Visual Mindscape: Overcoming Writer’s Block (No, Really)

Writers Block comes in many different guises.  For me there are three: Laziness, Boredom and Overwhelm.

As for any other reasons out there, to tell you the truth, I don’t want to know about them. These three have caused me enough grief over the years.

But I have found ways to overcome all of them. Different aspects need different tools, so let me go over them with you.

Laziness

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it. ~ Earnest Hemingway.

Laziness is usually an off shoot of boredom or overwhelm, which I will get to later. Consistency by creating a writing ritual/routine is the most effective way to overcome this.

writer's blockI have a morning ritual/routine, and I begin at 5 am. These early morning hours tend to offer me a fresh start. Laziness doesn’t like freshness.

The hardest part of writing tends to be in getting started.  I always end the previous session at a point where I still have juice and know what is going to happen next and how I intend on saying it. I might jot down some simple notes to remind me how I plan on proceeding the next day, but I don’t write the scene. This way I am excited about starting my next session.

Excitement and Freshness can be brutal on laziness.

Boredom

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. ~ Dorothy Parker

For me, boredom is a warning. It tells me that I really don’t like what I am writing, or I don’t like the way I am writing it.

When this happens, I first step back and read what I have already written. When I arrive at that sentence or paragraph where my eyelids begin to grow heavy I know this is where I need to start again.

If this is not enough to lift the boredom, or I can’t seem to find how to fix what I have written, I will go to what I call my ‘Go To’ scene. I try to always have one. It is a scene which I have a pretty clear idea of how I want to write it, and I am enthusiastic about getting to it.

The ‘Go To’ scene is not that point where you stopped the day before and were going to use to prime your pump today.  If it is the same then you need to seek out another ‘Go To’ scene and put it in your hip pocket for the next time boredom appears.

Boredom hates enthusiasm and curiosity; just hates it.

Overwhelm

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.  ~ Mark Twain

You want to write but the task at hand seems too overwhelming. First off, that can be something positive. It means you are pushing your own envelope and that can’t be bad.

But knowing that doesn’t solve the problem. Deadlines be damned! Overwhelm doesn’t care (neither does laziness or boredom). Deadlines just add to the sense of overwhelm. You feel anxious and frustrated and these negative feelings can make it even harder to get started.

So what can you do?

I attempt to break it down to the most basic piece of action.  What is the next thing the character is going to do, what is the very next thing I want the reader to experience; a specific image, an action, a piece of dialogue and that is all I focus on. I might go on a Thesaurus hunt for that one special word that will bring sanity back to me and to the page.

If I am still stuck, I shift my mode of thinking.  For me as a writer, and I suspect for you as well, there are two approaches:

1. Minutia Focus which is all about the right paragraph, the right sentence, the right word, the right first image.

2. Quantum Focus, which is much broader, is about the overall scene, character and intention of the story.

When I find myself stuck and unable to move forward, I shift to the Quantum Focus. There is a reason for why you have chosen to write this story, and it resides in the Quantum Focus.

I become fully immersed in the big picture, mentally, emotionally and physically. I have a squeeze ball that I use to add a physical component to the process. It is a physical action that doesn’t impede my thinking process.

Taking a few minutes or seconds to review the overall intention of the scene and story is always a good idea. It keeps you from allowing scenes to get away from you and from traveling down the wrong path just because it has easily offered itself to you.

Sometime I discuss the tough stuff with Shane, my Golden. Don’t laugh; he is a great listener and never judges.  Besides, talking out loud to myself would just feel silly.

“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.”~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Alright, here is my Morning Ritual. I call it a ritual rather than routine because the word implies that a certain higher purpose is attached and that brings me additional satisfaction.

My Morning Ritual

4:45 AM            Wake Up:

Bathroom and Face Splash with cold water.

Morning Greeting with Shane.

Dress for Walk.

Brew Coffee.

5:00                        Walk Shane around the Block.

I find this short walk really helps to clear my head. It is a walk about nothing. I don’t review the script or my day. I just walk and pick up poop. It doesn’t get any more basic than that.

5:30            Remove any potential interruptions and distractions from my desk area.

Bring a cup of coffee, a glass of water and my squeeze ball to my desk.

Load Movie Magic Screenwriter, Thesaurus.com and Pandora (head phones).

Take a moment to fully focus as I review three to five previous pages.

Here, I will literally lean right into my keyboard and monitor, fully absorbed. Like breathing in meditation, this is my gateway to getting into the zone.

I emerge myself into a specific next action/image of the scene.

I begin to write.

I first go to my tape recorder and copy anything I have as a note in my script.  I use Movie Magic so I can actually find my notes.

I don’t stop writing until 8:00 AM. I sometimes write longer than that, but truth be told, I really don’t have the capacity to remain in writing mode for more than a couple of hours.

Also, I always want to leave something for the next day to help me get started.

Hope this helps you in some way. Let me know by leaving a comment. I am curious.

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5 thoughts on “Visual Mindscape: Overcoming Writer’s Block (No, Really)

  1. Pingback: 10 Humorous Truths About Writing - Jennifer Arman

  2. EddieO

    Good suggestions. I am still very new to writing. It is only in the past few weeks that I have actually started making time for writing. I think the two things that are helping me most are finding a routine and having a structure. As you said, breaking it down into simple tasks makes it manageable. One of the things I really enjoy about writing, to borrow your terms, is the interplay between the quantum focus and the minutia focus. The quantum lets me see my way out and into scenarios, the minutia must be grounded in the quantum. I definitely would like someone to talk to, a way of bouncing my ideas around. I have a black lab mix, Pepsi. I’m seriously going to try using her the way you use Shane. A loving, supportive soundboard who listens but does not criticize. Great.
    Edinson

    1. Bill BoyleBill Boyle Post author

      Eddie;
      I’m pleased that you found some value out of the article. I hope to keep you reading as I delve more into the Visual Mindscape of the Screenplay which is what I primarily concentrate on in this column.

      Keep on Writing

      Bill

  3. embracethej

    Loved this, Bill! I’m definitely going to try the “leave the next exciting scene for next day” tip so that I have something to motivate me to keep going. I did notice this was to be the case when I did it once one night I was writing… I was too sleepy to keep going but was super excited about the next scene the next day. So, I’m definitely gonna incorporate this as an actual ritual since I’m in a rut now.

    1. Bill BoyleBill Boyle Post author

      Dear Embrace;
      I am very pleased to find that this has proven to be of value to you. Let me know how it works for you. The bottom line is writers want to write so writer’s block is about something that is not really a part of the writing process. Something else has gotten in the way. These tools look for ways to overcome whatever it might be.
      Good Luck
      Bill

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