Building Blocks

writing quoteSo I’m stuck. I get stuck all the time, looking at this vast lego-block looming in front of me, making me feel like my mind is blank because all I can see is this blank wall in front of me. Sometimes, stepping back away from it a little helps, because I can suddenly see how to go around it, or over it. But it occurred to me today that maybe I could use blocks as building blocks.

If I’m stuck on writing, I can step away from the computer and do something else for a bit. I did that yesterday, baked cookies and bread and… ok, this won’t work, we’ll be fat as ticks by the time the book is done. Today I tried exercise, and art. The exercise to make up for the cookies, and give my brain a chance to disengage and get that distance I needed. The art, for inspiration, and I found it.

For me, the right art at the right time can be like striking sparks off a flint and steel. Today it was photos of abandoned asylums. It had nothing to do with my work in progress, but it sparked my brain on the sequel to my novella set in an asylum, and I think you’ll agree these photos are profoundly chilling and vividly imaginational (totally a word). If you’re working on a horror story, they could be excellent sources of chilling settings. Some days I like the cute and cuddly, other days I’m a little edgier.

Working on a story to meet a deadline, or an order, for an anthology, say, or with a collaborator, might require special efforts to get unblocked. Like this pair, who did, after, all, get an A+ on their effort! That might not help one of us, who would prefer to write a story with, you know, a plot, and characters our readers can identify with.

I find it most difficult to write bridge scenes. No, not the ones involving trolls, although I have admittedly written a few of those, but they were more action scenes. Bridge scenes are the ones where nothing much it happening, but you need them to bridge between one plot point and another. Well done, they can flesh out world-building, strengthen characters, and be fun to read. However, if you get too bored, so will your reader. I mean, you can’t always be throwing rocks at your characters, but there are times I’m tempted. Fantasy: Trolls heaves boulders. Science Fiction: Asteroids! Romance: bratty kid hurls snowballs. Western: Flash flood with lots of rocks that will pulverize our Hero and his noble Steed should they be caught in it.

Admit it, you’ll use one of those sometime soon.

Being the odd person – check that, Odd Person – that I am, I also will stop and create art. A bit of arting around (make sure you leave off the “f” or you’ll regret it) can sometimes shake loose the creative gears and get them working on the other problem you were having. I’m truly grateful for the discovery of various digital art apps and sites where I can quickly and relatively easily doodle without having to set up paints brushes, and paper, then have to clean up afterwards.

I do use music when I’m writing, but I try hard not to stop and fiddle with it too often, lest I fall into the rabbit hole that is my music library. However, if what was working for one scene is annoying in another – I like symphonic metal for action, and classical for more contemplative scenes, for instance – you may want to play around until you find what you need. Just maybe set a timer, if you have a short writing time.

What works for you when you get stuck? I have a feeling that there are as many techniques as there are writers, but you never know. You might pick up a useful hint, or something that works for a change. Oh… and legos, if I had some, would absolutely get played with when I’m blocked. Just so you know!


26 thoughts on “Building Blocks

  1. I have so many undone tasks in my life (“finishing unpacking” looming large at the moment) that I opt for doing one of those instead. At least I can feel like I’m accomplishing something.

    Has to be a one-off, though, not maintenance (like house cleaning), something “permanent” I can point to and check off a mental list. Then I can tell myself it’s almost as good as getting some writing done. Almost.

  2. I tend to read something when I’m blocked, or do something business related (like scanning receipts for the tax guy). Or go walking. Last ditch is to try working on a different story or article for a while.

  3. I do what you just did: I open a file and start writing about why things aren’t getting written, and it’s usually because my subconscious is trying to tell me I can’t start actually writing until I really understand why the heck I put a particular scene in the book.

    I don’t understand the concept of bridge scenes, probably because every time I think I have an easy scene to write (ha!), I end up digging WAY deeper into why that scene is in the book – and eventually the happy realization comes along that this is in here because it is absolutely crucial to the plot, and why hadn’t I seen that before?

