I had an interesting conversation with my youngest son the other day. He’s in third grade now, and his reading class is starting to write very basic stories. This is something my son does all the time. He makes up the most elaborate stories as he’s playing with legos or stuffed animals or whatever. But, put a sheet of paper in front of him, and he freezes up. He actually believed that he couldn’t write a story.
I suspect many writers get this problem from time to time. It seems so easy to dream up possibilities, but then when we go to write them down, nothing happens. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it, it just means we need to get creative as to how to get the words flowing.
For my son, his teachers told him to draw a mini storyboard. He drew four pictures, each picture leading into the next, and was proud of what he had drawn. But he still didn’t think he could write the story. So, I told him to verbally tell me what was happening in the pictures. Immediately, he rattled off this elaborate scene, including dialog and actions that encompassed far more than what the pictures showed. When he was done, I told him that everything he’d said was his story. Just like that, his eyes widened as he made the connection between picture and story, and he began to write furiously. All he was supposed to write was a paragraph or two, but he ended up with a full page and a half.
If only writing came so easily all the time! It doesn’t, of course. And we can’t expect it to. But when we get stuck like this, there are some things we can do to get ourselves unstuck. The most common advice is to just write something anyway, because you can’t revise nothing. That’s true, but that’s also painful and demoralizing. You know you’re writing crap, and you feel like crap because you’re writing crap. So why put yourself through that if you can avoid it?
The first thing I suggest is to stop doing what you’re doing. Then, try a few different tactics and see if you can find something, anything, that will get those creative juices flowing again. Draw a picture, scribble some random sentences, doodle, make a list, write some dialog, write some backstory, or even walk away entirely. Sometimes you need distance from your work in order to see it clearly. If one thing isn’t working, try something else. Keep trying until you land on something that feels right, that gets the words flowing again, and stick with it.
There is a caveat, though. Of course there is, because this is writing, and writing is never exact. :) The caveat is that this process may not work on your next book, so you might end up going through this problem all over again. Not to worry, though, because, by then you’ll know what to do! When something isn’t working, stop! Keep trying different things until it starts working again.