Episode 5: Dealing with writer’s block


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Episode 5: Dealing with writer’s block Transcript

Hi, my friends.

Welcome to Amie Kaufman on Writing, a short podcast that answers one question each week about how writers do what they do.

If you’re a writer, or you’re a reader interested in how your favourite authors craft their stories, then you’re in the right place.

Before we jump in, I want to let you know that I have a book coming out tomorrow – if you’re not listening on release day, that’s September 8th, 2020!

It’s co-authored with my friend Meagan Spooner, and it’s the start of our third series together. It’s called The Other Side of the Sky. It’s about a prince who falls from a science fiction city in the sky, and lands in a world below ruled by magic and prophecy. He meets a living goddess there, and sparks fly… but they’re not allowed to touch, and if they do, they could doom both their worlds. Also, there’s an excellent cat, who quite frankly saves the day now and again, not that anyone thanks him. The Other Side of the Sky is a story about where science fiction meets fantasy, about the intersection of faith and proof, of trust and logic. I’m really proud of it.

We have some great virtual events planned, and you can find them at my website. I would really love to see you there, and I hope you’ll grab a copy of the book. You’re also still in time to participate in the preorder offers, if you hurry!

For now, on with the podcast.

This is Season 1, Episode 5: How to deal with writer’s block

As always, here’s my friend and producer Kate with this week’s question. Hi Kate, how are you?

Hi Amie, I’m good!

This week’s question is from Ellie, who says: My question is really simple. How do you deal with writer’s block? Because I’m STUCK.

Oh gosh, Ellie, you are not alone! And we actually got a lot of questions about this, which is why I wanted to tackle it in season one. This is something that happens to everyone—I don’t buy it, when people say they never have writer’s block. They might call it by another name, but there’s no creative out there who doesn’t sometimes have a moment, or a day, or a week… or longer… when they either don’t know how to push forward with their story, or can’t seem to make themselves.

Writers block can also feel like you’re just writing garbage, or like you’re unusually distractable right now. Like you keep having different ideas every day about what you should do, because you don’t know what to do with what’s in front of you.

I do want to note that sometimes, you’re not blocked—something more serious is going on. It might be that you’re dealing with 2020, and between the many and varied demands on your time, attention and coping skills right now, creativity isn’t going to happen.

But people will be listening to this podcast for a long time to come, I hope – and I hope some of you will be doing that at a calmer time. Writing may still be hard for reasons that aren’t connected to being blocked. In particular, if you’re experiencing depression, then this kind of advice isn’t going to cut it, and I really want to encourage you to look up the helplines available in your country and give one of them a call. It can make a huge difference.

But—if what we’re dealing with is writer’s block, then here are four ways to tackle it.

One: Treat it like being lost in the woods, and go back to the last time you knew where you were. Retrace your steps and find the last point you felt confident and enthused about the story. You may have pushed on past this point, so it might not be in your most recent pages.

Once you think you’re there, take a look around. Did you take a wrong turn? Are you forcing something? Are you trying to make your characters fit into a plot that doesn’t work for who they are? Are you trying to make them do something inconsistent with what you set up in the first part of the story? Brainstorm some ways the story could progress differently.

Option two: Do something else completely, and let your mind mull on it. This means not filling your head with a podcast, though music might work for you. I leave my headphones behind and go walk the dog. He loves it when I’m stuck! Agatha Christie used to do the dishes. Cal Newport, who writes on productivity, calls this Productive Meditation. As you walk (or vacuum, or do whatever you like) ask yourself what you have, and what you need.

Option three: Talk it out with someone. A person is good, but a pet will do. The reason a pet will do is that most of the time, your listener doesn’t even have to talk! When you speak out loud, your brain processes information it’s hearing in a different way than when you’re just letting all the thoughts rattle around in your brain without putting them in order. So tell your story out loud, and when you get to the place you were stuck, see if you can keep going a little.

Option four: Make a list of things that could happen next, using the ‘no dumb ideas’ rule. Ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen next? What’s the second worst thing? What’s the best thing? How could that best thing turn out to be a disaster? What’s the weirdest thing that could happen? Try and write down twenty options, and see if one rattles something loose.

So there you go: four different ways you can try to bust writer’s block:

One: Go back to the last time you knew where you were.

Two: Wash the dishes and let your mind wander.

Three: Tell the story out loud to your dog.

Four: Figure out the worst thing that could happen… and twenty more options.

Here’s an exercise: Think about the last episode of a TV show you watched that had a plot, and make a list of five things that could happen in the next episode. A good thing, a bad thing, a good thing that turns out to be a bad thing, a bad thing that turns out to be a good thing, and a weird thing. You can never get too much practice at generating ideas.

Next week, I’ll be answering a question about figuring out who your protagonist should be.

In the meantime, I’ll remind you to subscribe, and leave the podcast a review wherever you listen.  It really helps get the podcast in front of new listeners.

You can find me at my website, which is at amiekaufman.com – you can subscribe to my newsletter there, for behind-the-scenes peeks at how I write, and any other news about new books, events or the podcast. You can also submit a question for the podcast on my website. You can find me on instagram at @AmieKaufmanAuthor or on twitter at @AmieKaufman. This podcast is produced by the lovely Kate Armstrong, host of one of my favourite podcasts, The Exploress, which time travels through women’s history one era at a time. You can find her at theexploresspodcast.com.

For now, thanks so much for listening – enjoy your reading, and enjoy your writing.


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