I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I don’t believe in writer’s block. There’s no doubt in my mind. It exists. But for me, true blocks are few and far between. They happen when I’m too tired or stressed. Sometimes they happen when I’m sick.
Other times, when I can’t write, it isn’t really a block. It’s more like a corner that I’ve written myself into when I tried to force something in my story. Or I didn’t pay attention half a page ago when something wasn’t working right. I know that I should be writing but nothing is happening so I have to figure out what I’ve done wrong and fix it.
But most often, I just haven’t gotten into my story space. My mind is stuck in the world I live in and hasn’t ventured into the world of my story, article or memoir. I’ve got that problem right now because I had to put two projects aside to work on something I was being paid to write. I’ve been away for too long and my story world is no longer as familiar as it once was. I need to figure out how to get it back. I need to find the door that will let me inside.
Sometimes the fix is as easy as reacquainting myself with the story. I can do this by taking the time to read what I’ve written so far. I can probably use this technique with the novel because I’ve drafted a few chapters. This particular method works less well if I’m still outlining something or it isn’t very far along.
If food or music plays a big role in the story, eating that food or listening to the music can be a way back inside. In the care of my novel, I can also go online and listen to music. Two of my characters are fiddle players. Not violin. Fiddle. I even know what their respective instruments look like.
Then there’s the voice of my characters. It is the voice of the rural Ozarks. It is close to the voice of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. If I read his book, I hear echoes of my own characters, enough to put me back on their trail. But there are also physical locations I can visit. If I have a weekend, I can to the lake in southern Missouri where my husband likes to fish. The people who live in the area sound like my character and her family.
If I only have an afternoon, I can visit the log cabin my father-in-law is restoring. It gave rise to one of the settings in my book so climbing the stairs to the attic will be like entering my character’s bedroom. I can also visit her kitchen.
Writer’s block? Not this time. I just need to find my way back inside my story. The door into every story is unique to that particular work. Take the time to identify what it is for your story and it will help you reenter your story world whether you’ve been away for a day, a week or even longer.