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Unblocking the Writer

by Dr Bob Rich

It’s every writer’s dread. You have a concept, go to write it down — and nothing comes. Or you are in the middle of a great story, and the flow dries up. The more you work at it, the worse the blockage.

There are several potential causes for writer’s block, and several remedies you can try.

When I was writing the second book of my trilogy The Travels of First Horse, I came to a dead stop after my hero and his friends managed to get out of Egypt alive. I had a detailed plot, knew all the characters, even had descriptions of locales, but…the words wouldn’t come.

I decided to skip ahead, and wrote about their arrival in Damascus. I described the scenery, wrote summaries about the local people — and that was all the fruit of days of futile striving. In something like despair, I put the book aside altogether, until I realized: the problem was that all I wanted to do was to write up the climax of the book: Horse’s penetration of the hidden and forbidden city of Meluhha, where he was to steal the secret of making steel.

So, I skipped ahead and wrote the entire chapter in about two days. It needed very little fine tuning later. After this, I was able to return to Egypt, the desert, Jerusalem and Syria, and wrote it all without any trouble. All the pieces became welded together without a visible seam.

I should have known. Years before, when I was a research scientist and had to write papers for learned journals, I ALWAYS wrote the Introduction last, when I knew what I was introducing. Writing from start to end is not always the best way to go.

This case study illustrates two unblocking techniques.

1. If you get stuck, move to another part. It makes sense to set down all the most exciting scenes of a story, then cobble them together, then find a satisfying ending, and at the last devise the leading part.

2. You can go stale. Too much effort can get your mind driving around in fruitless circles. The solution is to put the tract of writing away, let it get cold, then return to it with a fresh eye, and fresh enthusiasm.

There must be a reason if this doesn’t work. Usually it indicates a fault with the scene. You may be trying to force your people to act out of character, or there could be a discordance between what you say about them and how they act, or some essential component may be missing.

The choices are:

1. Cut this scene altogether, and introduce a replacement situation.

2. Modify something in the preceding sections, so that the problem scene now rings true.

3. Rewrite the scene, allowing the people within it to decide what they say, how they act. Part of the problem may be that you have been looking at it all from the outside. Get within POV (Point Of View) and BECOME the person who is your current witness.

There is one further reason for getting stuck, and it has nothing to do with writing. When you are physically exhausted, ill, or under severe stress, your creativity just has to suffer. The cliche has it that ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ Not true: creativity is the child of inner peace and well-being. Get yourself together, and the words will return.

© 2002 by Dr Bob Rich

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