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Uncle Orson's Writing Class
Writer's Block
September 23, 2002


Question:

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,

-- Anonymous

OSC Replies:

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 ideas.

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


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