A definition of Writer’s Block: situation when writer cannot write: an inability on the part of a writer to start a new piece of writing or continue an existing one (source: Bing dictionary).
In my early days as a writer, the idea of writer’s block loomed over me like an unavoidable affliction. It just “was”, and it would be something I would suffer for the remainder of my writing days. There was no way around it: it would happen and it would be a horrible, terrifying experience. I would most likely survive it but I would never be the same.
The thought of writer’s block scared me so much that if I got stuck on a story for more than a few minutes, unable to type another word, I would move on to another. If I couldn’t get the next sentences to lead where I thought the story should go, I would move on to another story. When I reached a point where I deleted every word I added, you guessed it, I would move on to another story. Whenever I got stuck, I would move to another project just to keep writing.
In November 2012, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), an annual writing project that challenges writers to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. That averages to 1,667 words a day. To put it in perspective, when I’m not editing, I try to average somewhere between 300 to 500. Any way you slice it, it’s a lot of words and with NaNoWriMo, word count is king. You’d better tie your tuque on tightly because you’re in for a harrowing ride: NaNo is no time for writer’s block. Some participants modify the challenge, writing several short stories that total 50k words to meet the goal, but the pure way to do it is to write a novel. That means one story.
I had no choice: I had to keep at it since switching to another project would be cheating. And when I got stuck on day three, I did not allow myself to quit or cheat by jumping to another story. I also refused to walk away. But nothing came to mind and within minutes I was panicking, not wanting to break my streak of writer’s block avoidance.
It was then that another participant suggested that I type anything that came to mind rather than try to control the story. Stream of thought, background, write out a later scene, even if it felt wrong. I had no plan but I begrudgingly put fingers to keyboard, typed a few sentences, a stream of thought of what I imagined could happen next. I knew it would be embarrassing work that would be the first thing excised during the revision process but I typed what came to mind, however lame it was. Felix should probably try to get to his mother’s house at this point, check up on her since he probably is a good son and I guess would care about her enough to make sure she’s still alive…
After two paragraphs of equally inarticulate ramblings, something clicked. It’s as if my brain took over, directing my fingers without my having any control over my own mind and body. I read what appeared on the screen as a reader would read a new book after cracking the spine for the first time. There was action, suspense, even twists and turns I never saw coming. A new character was introduced and I clearly remember thinking “Who’s Claire?” when I read it on the screen. By the end of it, I had close to 5,000 words more and a clear path to what would come next.
In the end, I reached the 50k word goal with a few days to spare. I have not yet completed that novel but what came out during that dizzying episode is the best section of the manuscript to date. When I revisited the manuscript after NaNo was over, the sub-par paragraphs that led to it turned into a whole chapter. Those two paragraphs of ramblings also paved the way for the introduction of the key subplot.
So yes, I’ve been stuck plenty of times, but I’ve never met a writer’s block that caused me to walk away. To me, there are many ways to get around it so it only becomes writer’s block if you let it be. When I get stuck, I rarely switch stories now that NaNoWriMo has taught me not be so quick to tag out. I keep at it when progressing on a story seems most impossible, rambling on for a few paragraphs before everything comes in line again, like the train wheels are back on the rails and I will make it to the next station.
The best material comes when I least expect it, when I think there is nothing left to add and all the work on a story was for naught. The lesson is to keep writing even if it makes no sense at the time. It will all come together in the end.