Sometimes Writer’s Block Can Be A Good Thing
If you’re a writer, you may have at times suffered from writer’s block. Writer’s block is an annoying creature that crouches in the shadows of your mind and stifles creativity. If you’re trying to come up with a story idea, your mind is blank. If you’re writing a story, it stops you in your tracks. I’ve suffered from both kinds throughout my writing career, but it’s the second kind–hitting a wall while writing a story–that I’ve found to be useful, annoying but useful.
I’ve believed that the subconscious is a partner in a writer’s work ever since one of my beta readers–a University of Nebraska English professor–started going on and on about the symbolism in one of my stories, about the relationship between the two characters, and about the significance of this or that action. I sat there in awe as he analyzed my story, which was only about 3,000 words long (“Be A Man” is the one, collected in The Moaning Rocks and Other Stories, and in Ball of Fire and 5 Other Contemporary Stories). His interpretation made sense. I didn’t disagree with anything he said, but I hadn’t consciously planned my story that way. I thought I had written a simple story about a swimming lesson gone wrong. So I came to the conclusion that if I hadn’t consciously put all of that stuff in the story, my subconscious must have had a hand in it–not only a hand, but an arm, a head, a torso, and whatever other metaphoric body parts could be squeezed in.
Since that illuminating session with my beta reader more than 30 years ago, I’ve found that writer’s block while I’m working on a story is usually a warning. If my writer’s block could speak, its voice might sound like this: “Stop writing, you fool! You’re going the wrong way. That path will lead you into a briar patch. You’ll waste a lot of time later picking briars out of your backside. You need to rethink this!”
It’s annoying when that happens, and I used to try to bulldoze my way through the wall, not enjoying the process but confident that I would see daylight eventually, and the story would be better because of my perseverance. I can’t remember a time when that worked out for me. Every time, as my writer’s block had warned, my story got suckier, if that’s even a word.
I listen to my inner voice now. I try to have more than one story in progress at the same time, so if I hit a snag in one, I can work on another while my subconscious sorts out the problem and comes up with a solution. And it always comes up with a solution.
A recent example is my young adult dystopian novel Empath. I had reached a major turning point about a third of the way through. I thought I had figured it out, but I hit that odious brick wall. My subconscious kept telling me: “No one’s going to believe that. It’s too derivative and may even be a little boring. Stop writing now and figure this out.”
I went to work on my other projects and kept checking back with Empath. After about six weeks the solution just dropped into my head, seemingly out of nowhere. And it wasn’t during a writing session. I was doing something else that had nothing to do with writing, and suddenly it was there. And it was simple. I hadn’t thought of it before because I’d been too focused on finding a solution; shifting my focus to something else allowed the solution to surface. I did have to go back and do a little rewriting to set the story up for that new turning point, but not as much rewriting as I’d have had to do later if I’d bulldozed my way through.
So if writer’s block is holding up your story, listen to what your subconscious is telling you. Sometimes writer’s block can be a good thing.