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I've noticed that quite a few fanfiction writers suffer from two afflictions: writer's block and rampant plot bunnies. Usually both at the same time. Sometimes the plot bunnies come first, distracting the budding writers from stories they're already working on. It is an understandable phenomenon - bunnies are shinier and require less work than a story that has grown complex and unpredictable and has started to demand actual effort.

I can understand when a writer decides that a story has grown to be too much bother for something they do in their free time, and says so. But very few authors actually do that, or even admit it to themselves. Instead, the ubiquitous writer's block is suddenly there, absolving the poor author of any responsibility.

So, what exactly is writer's block? I'm confused, because unless a story is so fundamentally flawed from the start that there's no way at all to bring it to a decent end, writer's block (meaning the complete and utter inability to write even one remotely readable sentence from some point in the story forward) should not occur at all. Of course there are scenes that are harder to write than others, but that's no reason to abandon a story, or is it? And yet it happens often, even with authors who want to become professional writers.


Strangely enough, critique seems to be another main reason for sudden writer's block. Particularly authors who are already good tend to demand concrit from their readers, but few seem to have the stomach for it when it is actually delivered. In my eyes, an author who laments about how a critique is worded instead of taking it to heart and using it to actually improve their writing has the wrong attitude. Critique is hard work, especially in-depth critique. It needs to be appreciated, and it isn't. Not enough

I recently stumbled across an (interview with Terry Pratchett while browsing, and he had a few interesting things to say about writing and writer's block :

JG: You are a prolific producer and in some critics' eyes that seems to render a writer suspect.

TP: There is something to be said for that. But there is an upside which is that you get a lot of readers and you get paid quite a lot of money.

But there is something in that view and it would probably be better for me in the long run to slow down but I was trained as a journalist and so putting words in an acceptable order in exchange for money is kind of built in.

(In journalism) the concept of writer's block never crops up. Unsympathetic men come and shout at you. It takes a week for any posing attempt at writer's block to be burned out of you.

Yes, of course there are times when you're stuck. But that's a bit different. That's when you've gone down the wrong alley – you need to rethink things. You have to go back and start to tinker. You have to find out what's getting in the way but that's not writer's block. In fact that's the time when you're working at your hardest. The flow is not coming so you just sit down and graft until you bend the story the way it has to go.




I'm sure that my opinion will not be a popular one. I'm also sure that more than a few people will take offense. I don't really care.

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( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
mhalachai
Apr. 10th, 2005 04:19 pm (UTC)
That is an interesting take, and the comment by Terry Pratchett is facinating. I'm a fic writer and a business journalist in real life (so I know these unsympathetic men of whom he speaks), and I hardly ever have "writer's block." I get distracted, but I always have the end of a story in my head before I begin writing, so it's only really a matter of putting one word after another.

So, what exactly is writer's block?

When I do come up with a case of "writer's block", what's really going on it, as you say, real life gets in the way, and I get bored with my story for a while, or my attention is distracted by shiny things.

Excellent points, all.

Was this spurred by a particular story, or just a general ran?
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 12:47 am (UTC)
This is a general rant that has been building up for quite some time. It might have to do with the fandoms I'm reading in, but quite a few stories that I thought were at least decent were abandoned because of writer's block. The fact that they were abandoned didn't bother me nearly as much as the reasons given.
The strangest part was that many of those authors said they wanted to write professionally. :)
questofdreams
Apr. 10th, 2005 04:24 pm (UTC)
As a matter of fact, I agree with you completely. And most especially Mr. Pratchett's opinion. He summed up perfectly the problem a lot of writer's have when they oome to a point in their writing where it gets difficult. I'll be honest and say I'm just being lazy in not finishing my editting on my original story ^^; (although lack of time is also a good excuse, haha).

