I don’t know of a single writer; amateur, professional or otherwise, that hasn’t at least once in their writing career looked at someone who asked where they were on a project and said something akin to, “I have writers’ block.” Me personally, I’ve always been torn on the concept (though I’ve obviously admitted to having it far more than once). One part of me views the whole “writer’s block” whine as an excuse for not getting anything done on a writer’s project and it’s not so much that you can’t think of anything, it’s more that you’re just not building healthy writing habits.
On the other hand, as I experienced quite recently, there are times when claiming writer’s block is entirely legitimate. While there’s no way to defeat poor writing habits other than establishing healthy ones (I have a convention panel I do on establishing healthy writing habits…I should really share that here one day…) legitimate, writers’ block is defeatable because it’s usually rooted in one of a few things. First, we’ll talk about the one I conquered most recently and then we’ll talk about the forms of writers’ block I’ve had to conquer in the past.
There I was, sitting in front of my super fancy laptop staring at a screen inside of my word processor looking at a file titled, “Awebringer.” As some of you may know, “Awebringer” is the working title for the third book in the Vosteros writing world I created for TNM Publishing. I’ve always kind of known what the book was supposed to be about. Essentially, Vosteros is set up so that each character gets his own book but the things he does affect the lives of other characters who also have their own books making everything delicately intertwined while each book is able to be read independently of all the others and make perfect sense. The struggle I dealt with as I stared at the screen was “How do I tell this story?” This is the first type of writers’ block we’re going to talk about:
“I don’t know how to write this amazing story in my head!”
Yeah, it happens. In this particular case, I knew the entire story already. It wasn’t so much the “what to write” as it was the “how to write it.” My goal with every Vosteros book is to tell the story the way that it best fits the character. With Trinity of Worlds, Tavoritti Sun wanted to leave behind a legacy that cast a shadow so large that people would remember him for being him and not for being the son of his father. It took a couple of rewrites, but ultimately I decided on a first person limited approach where the entire story [spoiler alert if you didn’t read the prologue] is Mitch, Tavoritti’s adoptive Fenderrin son, reliving the important moments of Tavoritti’s life by using a special item called a Coin of Memory. While there are parts I would have loved to expand on in Trinity, they didn’t fit that storytelling mechanism and I knew that it was by far the best way to tell Tavoritti’s story. I have no regrets and I fall in love with the presentation every time I reread the work to make sure I maintain continuity.
With The Epic of Will, I knew I needed something different (because Merkit never joined the Circle of Fei and therefore couldn’t produce a Coin of Memory). Merkit’s story was far more serious than Tavoritti’s as it dealt with the struggle of having the power to fix things but not knowing if you should. I didn’t want it to read as a broody tale with Merkit whining to himself about what he should or shouldn’t do. I wanted it to remain light and readable. In a stroke of genius, I thought of having his story told by everyone’s favorite crazy old prophet, Marcius MacKeary. Having MacKeary do the narrating left everything with a very lighthearted tone while still tackling the same mental struggle. I liked it. Honestly, not quite as much as I did Tavoritti’s story, but I liked it.
Having created two storytelling mechanisms that I was quite fond of, I sat and thought to myself, “How the hell do I present this?” I went through what must have been a dozen opening sentences before I quit and blamed writers’ block. Then, I did what I always do when I’m struggling with a story line. It’s going to sound silly and unless you’re a White Stripes fan, you’ll probably have never heard the song, but I went and listened to “Little Room.” Jack White’s words are very poignant here: “…And when you’re in your little room, you might not know what to do. You might have to think of how you got started sitting in your little room…” He ends it with some wonderful scat singing but he was right. Here, have a listen:
All story telling revolves around the same basic questions.
Who | What | When | Where | Why | How
“How do basic interrogatives apply to writers’ block?” I hear you ask in my head. It’s a fair question. Here’s verbatim what ended up on the paper.
Mordicai FeiCaster, Awebringer.
Awebringer tells Mordicai’s story of ascending to the rank of FeiCaster and up to the point that he is able to dominate the indomitable. There is a strong interaction with Tavoritti towards the top of the rising action, nearing the climax where Mordicai learns to combine Will and Fei.
