with their new friends and mentors, must rush to prepare themselves for the inevitable clash. All the while, a new archaeological find in the frozen tundra far to the north hints that the brewing conflict may only be the first of their worries...

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