So, I know a bit about writer’s block. More than a bit. After struggling with it for almost 5 years, you might say I am somewhat of a self-taught expert. I’ve tried every trick in the book: the elevator technique (where you put your characters in an elevator and ask them random questions), the perspective technique (where you re-examine your text from an alternative perspective or viewpoint), the distance technique (where you put your text down for a week and return with supposedly fresh eyes). I’ve read every article, every book, tried all the exercises – even meditated on the damn thing!
You see, I have been writing and tinkering with my first novel, on and off for almost 17 years now (I KNOW!!). And I have always felt that it wasn’t finished. Like the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, I was the proverbial artist that couldn’t leave. It. Alone.
And try as I might, I couldn’t catch a break when it came to completing it. I’ve written other pieces over the years, and each one seems to have a distinct end. Both literally and emotionally. I felt that those pieces were complete. They might not have always been perfect, but I could look back on them with happiness and not worry that I’d made a grammatical error or missed a typo.
But for me, nothing I had tried to break the block had really worked. That is, until I took a closer look at myself, and the characters that kept cropping up in what I wrote.
Over and over again, I saw the same motifs reoccurring; the flawed but beloved guardian, the heroine struggling to find a place for herself in the world, the archetypal hero that is loyal but prepared to sacrifice himself in a heartbeat.
And I started to wonder if these reoccurring characters where somehow fighting to get out of my subconscious and onto the page. Reappearing time and time again, saying something about me that I couldn’t articulate.
For many writers, we feel that writing is a part of us – something we can’t ever turn off, even if we aren’t physically writing it down. But how many of us ever really examine the true motives behind what we write? And what do these subconscious recurring characters tell us about the lens that we look back on our history with?
I started writing quite young. I always knew that my early works would have some issues relating to that. I mean, it’s hard to write convincing adult characters when you are only 13, right? But I never expected to intricately lace so much of my own history into my writing – and not even notice I was doing it.
A great teacher once told me that there are two types of writers: those that tell themselves a story, and have a great time doing it, and those that write for an audience, and don’t always enjoy it so much. I began to suspect that all this time I have been telling myself a story – albeit a weird and confusing fantasy story that I began 17 years ago! And all those subconscious characters were finding their way out of my head to tell it.
For example, take my epic hero who is utterly devoted to his friends – if you look at him through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, you see that intense BFF relationship that so many teen girls have with their closest allies coming out in an idealised way.
Once I realised that my first novel was a sort of pseudo therapy that I had created without understanding it, a way that I could work through the traumas and triumphs of growing up, its pull on me seemed to release.
Overnight, the block was broken. I could happily, and honestly, close the book on my imperfect manuscript for good. Closing the chapter, so to speak, and opening a fresh one.
Just like that, I was writing again.
So, if you find yourself struggling and you’ve tried everything, then ask yourself what kind of writer you are? Are you fighting to tell a great story? Or are you really telling you own story?