The Askurii timeline is intentionally hazy and time itself should not be referenced. They have something for measuring rests between combat (ooc: hourglasses) but they do not have days/nights/years, etc. This leaves time intentionally ambiguous.
Askurii, the Warrior Realm, home of the Scion and the realm flooded with Fei. Askurii has a red, barren landscape (think Mars) and very few structures. Its people live for combat. Their primary diet consists of meat, root vegetables (potatoes) and water. They are a typically muscular race.
Mordicai is one of the four Harbingers. As the Harbinger of Fei, his understanding of how Fei works and how to manipulate it is among the best to have existed. It is Mordicai’s part in the Collision that enables the next book to happen, when he freezes the One God with his power.
All Seekers can see Fei the way it flows through Askurii. It’s among the first skills they learn. What makes Mordicai unique amongst the Seekers, the Bringers and eventually the Casters, is that his control over Fei is so strong, he can use the fei flowing in the realm to counteract fei within the body of others, immobilizing them. As he believes he sees more of the Fei than the others, he does develop a bit of an ego and it comes across often. He’s never villainous, but he has very little concern or empathy for those weaker than he is. His instinct is to always criticize based on how he would have done things. This should be shown a lot as he teaches Seekers.
It was the how that broke me out of writers’ block. Mordicai’s story isn’t just about what he does in Askurii, but also about how he changes as a person by the end. He starts off arrogant and almost hated by nearly all of his peers but by the end he has learned that the most important purpose he has ever had is to protect his people. Then, I thought of what every hated politician always does; they write a memoir to explain their actions and, hopefully, seem like not such a giant bag of jerk-face. So, what would prompt Mordicai to write his memoir? What if he was dying in battle and instead of a memoir, he was adding a bit of explanation to his actions to his coin of memory similarly to how Nisirus did for Tavoritti? That was it, I had my storytelling mechanism! Writers’ block defeated!
Truth be told, I’ve used the interrogative example more than once as it’s a great way to enlighten myself on why anyone should care the character whose story I’m building existed. Sadly, as many writers will attest, writers’ block isn’t always just “How do I write this?” Sometimes, it’s something slightly different. A lot of times, it’s the fear of committing to a critical plot point.
Here’s a little known fact. Tavoritti Sun was in the first book I ever wrote as a static, casually mentioned character that made almost no difference to the plot. By the power of Gray Skull, I loved that name though. I loved it so much that when I started writing Trinity of Worlds I swore I was going to find a way to make it make sense to use it. If you’ve read Trinity, you’ll know that when Tavoritti vanished into the Kara, other warlords rose up to claim his name and his legend. One such warlord was possessed by a demon called a Ravenis and the Ravenis demon was freed when the warlord was killed by an assassin group called the COSA. That one small paragraph closed what could have been a giant plot hole if anyone had read that first book. So, if you’re struggling with the fear of committing to a plot point, here’s a solid piece of advice:
There is no plot point you can create that you can’t overcome through either good storytelling or the backspace button.
Yeah, it’s a little bit silly, but it’s still accurate. You may not be sure of the plot point now, but who knows where it will lead.
The last part of writers’ block I want to cover is probably more of an issue for people just getting into writing than those of us who have been at it a while. It’s all about the statement, “I don’t know how to make my story work.” This year (2016 if you’re reading this in the future) I was approached at SC Comicon by a young author looking for a way to tie all of his story elements together so he could get started. I stood and I listened (this is one of my favorite parts of going to conventions). He had a solid concept and it was mostly thought out but there was just one hole that he couldn’t find a way to close. We went back and forth for a bit, exchanged a few ideas until I saw his eyes brighten and, in my head at least, he shouted “Eureka!” From what I’ve experienced meeting other writers and publishers I can attest that the writing world is really unique in the sense that none of us are really competing with one another. You are the only one telling the story locked in your head. It’s yours and every professional writer I’ve ever met has done nothing other than want to help other, less experienced authors get their stories onto paper. It’s part of a love and passion for the industry that we just can’t explain. So, in closing, my last piece of advice for wrestling with writers’ block is this:
Never be afraid to share your work with a fresh pair of eyes (or ears). The perspective of someone who knows nothing of your world is often times the most priceless and eye opening perspective for you as a writer.
~May your sunsets be many and your battles be few.