Writers and roleplayers share many things in common. We are creators, wordsmiths and story-tellers. Many of the things we do, be it creating a character history, planning a roleplay plot, or weaving an epic tale in prose, do share many of the common hurdles and afflictions. One of the most frustrating is the ever notorious "Writer’s Block”. Even worse still when this block occurs in the midst of writing or creating a character.
I cannot count on enough fingers and toes how many times this has happened to me. My brain itches with that story that wants to escape. I sit down, and from my head to my arm and out my fingers the thoughts flow. It goes great! The ideas and story pour out so smoothly, so eagerly, that it feels like some perfect merging of mind and medium. I write and write and write until I get to the end of that fateful paragraph and move to the next line …
It stops. I’m just sitting there staring at the page or blinking cursor. Nothing comes. This goes on for minutes, hours, even days. It is just stuck and I find myself on the verge of either filing away this half-made creation or simply toss right into the bin. These are not the only two options, however. It can be saved, salvaged, and the out-pour can begin again.
There are six methods from my own toolbox that I personally prefer to use to get my creative engine running again. Some I’ve discovered on my own while others I learned from fellow writers and roleplayers. So without much more blather and ado on my part, here they are:
- Take a break – To many this is probably the most obvious, and yet others may think this is a bad idea on par with giving up. Breaking away can definitely be a good thing. One can recharge their batteries: eat, relax, take a walk, or take a nap! Just go do something else. The is also a great opportunity to reinspire through reading, catching up on the latest television hit, or dropping a few hours on that new game. When returning to your process later, one can come back to look it over again a new mind state and a fresh perspective.
- Find a sounding board – This is one that can definitely apply to both roleplayers and writers alike. Friends and fellows are a valuable resource, and it’s a shame not to use them. These people are the outsider looking in, and their experiences certainly differ from your own. They can certainly see angles you never considered, and even better their perspectives are completely new when discussing how to develop your creative work.
The most important part of using a sounding board is to make clear what you need. It helps to state clearly what you are looking for next or advice on what direction should be taken. One must also be open to all sorts of opinions with this method, as that is basically what you are asking this person to give you. Even if you as the original creator don’t agree with an idea, be willing to hear out your sounding board’s full thought. You did go to them for help. In the end, this method rarely has you coming back with nothing, and sometimes even the smallest stone can get things rolling along again.
As a roleplayer, this can be a useful when stuck within character creation and development. Now this method in the context of this article is not meant as a forum post or community question, but more of a one on one with another person. Ideas can be stated, hashed, argued and decided upon clearly to assist in continuing your character process.
- Go to the end – This is applicable even if you already know the ending in your head. Writing something down brings it into existence. It is now there and real when you do this. Stuck in your head it is nothing more than a cloudy thought. It can be just a sentence, plot point, or several paragraphs. It doesn’t matter, just make it real and give it form.
From there you’ll find two roads. One is to go back where you left off, your end point clearly realized and the path to that ending a little less hazy with no blocks in your way. The other way through with this method is to continue writing from the end until you reach where you had your block. In a nutshell, it's writing effect before cause. The latter method might feel a little strange the first time you do it, but it certainly can work to positive effect.
- Write what you know will happen - This is not a far cry from the previous point, but in somewhat different in approach. It is a matter of letting go of dwelling on what explicitly happens next. Write the next piece you know will happen in your plot or story. If you get stuck again, then do this method again and again until you find yourself at the end. Once you reach this point, go back and fill between all the bits you just wrote.
You now have a clear, if disconnected, path between what you know and want. All that is left to be done is build the smaller roads between them. You've just reduced a very steep hill into several smaller ones.
- Write from another character’s perspective – This is one that was suggested by a fellow roleplayer, and honestly had never thought of on my own. It works great when dealing with a plot of multiple characters.
In effect, one writes a draft starting from a bit before the block, using a new character point of view and focus. Work out the story from this new perspective’s side. Once you get along a little bit, go back and transpose everything to the original character focus. Just changing which character you are writing with can sidestep the block, as you are now approaching your work with a different angle.
This method can also have a bonus benefit. When you write from this other character focus, you can find that there is much more that can be done with the character. Now you have an alt or stronger supporting character. Do really well, and you might even have a new main character on your hands.
- Eliminate – This last one is a more analytical approach and somewhat akin to the brainstorm method in writing.
Reread everything you have down so far. After that, ask one these questions: "What doesn’t happen next?” or "What doesn't the character do?” This question is often the exact opposite what someone may be thinking when they run into a block. You can even scribble these points down as you think of them to help keep track if you want. Eventually, a logical or natural option becomes clear, often in the form of "A can’t happen because B, but there is C …”
This is one that can also quickly be applied in live roleplay, though likely at a higher rate of process than in writing. We've all come across that moment where something happens, likely unexpected, and you are left scratching your head little on your turn to post. Doing just a few of these "doesn'ts" can help sort out what your next in character action is going to be.
What works for you as a writer and storyteller is certainly beyond argument, but I maybe you’ve seen something will give you that next grand tale or fantastic character bio to share. There’s no wrong or right way about any of the so called methods I’ve outlined above, and there are certainly many, many more out there in web articles and in use by the storytellers. I certainly invite any and all to share what they use to get past their blocks in writing.
As always, thank you for reading.