Uncle Orson's Writing Class
September 23, 2002
I've been having horrible writer's block for a few months now, unable
to come up with any useful story ideas. I was hoping you might have a few words
of wisdom that might help me,
As to the problem of "writer's block," you have nothing of the kind. A
block is when you actually have a story you're working on which you just can't
bring yourself to write. In your case, you simply can't find any interesting story
The route to a story always leads through causal speculation: Why does this
happen? What would the result be? How could you get from here to there? What
did he really mean? That sort of thing.
You may simply need to take conscious control of that questioning process,
adding the word "else" to the mix - "Why ELSE could this happen?" - so you don't
always settle on the first idea that comes to mind. You keep asking and inventing
answers to those questions until you come upon one that rather intrigues you.
Often, though, I find that even good ideas feel "thin." So the trick is often to
take two unrelated ideas and see if there's a way to make them work together. In
the tension between the two story ideas you can often find the creative stimulus
that leads to a story that really works for you. BUT ... there's a warning here. The
rule that a speculative fiction story cannot have TWO major violations of reality is
still a pretty important one. While there are exceptions, they are far harder to write.
So when you're combining your two ideas, only one can be a major violation of
reality (i.e., time travel OR the next stage in human evolution, but not both in the
same poor overloaded story <grin>). The two ideas can be, for instance, a future in
which people routinely keep a nonsentient clone "in the closet" to mine for spare
body parts, AND an observation that you just don't know why some married
couples stay together. At this moment I have no idea how those two ideas would
fit into the same story - but I bet you can think of a half dozen different ways
without really trying hard.
And then you can also keep in mind that sometimes you just don't feel like
writing so all the ideas you have, even perfectly good ones, sound dumb or boring.
The answer? Get out in the sun and use your body, or build something, or take a
trip, or read books, or go to a lot of movies - anything but writing. Then in a few
months, write again.
Right after I finish writing something, I can't immediately start writing
something else. I need a break, sometimes just a week, but sometimes several
months. Just figure out how the writer in you works, and then live with it and work
around it <grin>.
-- 23 September 2002