Tornado Chasers: Lifting That Writer’s Block

by Gurpreet Sihat

For a (thankfully) short period in March, there was so much going on in my life that I felt unable to concentrate on the written word. I wasn’t able to post poignant birthday messages to the people I loved, I wasn’t able to work on my novel, I wasn’t even able to read without the words swimming around the page. I felt like a walking, talking catastrophe. Designed for nothing other than failure. What kind of writer can’t write? Can’t read?! 

Unfortunately, that feeling of failure makes the dreaded eye of the storm that much bigger. Traditionally, it’s known as ‘writer’s block’, but I’ve realised that when your brain is so filled with thoughts, emotions, characters, arcs, words you want to use (still trying to find a reason to use ‘expeditiously’ in a manuscript), names, possibilities, it’s like a tornado that occasionally slows its speed but is always there. So, instead of ‘writer’s block’, it feels more like being in the eye of a storm. My brain, at least, goes quiet. No one speaks. No one moves. Nothing sparks. It’s like being stuck in temporary limbo – you know you’ll get out eventually, but nothing you do seems to be speeding up the process and you’ve no idea how long you need to be in there for.

With the help of some incredible writer friends of mine, three things helped me dip back into the tornado and, eventually, leave the eye of the storm behind me (something only a writer is apparently crazy enough to do). 

1. Writing from the perspective of a minor character.

Sitting in Starbucks one afternoon, I realised that I had forgotten to download my documents onto my laptop. I had nothing – no drafts of my manuscript, no notes, no images that I had collected for inspiration. Panic stricken, I decided that the entire trip had been a waste of my time. I gathered my things and got ready to go home, to give up on the day. I had been texting a friend at the time and received a message when I told her what my plan was. She told me to buck up, stop complaining, and to write something – anything – even if it didn’t flow or fit into the narrative. So, I did. It started out as something I did out of annoyance. I picked a character I didn’t think anything would come from, and an hour later I had a shiny new storyline with a new set of characters. By the time my writing session had finished, there was no doubt in my mind that this section of narrative would fit into the second book, with a storyline that would weave in and play what inevitably became an important part of the third. 

2. Writing fan-fiction. 

Yet again, my story starts in Starbucks, this time with a group of friends all busy tapping away on their keyboards. For the better part of five hours, I wrote about two hundred words. Less, actually. I tried swapping perspectives again, tried writing different plot lines, but nothing came to me. I knew where the story was meant to go, I knew who was driving it, but I just couldn’t put words to paper. Or screen! My characters just wouldn’t move. They stared at me, their eyebrows raised, their arms crossed over their chests, their fingers tapping on the side of the elbows. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. One of the friends I had been writing with told me to write fan-fiction. I snorted. Fan-fiction? Me? Really? For a laugh, I wrote a paragraph about her dreaming about one of my characters. She decided to show me how it was done, writing a passage about me and one of her characters. It was hilarious – a fantastic way of procrastinating. When it was my turn again, I ended up writing an entire chapter, introducing a character inspired by her that interacted with more than just one of my characters. It turned out to be pretty good. So good, in fact, that I ended up keeping it in the manuscript. In fact, it turned out, again, to be an important part of the narrative. 

3. Splitting It Up.

What it was that finally got me out of the eye of the storm, was splitting my novel into two sections. When I realised that I had gone over 40,000 words but was only a third of the way through the novel, I panicked. I can’t entirely explain what the sudden fear was about, but I knew that each book in the trilogy ended in a specific place for a reason, and this last instalment needed to start from this particular place. The series couldn’t turn into four books, and I couldn’t push parts of this book into the previous one. Worried about it, I talked it through with a friend. We came up with a simple decision: split the final book into two parts. It worked for other authors and was an accepted tool in the industry, so why couldn’t I do it too? I printed everything I had done already out, split it into chapters, organised the chapters, figured out what scenes still needed writing so that it would flow better, and then got writing them. Within three days, part one was finished. An overwhelmingly joyous feeling flooded me when I saw it printed, sitting on my desk. I no longer felt like a failure. Like its predecessors, it was simply waiting for the next part. Bye-bye, silent brain. It was finally time to get back to the cacophony in my head. 

These tips may not work for every writer. They may prove priceless to some, useless to others, mediocre to more. But the moral is to keep going, however cliché that may sound. There were so many times where I thought that there was no point in even attempting to delve back into my novel, so many times where I had to lean on my writer friends for support, so many times where that made me feel like I was wasting my life, but I managed it! I made it through the eye of the storm! And you can too.  

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