I know, I’ve bragged about publishing 800 posts and over a million words on WordPress, mostly reviews and undisciplined rants about nerd-centric topics. Lots of Star Trek and Star Wars, as well as vanity projects that appeal mainly to an audience of one—the author himself.
During that same time—since December 2015—I’ve written a lot of things that weren’t submitted for your approval. Character sketches, outlines, lots of scenes and chapters. Nothing resembling a finished short story, novel or script. A couple of first drafts that I need to revisit, maybe, when the thought of doing so no longer makes me physically ill, but nothing that I want anyone else to read. My ego is fragile.
I have been struggling with writer’s block for a while now. Sometimes, I feel that my well of creativity has been entirely drained. To replenish the well, I immerse myself in story, in all media.
Television and the various streaming platforms tell me the most stories, of course. Take a look at the stuff I’ve reviewed and you’ll see what kind of stuff draws me in. A majority of it seems to have a science-fiction/fantasy connection.
I watch documentaries and movies as well. Usually fifteen or twenty minutes at a time because of my undiagnosed but pernicious ADHD. I don’t want medication for this. My brain and its penchant for veering off into uncharted territory is my oldest friend and my chief source of entertainment.
I am watching three different feature films at the moment, courtesy of Netflix and Amazon Prime. The Netflix movie El Camino, which features the character Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, which is a romcom based upon a temporal loop à la Groundhog Day. And, Expendables 3, which is my favorite kind of Shakespearean drama.
I’m watching one documentary at the moment, Vintage Tomorrows, about the steampunk movement. Interesting stuff if you’re into H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and their Victorian contemporaries. Or, if you just like dressing weirdly and hanging out with like-minded weirdos.
But, I also read. Fiction and nonfiction. My brain encodes and stores bits and pieces of everything I read. In fiction, I often learn more about how I should write by reading books that don’t quite manage to impress me.
I read a lot of media tie-ins, which are rarely what I consider to be high art. At present, I’m reading a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation novel by Max Allan Collins that feels a lot like that television series from the beginning of this century—to me at least, a sporadic viewer at best. I’m also reading another Star Trek: Discovery novel, and plan to begin Big Damn Hero, by James Lovegrove soon. This is the first of the media-tie-in novels based upon the short-lived Joss Whedon series Firefly.
I read other fiction as well, usually in the mystery/crime, western or SFF genres.
I read nonfiction books to learn more about subjects that interest me. At the moment, I’m reading books on theoretical physics (research for a story), the real pirates of the Caribbean (ditto—maybe), and screenwriting.
Walter Isaacson’s Einstein biography has been calling for me from my library closet for a while now, and I may read it after I finish The Fabric of the Cosmos by physicist Brian Greene, unless I somehow get sucked into the quantum realm and can’t find my way back. If the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is valid, anything is possible.
Shelby Foote’s three-volume Civil War opus is mocking me from the shelf above our computer monitor. Most of my personal items and totems have been relegated to the closet, but Sharon liked the way the Foote books looked between our plaster bookends, so they sit on a shelf in my direct line of sight to remind me daily that I haven’t read them yet.
I also read comic book collections. Most I get to check out via my Amazon Prime account. I realize that I pay for the Prime membership (worth it for us), but these offerings feel like free comic books to me. Plus, they look beautiful and vibrant on the screen of my Kindle Fire or our home computer monitor. At the moment, I’m working my way through V for Vendetta: the 30th Anniversary Edition and Superman: Vol. 1: Son of Superman. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that I never would have read these if I felt I had to “pay” for them.
Looking back at the list of comic collections I’ve read during this quadmonth (February – May), I believe this statement also holds true for the other comics I’ve read. Maybe not the Firefly comics put out by BOOM Comics. I’ve purchased Firefly comics in the past, which means I’ll probably do it again.
There is a reason why so many comic books are being adapted for the movies. It is a visual medium—almost exactly like feature films in that regard, since special effects have advanced to such a degree that if you can imagine it, SFX can reproduce it on the screen.
