Guest Post: Professionally Blocked

Professionally Blocked

by author Cait Ashwood

“Writer’s block happens to everyone.”
“I’m just not feeling it today.”
“I’m waiting for inspiration to strike.”

If you’re a casual writer with no plans of publishing or attempting to make a career out of your passion, writer’s block may be an occasional inconvenience for you, but you don’t fear it as much as the aspiring professional might. If publishing is your dream? If your fans are clamoring for that next book, and you’re staring at a blank screen? What then?

Every writer has their method, something that works for them. Some people can pants until the cows come home, and their books are amazing every time. I’m not one of those authors, as evidenced by the full-length epic fantasy that hit the scrap pile as unsalvageable. I also hate outlines, but I needed a plan.

Nowadays I write chapter summaries, like my own personal Cliff Notes to my work. I make up character sheets, get in their heads, and define their aspirations as part of my plotting process. What does each major player hope to accomplish by the end of the book? Will I let them accomplish it? What is my overall plot arc? What kind of timing am I looking at? Are there events that absolutely must happen in a particular sequence? These are all pretty broad, general questions, but they make me think ahead and give me a map to clutch when the inspiration has fled and deadlines are looming.

So many times, we think we’re ‘blocked’, when the truth is we don’t know the way, or something is wrong with our work.

  • Did you lose a character?
  • Are you forcing a character to do something that they would never actually do?
  • Are you lacking a villain or a central conflict?
  • Did you tie up all your sub-plots?
  • Did a planned romance turn out to be forced, and both characters now hate you for it?
  • Did you choose the wrong POV for this scene?
  • Do you even know where your plot is going?
  • Did you start off in third person, but this story really needs to be told from first?

Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t commit yourself to continuing a mistake, just because you’ve spent a lot of time on it. Staring at a blank screen gets you nowhere. If you’re blocked, there’s a reason for it. Your job is to figure out what’s clogging the pipes and come up with your own writing Draino. If you can’t identify it, poke around in some groups and see if someone else is willing to take a read-through. They might have the experience you lack and be able to point out some issues that can get those creative juices flowing again.

The true difference with any profession between those who dream and those who achieve is simple: doing. If you’re serious about your work, you will sit down, and you will write. Write the scene that’s speaking to you, even if it’s out of order and you’ll have to re-do it later. Write complete crap, even knowing it will be crap, because you are at least writing and thus learning. Crap can be edited; a blank page cannot.

Recommended Reading:

  • DRiVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Daniel H. Pink)
  • The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win your Inner Creative Battles (Steven Pressfield)

Stalking Cait:

About the Author

Fantasy and science fiction have been my lifeblood since I was too young to stay up and watch the complete episode of Star Trek: Voyager.  I have several fandoms that I follow with varying amounts of rabid foaming, but it’s all in good fun most of the time.  If I had to pick a favorite, The Princess Bride is right at the top, well, at least as of the writing of this bio.
Aside from writing, I am also a classically trained violinist.  I have a few students I teach weekly, and I really enjoy working with them.  I also crochet, play D&D with friends, and, of course, read my little heart out.  I have a small menagerie I manage with my husband here at home including three dogs, two cats, and six chickens.  If you ever get the opportunity to keep chickens, I highly recommend them.  They’re a lot more entertaining than you might expect.
Some of my favorite authors include J.R. Ward, R.A. Salvatore, Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, Mercedes Lackey, Jean Auel, and Sherwood Smith, to name a few.

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