Lost and Found: Navigating Your Way Back to the Story

Here’s what we do as writers. When we’re asked to write these blogs, about whatever the subject may be, we tell you what works for us.

We are not experts or authorities on some long-decided rule of law. We’re people with lots of opinions and varying levels of experience, and that’s about it. So when we’re asked to comment on whether or not writer’s block is a real thing, the only honest answer is we don’t know.

There are a lot of people out there who have no problem telling you writer’s block is a myth. Writer’s write, after all, and if you aren’t doing that, well . . . you’re not much a writer then.  So stop making excuses already.

I’ve read a lot of posts like that, some of them by authors I admire. But here’s where I part ways with that line of thinking.  If our minds can totally screw with us in every other aspect of our lives, why is it hard to believe it could prevent us from writing? What is so special about the written word that it is somehow inoculated against mental blockades?

I don’t believe it is.

I think it’s pretty much accepted and understood that there are people in the world who suffer from debilitating fears of the water or heights or open spaces. Even for those of us who aren’t afflicted with this type of illness, it’s probably fair to say that most of us have experienced the feeling of having so many things to do, so many responsibilities pecking at us like a million hateful little birds, that the collective crushing weight of the situation makes it impossible to focus on and accomplish even a single task.

If we can empathize with a situation like that, one in which our minds are urging us to get something done while at the same time stressing the need for a timeout, maybe we can find a way to give struggling writers a break.

Speaking on a personal note, I’ve been fortunate enough not to suffer from a lack of words.  But I do often struggle finding the right words. My laptop’s hard drive is full of false starts because sometimes knowing where to begin is just as daunting as figuring out what it is you want to say.

I’m constantly starting too soon in the story timeline, so it makes it difficult to find the thread of the story, that goal or event that gets the ball rolling and helps you see things through to the end. Beginning before the beginning means you’re busy writing setup, and nothing really happens until your character is shoved out of his element.

Let’s be honest. You might care about that character a little bit before his world is turned upside down, but your interest doesn’t really begin to spike until he’s forced to react to change. Then it gets fun, for both you and the reader. Write the setup if you must, but understand that most of it doesn’t belong in your story. You’re also making it harder on yourself because you’ll be searching for a trail in a part of the woods where there is no trail.

Whenever I struggle with an entry point into a story, it sometimes helps if I start with a joke and then work my way back to the beginning. If I am sufficiently tickled at my own cleverness (and let me be very up front here, folks, I am a narcissistic little freak who loves him some him), I can’t wait to get to that scene or dialogue or wherever the punch line is revealed. I will find a way to get to that payoff because I like amusing myself, and I can’t wait to make other people laugh.

Scene by scene, beat by beat, I work my way backward until I arrive at the beginning. Then I work forward again, smoothing things out until I arrive at my favorite little joke, and I continue on from there.

Whether or not you struggle with writer’s block is probably irrelevant, because at one time or another, we all have trouble finding the right words. Whenever you run up against this problem, here’s my advice.

Take a step back. Read what other people have to say about being stuck. Solicit advice from anywhere you can get it, but try not to get discouraged if someone else’s time-honored remedy doesn’t cure your ills.

It’s all trial and error, like most things in this world. Eventually you’ll figure out what works for you. You’ll find your own way back to the story. Then it’ll be a little easier the next time you’re lost in the woods.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

1 Comment

  • Kevin Wohler says:

    You’re absolutely right, Larry. Here at the Confabulator Cafe, we’re all just individuals sharing what works for us. But you’re also hitting home the value of having so many points of view. Whereas I dismiss the idea of writer’s block (see tomorrow’s entry), you embrace the reality of it. I love your recommendations for dealing with it. Great post!

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