As suggested by the name of this blog, OneLazyRobot, I don’t like to work harder than the task at hand dictates. That doesn’t mean cutting corners or phoning it in, but it certainly means not making things any more difficult than they need to be. Efficiency above all else.
So, in the spirit of efficiency I’m going to answer two questions today.
How do you deal with writers block? How do you get inspired to write?
These questions are pretty similar so it seems silly not to just swing at both and see what sticks. So here we go, stand back, I’m swinging like a six-year old at a piñata.
First, let’s dispel two myths real friggin’ quick: writers block is what you make of it; you don’t need to be inspired to write.
Simple? Sure, but as Jim Butcher likes to point out, simple is not the same as easy. To steal another one of his analogies: Picking up a car engine is simple, but not easy.
Unless you’re loaded up on Soviet sponsored vitamins.
Wait, are you on the ‘roods? Better not be, there’s gonna be a pee test at the end of this rant.
Okay, focus. Not you, me.
Most often when people are talking about writers block they’re talking about that initial push for take-off. It’s that ten second countdown clicking off in the back of your skull while your palms sweat, and that blank page is staring at you like it’s going to rip out your jugular and wear it as a corset. (No, that doesn’t make sense, it’s called a mixed metaphor. I think. Why are you looking at me like that? You didn’t come here for writing advice… oh, you did? My bad.)
Starting can be hard for one of two reasons: Too many ideas/Not enough ideas.
If you have all these wild crazy ideas swirling around your old thinking muscle it can be hard figuring out where to begin. Which ideas are worth hanging your hat on, and which ones deserve to die horrible, preferably embarrassing, deaths.
I typically fall into this category of writer, ideas aren’t so tricky for me, it’s figuring out how they all work together to tell a cohesive story. I’m an advocate of writing an outline, but usually, even before that, I’ll just sit down at the blank page, grab one of those ideas, and start writing with no sense of direction or ending.
It’s free-writing, and getting over that first page hurdle is easy when you aren’t worried about where it’s all going, or if it’s going to be any good. Think of an engaging situation, throw a couple characters in there, and presto. Just start writing and see what starts to happen. I’ll usually do about 5,000 words of this, at which point my fingers are loose and I’m starting to evolve a rudimentary framework for my world/characters.
Then I stop. Once my fingers are flitting across the keyboard and the proverbial creative dams have been loosed, I’ll stop and write an outline. What? Why? Because by this point I’m excited on the story, doesn’t matter if it’s incoherent, the characters are dull, and the plot is nonexistent because what I’ve done is opened the door to my creativity.
Now I’m peaking inside a small, dusty room filled with unicorns and magic watching my imagination do it’s thing. It’s at this point I sit down and go hog-wild on an outline. I just keep asking the question What if? followed by And then what?
What if Mr. Baker comes home to discover his wife has run away.
And then what? Well, does Mr. Baker go find his wife, or does he say hallelujah, I was planning on running away myself, but now I’m going to sit on the couch and watch television. Either direction is fine, but always remember your story has to have tension, and you achieve that by making your main character miserable.
What if Mr. Baker goes to find his wife—he’s dedicated to the lady love of his life after all—only to discover she’s run off with the circus that blew through town after falling in love with the bearded woman.
Oof, poor Mr. Baker.
Conversely, what if Mr. Baker decides to say “Eh, fuck it.” And never even bothers looking for the Misses? Instead he pops a squat on the couch, has a couple beers, and watches some tele? Well, that’s not very exciting, but what if the police show up at Mr. Baker’s door a couple hours later saying they received some noise complaints in the form of a woman screaming. Well, that’s odd.. Mr. Baker was watching women’s tennis, but not that loudly.
And then what? So the police come inside, somehow discover the dead, hidden body of Mrs. Baker in the basement behind some dusty old golf clubs and decide to take Mr. Baker down to the precinct.
So now you have some intrigue: who killed Mrs. Baker; who phoned in the complaint; is somebody setting up Mr. Baker; is he suffering from some good old split-personality fun? It’s your story, you get to answer these questions however you want!