But yes, the ever popular 'writer's block' ^^ I won't disregard authors who use this excuse as it's very convenient (heh) but I happen to agree with you on all accounts that often times the culprit is something more defined. ^^
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 12:48 am (UTC)
I'm terribly lazy too. Not that I'm much of a writer in the first place, but I do tend not to finish what I've started, and the reason usually is that it would be too much effort.
croaky
Apr. 10th, 2005 04:30 pm (UTC)
A writer's block is much like an artist's block, and an artist's block is much like a grey and rainy day when your feet are somehow for no reason just a little bit ehavier than usual and even though you got all your eight hours of sleep you just can't get that energy up to decent levels and on top of things you manage to get anything else to do wrong and you also miss the bus home. In other words it is a slump period or moment, in which giving up becomes suddenly easier or for whatever reason the thing you are doing suddenly looses its appeal. It is nothing more and nothing less than that. People just tend to ascribe anything that has anything to do with the creative arts with some sort of shroud of mystery.
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 12:51 am (UTC)
This is brilliantly put, actually. Thank you! :) I think what really drives me mad is the mystification you've mentioned. And the fact that the people who use this excuse lie to themselves more than they do to others.
gekkou_hayate
Apr. 10th, 2005 05:33 pm (UTC)
I prefer to call it "my already-useless brain just became more useless because my lazy ass came up and beat my brain" period.
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 12:51 am (UTC)
Heee. Sounds about right. :P
houses7177
Apr. 10th, 2005 06:15 pm (UTC)
I see what you're saying, and agree to it, mostly. I don't suffer from 'writers block'. I always know where my story will go and end before I start- or I don't bother starting. If I let a story languish, it's usually because I have no time to write. Even more rare, I do have time, and I can't focus. Dunno, that one is much rarer. I'll try to squeeze in writing time when I can, but sometimes my muse makes me do art type things instead. It's not something I'd ever blame on a story, however. Sometimes I have to logistically rethink things, if I've screwed up something to make it incompatable, but it's not for lack of ideas. I have to write professionally as well- though scientific writing, not journalistic, per se. BUt if you have a deadline, no one gives a flying fuck if you don't want to write it. You get it done with, end of story.
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 12:59 am (UTC)
Scientific writing is, to me, a bit of a nightmare. Especially since the deadlines are sometimes so tight that it's not possible to deliver the best writing you actually could. Or the space constraints are such that it's near impossible to squeeze enough of the idea into them to make the paper readable. Still, one has to do it anyway. :)

Regarding the other symptoms you mentioned -- to me, those are things that will occur when writing. None of us is writing full-time (that I know of), so real life will often intrude. Apart from that, the ideas behind a story, the character arcs and such have to be constantly reexamined if the story is supposed to turn out good. Or at least that's my take on it. :D

silveripseity
Apr. 10th, 2005 06:36 pm (UTC)
I was actually very glad to read this from you, because I personally don't believe in the whole concept of 'writer's block'. Of course writers struggle with certain stories... if they didn't, what would be the point of writing? It's work, people. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it gets hard.

There have been times when a piece has become difficult for me to write, but I have never called it 'writer's block' because that's not what it is. It's a matter of me sorting out complicated issues, overcoming boredom or unease, and taking the time to think through the words I'm putting down, among other things.

And a lot of the time, it seems when people claim they have Writer's Block that gives them an automatic out from their writing. They can brush off something they're working on too easily.

I don't mean to knock anyone who has used that term for themselves. I just personally don't believe in it.

Good post, by the way. :) Love to see posts that get discussions started!
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 01:03 am (UTC)
I think it always gets hard. If you are a good writer, it's boud to get hard at some point or outer, because the characters insist on behaving in ways that mess up the plot, or because you have a better plot idea that conflicts with what you've written already... that kind of thing. So, since that part of the writing process is unavoidable, it's important to get used to it and learn to overcome it instead of hiding behind an excuse like that. Especially since people who do deceive themselves first and foremost.
a_hollow_year
Apr. 10th, 2005 07:21 pm (UTC)
So, what exactly is writer's block?

Sometimes writer's block is just a deep difficulty in getting anything down on paper that is even remotely satisfying, which is frustrating. Then the frustration fucks you up even more, and you hate everything further, and before you know it you're huddled on a street corner, out of medication and burning your thesaurus in a garbage can for warmth. It's not necessarily an inability to write, but sometimes a hatred of everything you DO manage to produce. This happens to me all the time; even if a story is excellent and I have it planned down and know just what is going to happen (HotM, for example), I still get writer's block on it.

Sometimes writer's block isn't even a hatred of what you write, but a paralyzation. Like, 'oh god, I'm so going to fuck this up!' And, since writers tend to have extraordinarily large but fragile egos, sometimes without the proper prodding or reassurance, abandonment seems to be the best option. This, I suspect, might be the answer you're looking for. For instance, I nearly left Kagome and Sesshoumaru on the roof in Fugue because finishing the story seemed like such an impossible task from where I was; if re_white hadn't swooped in with naked pictures of her hot brother encouragement, it would be an unfinished story. So sometimes the feeling of being overwhelmed is enough to stem the creative flow completely.

