I have no idea why you get writer’s block. I only know why I get it.
When I was a child, I heard an author say that there was no such thing as writer’s block. I was fascinated at her dismissal of a topic I found discussed/bemoaned so frequently in copies of Writer’s Digest, something that did seem like a very real torture visited upon earnestly laboring writers. But no, she did not believe in it. Writer’s block was code for laziness. If you really wanted to write, you’d be writing. If you were stuck, it was because you really didn’t want to write anyway. Saying that one had writer’s block was a face-saving justification.
I wanted to adopt this as my motto, too. It was so hardcore, in-your-face and take-no-prisoners strong, and at ten years old, I wanted this toughness for myself. No excuses! If you want to write, you write. If you don’t, don’t pretend your novel hit a brick wall against which you flail helplessly. Boohoo. Write or find something else to do with your life, something that doesn’t have a condition involving a block. After all, one cannot get away with busboy block in a restaurant, nor could I have pulled the musical block card when I didn’t feel like practicing. So there is no such thing! I plowed through countless short stories and novellas and my first book without problem, and then I started my second book, and I came down with a terrible case of a condition I’d spent twelve years fervently not believing in.
Over the years, writer’s block has happened on a few occasions. And over the years, I learned what causes it. You may have different causes, but mine invariably boil down to a failure to outline in some fashion. Maybe I didn’t outline the plot sufficiently in my notes; maybe I outlined the plot but I didn’t give myself a clear enough view of some characters in order to be able to write them. It was this latter wall I struck last week with my current book. I was on Chapter 8, when my heroine finally meets the five villains making her life a nightmare, and my writing slowed and slowed and slowed until I came to a pause. I’ve written 2,000 words a day on this novel all month long, but I made about 1500 before I was forced to quit. The plot was not the issue. I knew what happened next. So why couldn’t I write the dialogue?
It came clear after visiting the notes that the brick wall was made of the five villains. I knew their names and ages and descriptions and basic personalities, but I was unable to write any more in the book until I knew how they related to one another. My heroine is meeting some of them for the first time, but they have known each other for years.
Over that much time, they would have developed communication styles. They’d have likes and dislikes among the group, favorites and friction, a shared history to which they refer. They could not come across like tentative strangers after spending every day together. Mr. Evil, Mrs. Evil, and the three Little Evils had to be fleshed out further. What are the power struggles between the five? How do two of the Little Evils relate to the third Little Evil, who is a more formidable fighter? Are they jealous of her? Admiring? She is Mr. Evil’s favorite of the three, but Mrs. Evil prefers the other two. Mrs. Evil loves to be in Mr. Evil’s limelight, but she has to share it with this favorite Little Evil, and how does that make her feel?
I hadn’t done this footwork in my outline before I started writing the book, and so I couldn’t write the dialogue in that scene. The heroine has been taken captive and thrown in a cage while Mrs. Evil and her favorite Little Evil are talking, and I had to know them before I could know what they’d say. When I returned to the novel after deepening the notes on the five Evils, the writer’s block had vanished and it was full steam ahead.
My writer’s block isn’t borne of laziness. Maybe yours is. I can’t say. I think it’s more likely that the tent won’t stand because you’re missing a stake, and you need to look around the campsite for it.
Happy hunting. And then get back to your book.