Are any of these stories any good?
I don’t know, but that’s not the point at this stage of the game. The point is to get it down and flush down the icky parts later, while simultaneously sprucing up the lovely bits.
You do enough iterations of What if followed by And then what and eventually you got yourself a story.
Writers block never enters into the equation ‘cause all you’re doing is answering really simple questions. Now, that’s not to say you should go for the first idea that springs to mind, because those tend to be cliche and overdone. Instead, try writing down your top ten ideas. Throw out the weak ones, and hang onto the keepers, who knows, maybe you can tie them all into the same story (can you say plot twist? Of course you can, you have a very nice tongue).
Then again, don’t go all crazy Interstellar on us and start cramming things into your story that don’t really need to be there. Learn discretion, which is easier said than done, trust me. I’m a huge offender when it comes to this.
But hey, learn your weaknesss and move on.
Okay, hey you over there. Yeah, the guy claiming he has no ideas with which to work. No, not the guy who’s succumbed to the endless shaming inflicted by the blank page, (that guys crying in the corner wearing a pair of Walter White not so whitey—not so tighteys). If you don’t understand that reference, well… I probably can’t help you.
Anyways, for those of you thinking you need a great idea to run with before you embark down the maddening road labeled Writing A Book, you’re wrong.
You don’t need a great idea. Those two questions I gave you, What if followed by And then what will get you off the ground if you don’t self-sabotage yourself by second guessing every idea that flutters into your brainpan.
Sometimes you got to roll around with a real turd of an idea for awhile. I’m not saying polishing a turd is gonna give you anything but a handful of poo, but (and I say this with a perfectly straight face) a page full of poo is better than a page full of nothing.
You have to have something work with, even if it really sucks. Which is okay, pretty much everybody’s stuff sucks right off the bat, that’s just sort of how writing works, unless you’re Dean Wesley Smith who might be a cyborg.
Now, do you remember that other question we asked earlier? How do you find inspiration to write, or some nonsense like that?
Writing is art, sure… but it’s also work.
You don’t wake up in the morning and ask yourself where you’re gonna find the inspiration to go to work, do you? No, you do it because hopefully you love it, but more than likely you’re infatuated with the idea of eating food that didn’t come out of the dumpster. You work because you have it.
Here’s a sad truth, nobody is going to make you write. Honestly, nobody cares. That’s a bummer because if you could find somebody to throw on some Dom outfit replete with knee high leather boots and a whip and force you to sit down at the keyboard, well that would both be hot, probably distracting, but better than the alternative.
The alternative is you. You’re the one dressed up in pleather with a ball and gag forcing yourself to—
No, we’re gonna walk away from this analogy, for your sake and mine.
Follow me over here, we’re going a safe distance from that other nonsense.
Okay, good. We’re in the clear. Now listen up little buddy, you want to write? I support that. Are there going to be days that you don’t want to write? Absolutely. Should you do it anyways?
Listen, this isn’t really a should you type scenario. You need to. If you aren’t writing, then I’m sorry, you are not a writer. It’s that simple, it truly is.
A woman told me the other day that she thought people could be writers without ever having actually written, and that confused me, but I live in Oakland and I’m used to people saying weird things I don’t understand. I don’t claim to be the smartest guy around (yes I do), and I acknowledge some things will go over my head, but all I have to say is…Really?
Wait, wait, wait…what?
Dreaming of writing does not make you a writer in the same way that dreaming you’re a playboy billionaire philanthropist does not make you Tony Stark (Ned Stark’s disenfranchised younger brother).
It seems to me the definition of a writer is a real easy one. One who writes. End of story. Do or do not, there is no crying in baseball. <—Holy god, did you see what I did there?
I don’t need inspiration to write. I only need a pen and paper; a computer; some blood and dried up hobo-skin; a bit of snow and a bunch of pee. Pretty much all I need is a way to transfer the thoughts from my head into a physical manifestation I can hang on the refrigerator alongside my macaroni portrait of Ghandi.
And guess what? That’s all you need, too.
So stop trying to vampire suck my inspiration, and go make your own.