05 Sep

Who You Gonna Call?

Posted in Brain Boot Camp, DIY MFA

Blockbusting is nothing more than a matter of developing strategies and putting them into action.  Of course, before we can come up with any strategies to break through blocks, we must identify the blocks themselves.  Identifying the offending specimens is the first and most important step.

There is a fabulous book on busting through blocks: Conceptual Blockbusting by James L. Adams.  Although this book is mostly geared toward corporate creatives, a lot of the information is relevant to any kind of artist, including writers.  Today I’ll highlight a few of the blocks that are most relevant to writers and discuss how we can break through them.

Fear of Taking Risks:  Many writers like to write “safe.”  I’ve seen a lot of this in writing classes and academic environments, where writers produce work that they’re lukewarm about but that will get a “safe” response.  I’ll admit, I was a risk-averse offender from time to time and I almost took the easy way out when I was getting ready to write my thesis.  Then I thought, what the heck?  I’ll write what I like and so what if it’s terrible.  This meant resurrecting a novel that I thought had gone to it’s final resting place.  In the end, that piece turned out to be one of the best things I’ve written to date.  Try this: If you feel your writing stagnating, ask yourself what risks you can take.  Add a character.  Kill a character.  Change POV.  Change the hero into a villain or the villain into a hero.

“First you jump off the cliff and you build wings on the way down.”
Ray Bradbury

No Appetite for Chaos:  Similarly to being risk-averse, many writers are afraid of chaos.  You live and die by your outline.   You have to edit as soon as you get your critique papers because heaven forbid your draft remain “rough.”  But chaos sometimes goes beyond the surface of the writing.  For instance, I have a hard time writing anything that deals with tough emotions because I like to keep my writing life neat and clean and free of messy feelings.  Of course, the minute I allow myself to delve into my characters’ emotions is when I finally make progress.  Try this: Is there an area of your life where you impose orderliness?  Can you give yourself permission to make a mess?  Let yourself play and see what happens.

“No one welcomes chaos, but why crave stability and predictability?
Hugh Mackay

Inability to Incubate:  Another problem that many writers run into is failure to incubate an idea.  Not all ideas or projects are conceived ready for the page.  Sometimes an idea needs to simmer for a while and if a writer tries to force it into being, the idea ill balk and exact its revenge.  Sometimes we have to give our ideas room to breathe and grow.  Try this: Is there an idea that you’ve been forcing into action?  If so, let it incubate for a while.  If you feel nervous about letting the idea sit, do some productive procrastination and do some research or character sketches for your story.

“He that can have patience can have what he will.”
Benjamin Franklin 

Lack of Flexible Thinking:  Sometimes writers get locked into a perspective of their story and they bypass a series of much better options.  For instance, when I first started working on my current WIP, I had the view of the antagonist as being a prototypical “mean girl” at school.  My protagonist would have to juggle conflicts at home with her desire to fit into the school world dominated by said mean girl.  I was so stuck on this idea that even though I kept hitting the wall, I still saw this antagonist in this stereotypical way.  Then my adviser suggested I bring the antagonist into the protagonist’s world instead of vice versa.  The result was a pile of pages written in the antagonist’s POV (which were cut from the current draft but were still invaluable in developing the current story.)  Try this: If you’re finding yourself stuck in a certain mindset, ask yourself: what’s the most drastic change you can make?  Now make it.

“Si quelqu’un veut un mouton, c’est la preuve qu’il en existe un.”
(If somebody wants a sheep, that is a proof that one exists.)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Conceptual Blockbusting contains many more blocks with exercises to test your thinking and detailed explanations of how to turn these blocks on their heads.  In the end, it all comes down to one thing: if you keep moving, maybe these blocks won’t catch you.

“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
 Henry David Thoreau


Comments on this post

  1. Shaddy says:

    (I'll certainly call you before ask anything of Ghostbusters!!)

    You've motivated me to get to work on re-editing my 2009 NaNoWriMO novel. I've been ignoring it for too long and need to work it.

    I'm reading and printing out all of your blog posts related to DYI MFA.

    Thanks for all you're doing for those of us who are hungry for help.

    1. gabi says:

      You're so very welcome. It's my pleasure! Thank you for participating in DIY MFA.

      Re: re-editing your 2009 NaNoWriMo novel… good for you! Revising is tough but it sounds like you've let the book incubate for a good while and you're probably ready to look at it with fresh eyes. Also, letting a project sit for a while often makes it easier for writers to take risks, since time away can give writers a more objective perspective on the work.

      1. Kerryn Angell says:

        This has been a great start to iggi U and DIY MFA. The posts are really well put together and are thoroughly thought-provoking. It's a great place to start too, giving us tools to be as productive as we can through the coming weeks.

        My experience and break through with writer's block is appropriately titled I'm Afraid.

        1. Michelle Davidson Argyle says:

          This post is absolutely excellent, Gabi. Very helpful as I move into writing a new novella. Thank you!

          1. Sonia says:

            This is so true! I find that when I've been working on something for too long, I become too used to it and can't make any more progress until I take a step back and let it incubate for a few days.
            I have a lot of trouble with flexible thinking—when I have an idea I want to stick to it! I wrote down that first sentence about better options on a Post-It note so I don't forget it!

            1. Sonia says:

              Oh, and I love that you used a quote from "Le Petit Prince"—I love Saint-Exupéry! I actually have a postcard above my writing desk that reads: La preuve que le petit prince a éxiste c'est qu'il était ravissant, qu'il riait, et qu'il voulait un moutoun. Quand on veut un mouton, c'est la preuve qu'on existe [The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, that he wanted a sheep. When one wants a sheep, that is the proof that he exists]. What a great book!

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