    The ‘writing about why I’m not writing’ CAN take days, but it always results in something deeper and richer than what I thought I was working on, along with lovely endorphins for having figured it out. That is the feeling I write for.

    I learned something recently: the Resistance is directly proportional to the Importance of the thing being resisted (Newton’s second law of motion for writers), so the harder I’m resisting, the more buried treasure there is down there somewhere.

    Now I welcome the Resistance (however horrible the feeling).

    Have you really, really, dug deep enough?

    Happy spelunking!

  4. Exercise helps me. I swear I have these plot problems floating around in my brain, just bobbing and looking unintelligent, and then I go for a run. A river of oxygen must flood through that area, and line a few of the problems up on the far shore, all sorted and in the right order. I don’t always know everything, but at least I know something more than I did before, and usually I find out what happens next. I might have the big picture, but when something causes me to stop, it’s usually the “what happens next” issue. So, yeah, exercise helps. Showers, too.

  5. I take my dog for a jog. The neighbors must think I am weird, running along, talking to a one hundred pound black German Shepherd. He has not (so far) offered any plot suggestions. But, it seems that vocalizing things while we are running along seems to help get unstuck. But there is the problem of remembering what we talked about once we get home, so I carry a small digital recorder.

  6. It really depends on why I’m blocked. Right now I _ought_ to be writing a tender love scene.

    With three house guests.

    One of whom listens to strange pod casts (Lovecraft does Prairie Home Companion). The second is a musician, and periodically practices playing the harmonica and ukulele (Yes. At the same time. He’s experimenting.) The third is his Taiwanese girlfriend getting a first ever eyeful of America. Her English is not very good, but way the heck better than my Chinese (zero!).

    No. I am not exaggerating. I think the tender love scene will wait until the love birds drive off to see the Alamo some unspecified time after Christmas.

    1. Oh! When I first read this, I put the “with three house guests” together with the tender love scene. So I was imagining either the two love birds exploring their feelings in the corners and around the edges of entertaining three house guests OR the three house guests having a rollicking love scene. Took me a little while to realize that the house guests are real, not pat of the love scene. Hum… Are you sure they aren’t part of it?

      1. The house guests are real. The tender love scene is not even in my head, yet. I keep prying a line or two out, now and then. Might manage to finish it by Christmas.

        1. I finally realized I was misreading it. Although the combination does have possibilities. There’s something about love scenes with comic entanglements — maybe just avoids letting us bog down in sugar? I’m sure it will work out in time.

  7. Hi, Cedar. Talking about abandoned Asylums – one of the most chilling horror movies I saw was called Session 9 – set in an abandoned Asylum. The really captured the feeling well.

    1. I don’t know if I could watch it – horror movies really get to me, I’ve never been able to watch Alien all the way through. I don’t even like reading some horror books, although I can write a cerebral horror. My novella Memories of the Abyss is set in an asylum, but it’s a mystery, with horror overtones (a woman unjustly committed).

  8. I usually find that when I’m blocked, it’s because something isn’t working. I don’t always realize what it is immediately. Sometimes I’ll put the project aside for a short time, go back to it, and I’ll suddenly realize what was blocking me.

    1. I think what I’m stuck on in the current WIP… is that it’s the middle novel in a trilogy, and I have a deadline. Sigh – my brain is a rebel against authority, ie deadlines!

      1. Deadlines suck. I think my blockages are my subconscious’s way of telling me something is wrong. I just wish it would tell me *what*.

      2. Middle novels are a real pain. Hard to find a peak to end the story on and especially one that does not eclipse the final battle/solution in the third book.

  9. Oh, on blocking, I’ve noticed that some non-writing activities help, and some hinder my writing. Doing art not only blocks my writing, it messes up my doing number puzzles. When the writing fails to flow, a few Sudokus or some Free Cell seems to help. YMMV.

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