Breaks and Dodging Writer's Block

Over the past few weeks, I have developed (redeveloped?) the habit of pushing through a few hundred words of fiction writing a day on the train. If nothing else, this means I get a few pages done a day. I sometimes wish that I were able to write more, writing something is better than nothing, and I'm within a chapter and some change of the end of this beast, so I'll take it. Some, dare I say most, days the writing is pretty easy, but it can get a bit rough. The problem is really when the writing is impossible. After all, if writing were easy, than we wouldn't really think of it as work.

Most of the time, I don't feel "blocked," but I got close last week. I got to the end of a section and I realized I was in a bit of a corner. I'd changed the order of a few little events, and I didn't think it would change much.

Except it did, which left me pretty stuck.

It wasn't an unsolvable problem, but because I was faced with writing a scene under a different set of assumptions than the one I'd been thinking about, I didn't know how to proceed. My solution was to take a step back, think about things, and then redesign the next scene so that it accomplished what I needed. This took a day or two.

Most of the time the only real marker for progress in writing is in "number of words recorded," but the truth is this is the fun part of writing. The hard part is, and the part that I had gotten stuck in was, figuring out what's worth writing. Here are some interesting lessons about writing for your consideration:

  • Sometimes the most productive thing you can do as a writer is to not write and spend time figure out what doesn't need to be said. It doesn't make your writing longer, but it does make your writing more clear and more useful as a result.

  • As a corallary, sometimes the most important thing you can do to a text is remove stuff that is distracting.

  • Although having too many "open projects" on your plate can make you feel like you're spread too thin, it's true that having a lot of things in the air increases your chance of getting thigns done, because having multiple projects in different stages lets you get more work done in general.

    Sometimes the best way to solve these kinds of problems with writing is to take a break and go for a walk. Or a couple of walks. This is difficult to do on the train and can be hard to practice effectively in more conventional situations life. What's the difference between taking a break to clear your mind, and breaking your writing ritual/habit? It's hard to say.

If you do it right, the great thing is that after a break and some serious thinking time, a clear mind makes it possible to get past bigger challenges accomplish something important. I'll leave the judgements of "how much time away is enough," and "how much time is too much," to the reader (and myself!) as an exercise, but don't always be afraid of taking a break.

And if you won't, I won't either.

Onward and Upward!

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