Also, I'm not sure pterry is the best guy to quote on this; I love worship the man, but he pumps out at least a book per year and it tends to show - some of his work is absolutely inspired, and some is just subpar, formulaic, and disappointing. Forcing things is not always the answer.

(Also, if I may say so, this post seems just a wee bit unsympathetic coming from someone who had artist's block not so long ago; then again perhaps they are not the same thing at all, but surely artists have periods in which there is absolutely no inspiration or motivation, right? Unless that doesn't happen. In which case, ENVY! and can I have some of whatever you're taking to prevent that? ^_^)
a_hollow_year
Apr. 10th, 2005 07:31 pm (UTC)
Or, looking back over your post, maybe I think I have missed completely what you are talking about and am pulling things at random from my butt. Clearly my ass is not as smart as I thought it was. :/
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 02:02 am (UTC)
Clearly my ass is not as smart as I thought it was. :/

Nah, I think you're every bit as smart as you think (as ingratiating as that sounds). And I do hope you didn't think I meant you, because I didn't.

You mentioned my 'artist's block' in the previous post, and I forgot to answer that. What I had was a case of 'real life is too bothersome and I really don't want to sit down and doodle at the end of a long work day'. It didn't mean I was blocked, although the inspiration certainly wasn't there and I would have had to force myself at first. And that's what I actually meant -- it was entirely my fault that I didn't have the motivation to sit down and paint. So in a sense, it was a conscious decision to put other things first, and also a bit of laziness on my part. I didn't feel like making the effort. :)
a_hollow_year
Apr. 11th, 2005 05:32 am (UTC)
I gotcha. All I can say is that if just getting off your butt and forcing it kickstarts the flow of inspiration for you, I envy you deeply since I don't think it works that way for me; for me, it's either there or it isn't and there seems to be nothing I can do about it either way. *wah* That's what I usually mean when I talk about writer's block (or museblock, which actually seems more accurate).
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 06:23 am (UTC)
just getting off your butt and forcing it kickstarts the flow of inspiration for you,

Well, that's probably because I get off my butt so rarely the other case hasn't had the opportunity to occur yet. :P

Say, (and I know this is terribly forward of me) is there any way we could chat? Like, online? And please ignore me if you don't feel like it. :)
a_hollow_year
Apr. 11th, 2005 06:59 am (UTC)
Of course we could. I'm not online very often, but I'll fire up the chat client of your choice and... uh... hopefully catch you? What times are you usually on?
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 07:15 am (UTC)
I'm on right now (QuistisX5459 on AIM, technoelfie0 on Yahoo Messenger). My time zone is GMT + 1 (well, 2 actually because of DST), and I'm usually on between 11:00 and 19:00 hours my time. Usually I'm on later as well, but this week I stll have to house-sit my parents's home and I have no internet connection there. :)
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 01:14 am (UTC)
It's not necessarily an inability to write, but sometimes a hatred of everything you DO manage to produce.

I understand that. I feel like that with just about every picture I do. But isn't it a part of the creative process to learn to deal with it? And as far as I understand you do know how to deal with it. Just recently you had that lovely (illustrated!) post about how you do exactly that. :)

[...] since writers tend to have extraordinarily large but fragile egos, sometimes without the proper prodding or reassurance, abandonment seems to be the best option.

So is it a good, and above all necesary thing to coddle that fragile ego? Support is one thing -- if a beta/editor/friend/whatever is in a position to provide it, that's the best thing that could happen to a writer, IMO. However, as horrible as that sounds, I think 'just do it' is the best advice a writer (or painter, for that matter) can get. I've been on the receiving end of that kind of advice repeatedly, and it has done me good. Even if I first hated the persons in question just a bit (and there was quite a bit of self-pity as well).

So as I said, inspiration is a good thing. If it's naked photos, that's even better. :)

Regarding Pterry, I think his good writing is good partly because he's had a lot of practice. I don't think it's possible to deliver excellent writing all the time. I could be wrong though. :)
a_hollow_year
Apr. 11th, 2005 05:26 am (UTC)
Yeah, part of the process is learning to deal with it, but if you get it marginally right the first time by waiting until you feel inspired, you won't have to torture yourself with all that horrible rewriting. Just the thought of all that effort is enough to make me cry. I have an entire novel just itching for a rewrite, but it's an entire novel! It hurts me and I don't think I'm ready or able to tackle it. I don't know where to begin. I don't have the chops to make it into something better right now. I have writer's block. Am I lazy? I don't think so; I just don't think it's worth torturing myself with something I'm going to hate and which will show my hatred when I could be honing my rhetoric on something far more enjoyable.

