Writing Dangerously: Writers Block Does Not Exist ~ Outside the Margins with Christopher Koehler

Chris-Koehler-OTM

Writing Dangerously: Writers Block Does Not Exist

 

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t mean being unable to write due to depression or anxiety, for example. Both are creativity killers of the first order as I know firsthand, and if current psychiatric models have any basis in messy biological reality, result from changes in the function of the brain itself. There’s not much you can do about that. There are likewise brain injuries that prevent you from writing. Those don’t count, either.

What I mean by writer’s block is sitting and staring at a blank page and being unable to put any words down. Really? No words at all? That’s a state of mind, and if you’re going to write dangerously, you need to get out of it right quick.

image1There’s a meme going around Farcebook these day that defines writer’s block as that state that results when your invisible friends stop speaking to you. But have you considered that it may be that you have stopped listening to them? We create our characters, ideally in some form of dossier that contains not only physical details, but also their traits, characteristics, and goal. We need to know to enough about these men and women to understand how they will react to a given situation, to understand how they will react once they hit the ground, hopefully running, because that makes for more interested reading. Personally, I love it when a situation pops into my head and I know exactly how someone will react. It means that not only have I succeeded in drafting fully fleshed-out people, but that I’ve successfully burrowed into their heads. Goodness knows they’ve burrowed into mine.

Here’s the character sketch for one of my current imaginary friends, Jeremy “Rem” Babcock. You’ll meet him in December when Poz is released. This sketch is for the next two books, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air and Finding Solid Ground.

image3Jeremy Babcockimage2
Physical: 18-19 in All That Is Solid, 30 in Solid Ground; 6’ 2, light brown hair, gray eyes; broad shoulders; muscles are defined thanks to crew, but not particularly bulky.
Personal: out and proud about his sexuality and HIV status; fraternal twin to Geoffrey; July birthday; majors in biology at CalPac, then goes to City College’s RN program before UCD’s nurse practitioner program for his MS. Spent time on the US Rowing national selection team, but ultimately quit due to poz phobia at the highest levels of crew; pestered to coach by the three programs he has ties to: Cap City Rowing, CalPac, and UC Davis.
Characteristics: knows more than he says, thinks more than he speaks, and notices more than most realize; out and vibrant at the boathouse, otherwise quiet; can be quite acerbic; not nearly as oblivious to anything that can’t be rowed as others think.

So there’s a terrific amount for me to work with in that small sketch, starting with what he looks like—high school and adulthood—and continuing right up through his education and employment trajectory. Him stop talking to me? I can’t get him to shut up so I can sleep at night.

I have these for every major character in the series, and less detailed ones for recurring minor characters. I do this for every book I write.

This is why, in my opinion, there’s no such thing as writer’s block as that meme defines it. I’ll restate that. When you’re writing dangerously, there can be no such thing as writer’s block, and why would you allow there to be? But hell’s bells, people! This is writing, it’s serious and it’s dangerous. Don’t let these punks stop you from getting it done. I do my best to avoid gendered language in both my light and serious writing, but make them your bitches and get to work.

As Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. Go after it with a club.”

That’s why writing is so hard, and why it is work. I was out with my son last week—renting him a piccolo, of all things—and the clerk at the music store asked if writing was hard. Yes, it’s damned hard, and this is why. Anyone can have an idea, but turning that idea into something someone wants to read? That takes work, but no more work than playing music, or painting, or any other artistic pursuit. Notice that word there? Pursuit. London was right. You have to chase it down, because it’s not going to drop into your lap, and it may well rear up and bite you.

Writing—and your sly and wily characters—may take you places you never wanted to go, or never imagined going. Truths may reveal themselves, even in m/m, even if they are only true for you, the writer. Are you prepared for what you may discover in your words?

But enough mysticism. You’re facing the tyranny of the blank page. So what do you do?

I have the nerve to call email a warm-up exercise before I start the day’s writing, and it’s not actually a joke. Mail or my online journal (appropriately titled “Screaming”), they put words on the page, they warm up my fingers, and they put me in the frame of mind to organize my thoughts. But I don’t do either too long. After all, the warm-up is not the main event.

image4Kill social media. They’re time sucks, and worse than that, they’re creativity sucks. Why would you waste creativity when you’re not getting paid for it? So turn those off. Open up a blank document or torn to a new page or pull out a fresh sticky note, and get to work, even if all you do is write a sentence about what a character is supposed to be doing in that scene as a present-tense narrative.

Bam. You’ve just beaten writer’s block.

Use the momentum, excitement, and good feelings to follow that up with a single-word question: how? Or why? Something along those lines that helps you further explore that sentence and what it means for your story.

Then answer that question. Take all the time you need.

Listen to your characters. Put them in thumbscrews if you they’re not talking. When my writing’s not happening, I go back to the last time my characters behaved themselves and then move the plot in a different direction. I’m a plotter. It kills me to throw out part of my outline, but if that’s what it takes…. No one ever said writing was easy, that it felt good, or even that it was good for us emotionally. I don’t know about you, but I write because I have to.

So there we are. Write dangerously by refusing to acknowledge writer’s block. It’s only real if you let it be.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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