Comic books are nearly storyboards for film directors. In almost every instance where a comic book adaptation failed, it was because the filmmakers didn’t value the sanctity of the source material. The people who like this sort of thing want to be pandered to. They want to see their version of the comic book characters on the screen, and they don’t give a tinker’s damn about the director’s personal artistic vision.
Zach Snyder’s Watchmen is a perfect example of an adaptation handled well. In spite of its flaws, and the fact that the story didn’t end quite the way the graphic novel did, much of the visual imagery was ripped off directly from the comic. Way too much blue penis, but even that was accurate.
If what I’ve said so far sounds like the ramblings of an old lunatic, that’s probably not far off the mark. The topic of this post is writer’s block. I’ve written about this before a couple of years ago, where I referred to writer’s block as hitting the wall.
That’s how it feels to me.
It’s not about running out of ideas at all. It’s about trying to put the images and feelings in my head on the page.
It’s also about self-esteem. I have an evil internal editor that tells me everything I write is crap. Ignoring this editor, who screams at me like an angry Russian gymnastics coach, I believe that—using the Pareto Principle—eighty per cent of what I write is crap.
Okay, that’s not quite the 80/20 rule. Maybe twenty per cent of what I write is responsible for eighty per cent of my blog’s value. However in the world this value is calculated. Views or “likes,” perhaps.
I admit that my brain just took me on an unexpected journey into the land of stats. If your pathology is numbers-related, as mine seems to be at times, you’ll get a lot of entertainment (as well as distraction) by exploring the stats on your posts. No, I didn’t compute the value of the 160 posts with the most views. I ran out of steam at post #70, which is slightly less than 9% of my posts. But, these seventy posts were responsible for 33% of my total views. My post with the most views is responsible for over 15% of the total, alone. 160 posts (20% of 800) would be close to 80% of the total.
These are meaningless facts that do not belong in a post about writer’s block. Or, it provides a convincing example of how the author’s tangential thinking is often responsible for the mental roadblock that prevents the creation of cohesive narrative.
That makes this seemed planned.
I achieve moments of lucidity and focus by banging my head directly against that adamantium wall of writer’s block.
If I’m temporarily incapable of writing what I want to write, I’ll write about something else. Anything else. Relate a story from my misspent youth. Create a 10-List about some esoteric subject. Begin writing my story as if it were a television episode. Summarize and annotate a movie or television episode. Write a review—of anything.
I know now that all of these writing projects I create for myself may seem like they’re sabotaging my own creative fiction endeavors, but I think they are writing prompts rather than mere distractions. The page or two I manage to generate during a session of fiction-writing owe a lot to writing a review for Truth Seekers or a deep-dive exploration of every episode of Twin Peaks.
Or, even during the times that I feel I can’t write anything, and choose to listen to or create music instead. All of it makes deposits into my creative bank. Or, to keep from mixing metaphors, helps to refill the well.
Writing anything—even this post—seems to rev up my creative engines and reaffirms my desire to write. My fellow writers out there can appreciate this feeling, especially those who suffer writer’s block.
This is an on-going process for me. If you’re reading this expecting the secrets of conquering writer’s block, you are no doubt disappointed. It’s like taking advice on how to kick an Oxy habit from a heroin addict.
I haven’t conquered my writer’s block. It’s still there, and even when I break through it for a bit, it rebuilds itself. By immersing myself in story, in all forms of media, I slowly refill the creative well and recharge the desire to write. When I catch myself beginning to choreograph story scenes in my mind, I know that I’ve somehow breached a sally port in the wall. At least for a moment.
Thanks for coming to my Writer’s Block Party. This has helped a lot.
3 thoughts on “Writer’s Block Party: writing your way through the Wall”
There are times when the road from thoughts to keyboard is a hard one, true, and indeed the best way for making it through is to move sideways and stick to the things we enjoy. Sooner or later the drive comes back and, as you said so aptly, the well is filled again 🙂
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I can definitely relate to having writer’s block. Story immersion is a great way of breaking through. Good luck!
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