Friday, November 30, 2012

Understanding the problem of “writer’s block”: A brief introduction

By Dennis Mellersh

If you are a novice or beginner writer, and are trying to learn how to write a book, the problem of writer’s block is generally different than it is for the professional author.

For the professional writer, who has a background of producing books, such as novels, writer’s block is like a mental impediment that interrupts the usually forthcoming creative flow of writing. Such a block can be temporary, long-lasting or at worst, permanent.

There has been a great deal written, including detailed psychological studies, about the problem of writer’s block with professional writers. There is a good article on the problem on Wikipedia on this topic. Just type in the words writer’s block in the Wikipedia search icon and you’ll find it.

For the novice writer who wants to write a book, however, the problem is more likely to be the challenge of “Where do I start?” In other words, for the novice and would-be book author the difficulty is more based on a lack of experience than on a mental block in terms of arrested creativity.

So, if you are a beginning writer and you want to write a book, and you can’t seem to get going with the book you want to write, you need to examine where you are in the overall process. You could start by asking yourself a few questions.

Here are a few basic questions you might want to ask.

First you could ask yourself, how much do I actually know about the writing process? And along with that question, ask “What stage am I at in terms of my ability to write clearly, smoothly, and in a manner that will interest my potential readers?” If you are at the early stages of learning to write, your first task will be to learn more about the art of writing. Your book writing efforts should be made after you have learned the basics of writing.

Another question is to ask yourself, and assuming you have learned how to write effectively, is “Why do I think I want to write a book?” If you have no experience in writing a book, and your purpose in wanting to write a non-fiction book is to convey ideas to a group of people you think might be interested in your ideas, you might want to start with a blog. This will give you practice in writing out your ideas and can help you build a potential audience for your eventual book.

This assumes you already have enough knowledge about a non-fiction topic to write about the subject effectively. If you do not, you will need to do enough background research so that you can write your book with authority.

On the same question, if you want to write a novel, which also involves conveying a worldview and ideas, then you should read a lot of novels, if you have not already done so.

As with a non-fiction book, a novel, if it is to be believable, also requires knowledge on the part of the writer, either gained through life experience or through extensive research. This is particularly true if you want to write about a particular geographic area, a particular setting (such as a business environment), or a specific historical period.

Until you do the necessary research you are not ready to start writing. Few of us as writers can rely solely on our life experiences to furnish adequate background and knowledge for a believable novel.  As with any “rule” however, there are exceptions – you may be one of them.

Assuming you are comfortable with your ability level in writing, you might also ask yourself, “Am I waiting for ‘inspiration’ to get me started in writing my book?” If you are playing the “inspiration waiting game” many professional writers advise against it. For many experienced writers, having a regular writing routine of starting and finishing their writing at a certain time each day helps them get their creative juices flowing.

Some writers set a word-count target and write (or try to write) each day for as long as it takes them to reach that target. For some it might be 1,000 words, for others, 2,000 words. It depends on what you are comfortable with. The key is to be realistic and not set an impossible target for the type of creative writing you are doing.

Another question is to ask yourself if you have a particular place in which to do your writing and whether you have the necessary materials and equipment on hand so that you can start writing as soon as you are in your “writing spot”, ideally at the same time each day. Yes, we do need to make sure we have enough sharpened pencils, but if you spend too much time sharpening pencils you are really procrastinating the writing itself.

Incidentally, the same applies to research and planning – both are very important, but if you try to achieve perfection in planning or try to be be sure your research is absolutely, totally complete, you will not be spending much time in the actual writing you want to accomplish.

Are you willing to forego all distractions, no matter how appealing or urgent they might seem? You are at your writing place, at your appointed time, and it is important to focus on the task at hand, which is to “get something down on paper”, so to speak, even though it is more likely today to be a laptop or other electronic writing device. Leave your e-mail, your favorite blogs, and your messages until after you have finished your allotted writing for the day.

There are many obstacles or “blocks” than get in the way of your desire to write a book, and I hope to cover these in future articles along with some suggestions as to you might be able to overcome them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The power of being concise and clear in our writing

By Dennis Mellersh

As we gather knowledge and insights about how to write a book, an important skill to develop is to learn to write with clarity and conciseness.

The writer E.B. White says, “The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. Because I have the greatest respect for the reader, and if he’s going to the trouble of reading what I’ve written – I’m a slow reader myself and I guess most people are – why the least I can do is make it as easy as possible for him to find out what I’m trying to get at. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.”*

Being concise and keeping to the essentials can add power to the book you are writing. Books that are verbose are often examples of weak writing. One of the keys is to make sure you don’t fall in love with your words.

Georges Simenon, who wrote psychological novels and mysteries, commented about excess or unnecessary words in writing in one of The Paris Review Interviews. The Interviewer asked Simenon, “What do you cut out, certain kinds of words?”

Simenon replied, “Adjectives, adverbs, and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You know, you have a beautiful sentence – cut it. Every time I find such a thing in one of my novels, it is to be cut.”*

The Canadian painter David Milne, in discussing what makes a powerful painting made a comment that could equally be applied to the art of writing a good book, “The thing that ‘makes’ a picture is the same thing that makes dynamite – compression.”

In writing a fictional book, such as a novel, less can often be more.  As noted by Ernest Hemingway, “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”

E.B White as quoted in For Writers Only by Sophy Burnham, Ballantine Books, New York, 1994

*Georges Simenon as quoted in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, The Viking Press, Viking Compass Edition, 1959, p. 146