So is it a good, and above all necesary thing to coddle that fragile ego?

Only, I think, if the one doing the coddling thinks the product that will eventually be unleashed upon the world is a worthwhile one. Bad stories call to a writer with the same siren song as good ones, and it's sometimes, from the writer's perspective, impossible to tell. So actually 'just do it' is encouragement in a way, if the one encouraging knows the least bit about the project in question.

As for pterry, no, it's not possible to do deliver excellent writing all the time, but that doesn't mean you should force yourself to deliver mediocre claptrap either. I'd prefer a book every two years like Night Watch or Small Gods, rather than the string of "eh" books that pepper the discworld series. And REALLY, Mr. Pratchett, are you that hard-up for money that you just force yourself to be satisfied with stories like Monsterous Regiment? Arg!

(I'm a big advocate of waiting for the brain to decide it's ready to stop lazing about and get it right. I seriously believe that forcing fucks you up and then you wasted all that effort and have to rewrite. *ominous organ music here*)
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 07:03 am (UTC)
For the sake of completeness. :)
Yeah, part of the process is learning to deal with it, but if you get it marginally right the first time by waiting until you feel inspired, you won't have to torture yourself with all that horrible rewriting.

You're absolutely right about that. Especially if there's no pressure (deadline or similar), it's best to wait and write when you do have the inspiration. However, I still think there must be some sort of balance -- it does make a difference whether you are simply delaying a rewrite, or abandoning it altogether. And if you managed to write an entire novel, it already says a lot about your writing stamina. It's only natural to want to wait with the revisions until you feel more like it or gain a fresh perspective.

So actually 'just do it' is encouragement in a way, if the one encouraging knows the least bit about the project in question.

Well, 'just do it' doesn't always cut it. It only works when the beta has done all that they could, and the rest is up to the writer. :)

Back to pterry... I don't know which of his books are the formulaic ones, at least not off the top of my head. I confess that I liked The Truth and Thief of Time, whereas Monstrous Regiment left me confused, and Carpe Jugulum just didn't resonate with me at all. Just out of curiosity, is Witches Abroad thought to be a good book? It's my favourite (I will automatically like every book with Greebo in it), but I was wondering whether it is considered good or one of his weaker efforts.

Oh, and I was never too fond of the wizard books. I like the wizards in small doses, particularly Ridcully, but when they take over the story it always seems like too much. Slapstick over substance, or some such thing. The witches and the guards on the other hand seem able to sustain a book without any trouble.

(I'm a big advocate of waiting for the brain to decide it's ready to stop lazing about and get it right. I seriously believe that forcing fucks you up and then you wasted all that effort and have to rewrite. *ominous organ music here*)

I will wholeheartedly agree that forcing fucks you up at first. Not trying to generalize anything here, because it will definitely work differently depending on the person. For me, I know that I've won the moment I manage to focus fully on a task. When I do, the writing/painting session in question becomes nearly meditative, and the result is always good, as in 'better than my usual stuff'. Sadly, it's rare that I manage to concentrate all my attention on a single task. Usually I'm rather distracted and trying to do ten things at the same time. Like now.



hardlyfatal
Apr. 10th, 2005 07:49 pm (UTC)
Feeling v. strongly like you mean me in this post. Do you? Just want to be clear on everything before I reply.
technoelfie
Apr. 11th, 2005 02:14 am (UTC)
Actually no. It is something that has been building up for quite a while now and I felt I had to get it out. Especially since I've caught myself wanting to do it too, in various situations, because it seemed like an easier way out than actually admitting that I can't be bothered and dealing with the backlash.

Not to mention that my first reaction to critique (the one before my brain awakens and tells me I'm an idiot) is the usual 'shut up, you'. Which doesn't mean I can't appreciate it when I actually start to think.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 28th, 2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
Umm...
Well... I just have to say that I'd much rather see an unfinished good story abandoned, than see it start out great, then slowly turn into total trash as the writer loses motivation, and have it finish so horribly that even the better parts are ruined for you. Kind of equivalent to a fate worse than death for stories. Somewhat of a perfectionistic attitude, I guess. :S
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