Writer's Block: The 'What If' Method
It’s the bane of every writers’ existence. If writing were basketball, this would be the sprained ankle. If sex, this the little engine that couldn’t. Writer’s block. If you’re a serious writer (and maybe even if you’re not), then you know about it. One second you can be cruising along the highway at 60, 70, 80 mph, words flowing like they never have before, all the while not noticing the little gas needle towards E and then suddenly you’re on the side of the road with your emergency lights on. It’s a terrible feeling.
I like to think there are two main types of writer’s block. One is a struggle with generating an initial idea to start writing and the other is when you already have your story started and you hit a brick wall, not knowing where to go from here. This particular post deals with the former: how to get that initial idea going. If you are here for the latter, don't fret! I have faith that this post can help you tend to your woes as well. It’s all about using your imagination and if you’re reading this, hopefully you’re familiar with the tool.
As you may have guessed from the title, I like to call this the ‘What If?’ method. Yes, I just made that name up and yes it’s extremely uncreative, but bear with me: you might find something useful. For this method, I want you to take a day out and observe the world—anything and everything—around you. And with all that happens, ask yourself 'what if?' If a car tries cuts you off: 'what if?' What if you crash and the other driver turns out to be an escaped convict? What happens next? If a police officer seems to be having a bad day: 'what if?' If you see a stray cat with three legs: 'what if'? If the park's fountain water has stopped running: 'what if?'
Those are just some (bad) examples. If I (or you) could come up with a slew of extraordinarily inspiring events that you could find out in the real world then we wouldn’t have this writer’s block problem, now would we? The bottom line is that sometimes it is hard to come up with that initial idea and a bunch of stories from authors that you and I adore have roots in that same ‘what if?’ This method combines real life (which is not limited to the scope of your imagination...i.e., stuff can happen that you may have never thought up) with your own creative eye.
Even if the real world doesn't throw any excitement your way, just a good romp through the park or a drive down your favorite road with nothing but your thoughts and the wind can help clear your mind and get those ideas flowing. This can be particularly helpful for that other type of writer’s block. Stephen King said in On Writing that he had abandoned 500+ pages of The Stand due to a bad case of writer’s block that lasted for months. And then one day he was taking a walk and the solution came to him, just like that. Now, I’m no Stephen King, but when I found myself struggling with how to end my second novel's ending while in Ecuador (I'm yet to be published before you go rushing to Google my name), I decided to take a hike up a windy, mountain road and by the time I came back down, I had the rest of the story outlined on a scrap piece of paper.
Finally, an age-old cure for writer’s block is just to write. Especially if you have an idea but you are letting the ‘it's been done before’ or ‘cliché’ police stand in your way. Just about every story out there could be considered a 'rehash' in some way, but they are unique due to their characters, the quality of writing, and how the particular story unfolds within the already pre-established mold. And if you’re stuck in the middle or you feel you’ve entered a plague of bad writing, just keep pushing through. Eventually you’ll return to a road that you recognize and feels good (and you can always edit out the fat later). But the key is to finish first, bad writing and all.
If you’re digging the idea (or if you’re particularly desperate), try out the ‘What If?’ method and report back here. Did it work for you? Did it not? Did you see anything exceptionally bizarre or, rather, something so painfully normal that your mind made into bizarre? Writer’s block is like a rare disease, one that makes you better once you conquer it, but it needs conquering nonetheless, so be sure to leave your input so we can all win our own personal battles.