On Conquering Writer’s Block
by Jennifer Donnelly
A question I get asked a lot is this one: How do you handle Writer’s Block?
Here’s my answer: Writer’s Block is like the monster under the bed – it only exists if you think it does.
I don’t believe in it. In fact, I think the whole concept is baloney. Evil baloney. It scares writers, especially young ones, and makes them think they’re powerless victims of some huge, ugly force outside of their control. It sets up an expectation of failure.
Writing, like a lot of things, is hard and frustrating. Getting from a lovely, sparkly, beguiling little wisp of an idea to a finished novel takes dirty, ugly, faith-shaking work, and lots of it.
Struggling, coming up blank, getting stuck…that stuff isn’t writer’s block. It’s normal.
False starts, dead ends, plot holes you could drive a Zamboni through…normal.
The stack of scribbled pages on your desk, the five unfinished drafts on your computer, the hopeless print-out in a box on the floor of your closet…that, too, is normal.
All this stuff doesn’t mean your story is doomed. It doesn’t mean you suck. What it means is that you haven’t thought your essay or term paper or novel through properly and you’ve stalled out because of it.
I’m on my thirteenth novel and I still stall out. A lot. I get stuck. There are times when I want to scream and yell and sweep everything off my desk. But I don’t. Because I can’t. Writing is my art; it’s also my livelihood. I have contracts and deadlines and I need to meet them if I want to paid.
This is how I get unstuck...
I move away from my computer screen.
I get a stack of blank white paper. (I use the backs of old manuscripts.)
And a good pen.
Then I sit down and start writing out questions on what’s wrong with my story. The more specific, the better. Such as: Why is my main character two-dimensional? Why is my dialogue flat? Why is the love scene in Chapter Four a total joke?
Sometimes I can’t be specific. Because I don’t know what’s wrong. When that happens, I write this question: Why does this entire book suck?
And then I wait, and think about my question. Maybe for seconds. Maybe for minutes. And then it’s like there’s a Ouija Board in my head, and it starts spelling out the answers. Sometimes they come slowly. Sometimes fast. Either way, I write them all down.
There seems to be something about getting away from my computer screen and applying ink to paper that allows me to identify the problems with my story, and find the answers.
This method might work for you, or you might have to find your own way out of a stall, but as you do, know this: nothing controls your progress but you. Look inside your own head, not under the bed.
© Jennifer Donnelly 2017
Jennifer Donnelly is an award-winning, best-selling author of books for young adults and adults, including the Waterfire Saga: DEEP BLUE, ROGUE WAVE, DARK TIDE, and SEA SPELL. Her other young adult novels include These Shallow Graves, Revolution, and A Northern Light, winner of Britain’s prestigious Carnegie Medal, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature, and a Michael L. Printz Honor. She has also written Humble Pie, a picture book, and the adult novels The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose, and The Wild Rose. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. You can visit her at jenniferdonnelly.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @jenwritesbooks.
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Thank you so much to Jennifer for sparing your time to write this wonderful piece of advice! We all need to step away from the computer once in a while, and I think I’m going to be trying something very close to this tactic next time I get stuck! =)
As always, a special thank you to everyone who has contributed to this feature. Your advice never falls on unappreciative ears. Your words mean so much more than you know. Thank you!
We hope everyone has a wonderful rest of your week!