It happened. It happens to all of us who live to write and write to live. It’s still rather dreadful. The feared writer’s block, enemy of progress, killer of page count, destroyer of dreams.
Short Stories and Writer’s Block
Okay, okay, that’s dramatic. As you can see, I am not currently experiencing a lack of words or theatrics. However, this has certainly happened to me and is bound to happen again. This is especially so since lately I’ve been focusing on short stories, either publishing them myself as freebies, giving them away on my blog, or entering them into anthologies. This means every few days I start a story, then am right in the middle of one, or am wrapping one up. They can go pretty quickly.
Eliminating Writer’s Block by Building on Other Stories
I had a story published this year in Circuits and Slippers, a fairytale anthology in which I turned Rapunzel into a dystopian captured soldier. I had another one picked up by The Once and Future King Project, meant to bring Arthurian legend to middle grade readers. That story is about a young girl who suddenly finds herself being raised by the strangest of stepfathers, one who claims to be the King of Camelot and who is horrified at her pants wearing ways. I’ve recently released Dragon’s Daughter, a short story in which an orphan discovers her father is a fire-wielding circus performer.
I love short stories because they are a peek into someone’s, a fictional someone’s, life. They’re not the whole story, just the hook. The hook is the part I love to write. It’s the mystery, the excitement, the glimpse that tells you something is amiss. Short stories are meant to whet a reader’s appetite, to pique interest, and to end in a way that leaves them wanting more but not angrily searching for missing pages. For me they’re fun to write.
However, they are just the spark of an idea. They’re not novels that can consume a writer for years and years. They’re not characters with whom it’s justifiable to have notebooks worth of backstory. They’re ideas meant to be fleshed out quickly. In doing so, it’s easy to suddenly realize that after many short stories, many characters who came and went so rapidly, there doesn’t seem to be anything left to write about.
Strategies for Dealing with Writer’s Block
My strategy for dealing with this is very simple. If I can’t write I read. I immerse myself in a book and then plunge myself into thinking about the book. What did I like about it? What would I have done differently? How would the end have been altered if the writer pulled this or that string? What about the world did I like, didn’t I like, felt unreal? So many times an exercise into how would I change it becomes its own story.
Think of something like this – what if that werewolf story I just read had two moons instead of one? What if the subjects were beholden to not one but two skyward cycles? Could that happen on earth? What event would precipitate it? Could it happen on another planet? Then how did humans get there? Could the second moon have been engineered, a way to better regulate the werewolves’ uncontainable strength? That seems like quite the bad guy thing to do, unless something had happened, something that would make the government want to or need to better control the weres. Sounds like there’s an interesting story there.
My advice to you if you’re out there battling writer’s block or searching the dark corners of the internet for writing prompts (again, there’s my theatrical bent and I’ve very seriously done this before when the block had been near concrete) is to stop searching for material and start reading. It’ll come to you. Curl up with the next thing on your to-read list and let your mind go. You’ll find something worth talking about.