After writing my last editorial, I realized one great gaping hole in it—I didn’t discuss the actual writing process, nor give any suggestions around it. Oh, there were hints (notes about outlines and reading more), but nothing that focused on the nitty-gritty of the process.
Was I avoiding the problem? Was there a part of me that thought “They can figure it out on their own?” Possibly, but it was unfair of me personally to avoid the issue. So, I’m going to hit three of my main focuses in giving advice around writing.
However, let me say upfront, I find it hard to give actual “creation” advice. Creation is unique to everyone—where an idea comes from and how it grows into a work is as unique as your own experience learning to ride a bike. Oh, the end product may be the same (you are on the bike), but the scratches and bruises that got you onto it are your own.
The surest sign that you are reading the work of a new writer is when all of the characters sound the same. This is because the writer has not learned to “hear voices” yet. They just hear their own narrator voice and the others are lost or nonexistent. This is a greater problem than the writer might realize because the best way to convey a character, make them unique from the others in a work, is through dialogue.
So how do you “hear voices?” Well, besides reading other’s writing, going to plays, listening to the radio, or watching TVs and movies, you can go and listen to people. This may seem like eavesdropping (which it is), but look at it as exploring the possibilities. Go to a mall or a coffee shop and sit down and listen (Please, please, please don’t stare!). Listen to how the people around you put together their sentences and convey their arguments in their conversation (Does their voice go up or down at the end of a sentence? Is there an accent? Do they speak slowly or quickly? Do they use more words than is necessary to get their point across?). Maybe even, discretely, take some notes. The point is to find voices different from the main one in your head. Frankly, if you want to enrich the characters in your book, finding a unique real-world voice for each is a great way to start.
There is one other way to hear voices and it might be the most crucial, especially when you are moving forward with a larger work, like a novel. Get some friends together (if you are lucky, they might be actors) and have them read the dialogue as if they are playing the parts. This may seem funny or silly at first, but once you get past the giggles you will realize how important this opportunity is to your work. Have them “act” out some of the more emotional or powerful moments. Take notes during the reading, highlighting what you liked in your book and what needs to be changed. Over the course of the experience, your characters should emerge for you in your mind, and I guarantee when you return to the writing and editing, they will be standing on firmer soil than they ever were before.
Embrace the Writing Block
Your brain is a muscle; you’ve heard parents and teachers call it that before. Well, it’s best to think that way as well when it comes to the part of it that inspires us to write and create. But this is more than a cute little metaphor for students; this can be used to explain every aspect of how to become a stronger writer and to deal with the dreaded writer’s block.
Writing a novel is like benching 200 lbs. You can’t just go down to the gym and suddenly do it. You need to prep your muscles through exercise and stretching. You need to begin by benching smaller amounts and even take in vitamins and other nutrients that will help your muscles grow. Creativity is the exact same way. If you start with a novel, the most complex of writing assignments, your brain… well, it won’t like the experience and the idea will die before you are even able to lift the heavy bar onto the bench.
So before conquering those future novels, let’s get your “muscle” ready for the experience. That is done through vitamins (reading other people’s books), stretching (writing down ideas and thoughts throughout the day that might be part of future creative work), and exercise (taking on smaller writing projects; like a short story or one-act play). The more you prepare yourself for the experience of lifting the bigger weights, the easier it will be for you to not only comprehend the giant task in front of you, but to envision every aspect of it, from the overall tone down to a single line of dialogue that you really are fond of.
So how does this relate to a writer’s block? A writer’s block is a pulled muscle, no difference. You strained your creativity and that part of your brain needs time to recover. So, embrace this opportunity: read some literature, take a break from the book and dive into some other fiction you have in a drawer, maybe write some non-fiction, or start a blog. When your creativity is ready to return to the book, it will tell you. Stressing over it and forcing yourself to fight through the problem is not going to help; it will just make the pulled muscle worse and delay the recovery.
And, like with working out, I can guarantee the “stronger” your brain becomes, writing blocks will come less and less. So embrace these moments now as a time for exploring other things, and laugh to yourself that you pulled your brain.
Exploration of an Art Form
I spoke about this in my previous editorial, but I can’t convey the importance of this enough— explore the art of literature. Like a painter needs to know about brushes, paints, different movements and styles in painting, a writer needs to do that as well for writing. Inspiration is everywhere, but one place I guarantee it resides is in classic literature,
- The more you read literature, the fewer questions you will have on where a plot should go, or what a character should do.
- The more you study literature, the fewer questions you will have on what you can do to enrich your writing or story.
- The more you explore literature, the fewer questions you will have about the uniqueness around your own inspiration.
If you feel literature and bigger books too “boring” or maybe you say they are “not your thing”; well, you really need to reconsider the idea of being a writer… Which brings me to my final thought.
Returning to the Weightlifting Metaphor for My Final Thought
This may be hard to read, but if you seem to have a lot of writer’s blocks, struggles, and questions, your brain may be telling you something you don’t want to hear.
Not all of us are destined to be built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and not all of us are “built” to write novels; just like how not all of us are built to play the piano or sing (I can’t hit a note at all when I sing).
There are a lot of other things to do in this great world than write novels or books, take the message your brain is giving you, and explore other passions. You aren’t failing, you are looking for your strengths, and once you find them, writer’s blocks and that unfinished novel will seem like a trivial moment on the path to your true purpose.