I asked some best-selling crime writers for their thoughts on writer’s block.
Everyone has heard of it: writer’s block, that horrifying moment when the words will no longer come. Wikipaedia explains it this way: Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.
Sounds about right.
Personally, I call it The Fear. When I feel like that, a horrible feeling comes over me, as though there is a weight on my chest, stopping me from breathing. All I want to do is write, and I can’t. So, I take some time out. Generally, I realise that my ‘writer’s block’ was my subconscious jumping up and down, telling me there was a problem with my story. I take the time to look at the issue, and then, even if I am still struggling, I make myself write. Even if all I’m doing is writing character biographies, rather than working on the manuscript itself, often the problem works itself out by me coming at it from that different angle.
But what do other authors think of writer’s block? How do they tackle it? I asked some best-selling crime writers for their thoughts.
Angela Clarke, author of the social media series, Follow Me and Watch Me, believes the answer lies in the subconscious.
‘I deal with plot knots by getting away from the screen. I try and do something physical, like going for a walk, or a swim, or even unloading the dishwasher and folding and putting clothes away. I find that if you’re looking the other way, the solution often sneaks up on you.
‘I’m also a big fan of a plot nap: a nap in the middle of the day where I’m thinking about my book when I fall asleep. Something magic happens in my subconscious when the rest of me relaxes and drifts off, and I often wake to a solution.’
Sounds crazy, but I’ve used that technique, too. It works! Angela adds: ‘If I’m still stuck I will go all out to do something else creative, something that will take concentration, like watching a film, or a good TV show, or painting a picture. Not thinking and worrying over the plot knot, seems to be the best way to undo it.’
Bestselling author Tom Bale is famed for his fast-paced novels, including See How They Run and They All Fall Down. He has some great advice for when writer’s block hits.
‘One of my fallbacks is to switch to writing pure dialogue – even if it’s for a future scene somewhere else in the book. I’ve always found dialogue the easiest part of writing, so getting the characters to talk to each other often clears the blockage.’
Tom also has a handy tip for avoiding writer’s block in the first place.
‘The best way I’ve found to avoid having those problems is to visualise the day’s first scene before sitting down to write. I’ll often try to compose the opening sentence in my head, and then it seems to flow more easily once I’m at the computer.’
The DI Marnie Rose series got off to a blistering start with Someone Else’s Skin, which won Crime Novel of the Year 2015. Quieter Than Killing was published recently, and is the fourth in the series. Author Sarah Hilary powers through problems.
‘[Writer’s block is] just the name we give to what happens when we lose confidence in our core idea. I get bored and belligerent, and mentally exhausted — all of which makes writing difficult — but I don’t get blocked. I do get bad ideas, like all writers, but the only way to test them is by writing until I realise they’re not enough to sustain a story. Then I start over,’ she says.
‘For me writer’s block is a sign that something isn’t working’ agrees Angela Marsons. Her crime series featuring DI Kim Stone has taken the publishing world by storm, and the sixth book in the series is out now. ‘Historically I’ve found it to be that I’m just not into the story or that the characters haven’t properly formed in my mind and that I’m trying to write a story that I’m just not ready to write. I’ll normally give it a couple of days to see if the magic comes back. If not, I move onto an idea that excites me. Nothing is ever wasted as it is all flexing the writing muscle and there may be a day the excitement for that particular project is reignited.’
William Shaw, author of The Birdwatcher, agrees that writing through it is the best way forward. ‘Writing can become really difficult sometimes when things just aren’t working but I’m from the insensitive school of thought that believes you just have to write through it, even if you’re writing crap. And sometimes there are gems in the crap. That’s a fairly unpleasant metaphor, but you know what I mean.’
There is no magic solution that will get an author through writer’s block. It seems the only thing to do, is to make yourself write.
Louise Beech, author of How To Be Brave and The Mountain In My Shoe, echoes this.
‘I’m very very lucky in that I rarely get writer’s block. If I’ve had it, I can’t recall, so it must have been brief. I can always write something. I think that’s the key. Just write something. Even if it’s not what you intended or hoped to write. And once the words flow, the other ones follow.’
- To read interviews with the authors in full, visit BLOOD TYPE