Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Trip Around the Block

I've only had a few, blessedly short, interludes of writer's block, but they are no less depressing for being short.  When it  happens you are filled with this dread feeling of inadequacy, of a failure of mind, that whatever  little literary talent I once had has dissipated, never to return.  Panic ensues, which seems to make the lack of progress on the WIP ever worse.  I stare at the screen or paper for hours, unable to think of what comes next in the story, much less write the next paragraph, sentence or word. My brain seems paralyzed - even befuddlement would be preferable to this mindless state. What to do? What to do?

I believe that "Writer's block" is another way of your brain telling itself to take a short rest break. This inability to move forward on a project isn't usually caused by just one thing but results from a cascade of competing and often conflicting priorities within the work.  There might be an unresolved plot turn that you cannot resolve, an unforeseen turn in the arc, or even something "wrong" with the way you want the story to go.  Sometimes these conflicts reach a point where the decision making executive of the brain says "stop being creative for while and concentrate on something more important than pandering to some pennies-a-word editor!"

I've learned that the best way around the block is to stop beating my head against the wall, but to go off to do other, more important things.  Usually, while I am otherwise occupied the writer part of my brain stays busily at work; sifting alternatives, weighing consequences, and juggling memories maniacally, unbothered by the body's need to pee, drink coffee, pet cats, eat, or socialize with the spouse.  In other words, it is doing a muse's work in the background.

The amount of time spent away from writing is dependent on my ability to resist obsessing on the project and time-dependent on my tolerance for keyboard withdrawal.  Eventually, when I put my fingers back to work, I discover that whatever factor was blocking my progress has either disappeared or I realize that the project was not capable of being saved. In those cases, I move on to something else because, as a writer, I can do nothing else.

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