Saturday, July 28, 2012

Writer's Block

Oh writer's block. Those simple little words that strike a fear into writers worse than the shadow that passes over a goon as he runs from batman. The kryptonite of our existence. The dread that pierces your soul and pounds you into submission as you stare at the white blank page, the cursor blinking at you. It taunts you, questioning your lack of ability, your creative drive. It mocks everything you have worked for and convinces you that you are nothing, lower than nothing. All you have to do is press some keys, move a pen across paper. Child's play! And yet you sit there. Unable to come up with a single idea. Not a plot line, not an action sequence. Not even a tiny snatch of dialog to get things moving. Before you know it the day has drifted by. You've struggled for hours to get one pathetic sentence onto the page only to erase it in a flash of anger, ashamed that such terrible writing has come out of you. It's the end of the world, the end of all creation. And. It. Will. Never. End.

The reflection of your empty soul.

Alright, enough of the melodrama. Writer's block. What is it anyway? Well that's a tough question to answer. Writer's block is one of those intangible things like love or hate that everyone talks about but there's no real definition for. Everyone has their own opinion, their own experience of it. You know it when you feel it. Writer's block is a curious malady. There isn't anything wrong with you. You can type and move a pen, you can make the physical movements of writing. You can think, make things up and make decisions about your story. And yet you sit there paralyzed, seemingly unable to do anything. You can't see it, can't explain it, and yet there it is. Stopping you from doing the thing you want to do with all your heart, all your soul. You can talk to your friends for hours about your story and the characters and the world they inhabit, but when it's you and the blank page, the page wins.

Well there's a couple of reasons why you may be stricken with this strange malady. I'm going to bypass the easy things like simple laziness. When the problem isn't the writing but actually getting your poor butt in the chair and writing. And there's the other common problems of stress in life that clutters up the brain and could be solved with a simple walk and some fresh air. No, I'm talking about the writer's block. The one that cripples you for hour after hour while you stare at the computer, typing a sentence over and over only to delete it every time. When nothing seems to flow. When your muse has left you for some other tortured soul.

 And by tortured soul we mean hipster.

In my limited experience I've found that those disabling cases of writer's block have nothing to do with the actual writer, and everything to do with the story. In all the times I've been locked down creatively and unable to write, it's because some part of me was trying to tell the rest that something was wrong with my story. Sometimes I'm coming at a plot or a scene from the wrong angle. Other times it may be because I don't understand my characters well enough to know how they would react. Or it may be that the particular story simply isn't that good, or interesting. I'm actually secretly dreading writing the thing, and that manifest itself into writer's block. Every single time I've had it, I've found there was a reason.

There's an upside and a down to that. The good news is that writer's block isn't some demon that's slain your muse in the night. It's not a mysterious disease that passes from creative type to creative type, landing on whatever poor sod was unlucky enough to catch it this week. The down side is it means there is a real problem with our stories. A fundamental, structural weakness in the foundation that could bring the whole thing down. Even worse, I have yet to find a catch all cure for getting past those problems, for isolating them and solving them right away. Sometimes you have to walk away from the problem, other times you have to muscle through it, pounding away at your keyboard until something snaps and you're through to the other side.

Writer's block is something that has stricken creative types since the dawn of mankind, and I assume will affect us long into the future. Remember however that it does have a cause. There is a reason for it.You don't have to fear the shadow on you brain any longer, the doubt and insecurity that comes with the blinking cursor. Know that it is not a red light, but a yellow, cautioning you against the unseen dangers in your story, the fog that obscures your eyes as a creator. And most importantly, that you can beat it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Note Solutions

The best piece of advice I can give to any writer is to write everything down. Every idea, every character, every snippet of conversation, every plot. Every single idea you have. You think you will remember them, but you won't and while most of them are crap, those rare gems will slip away if you don't record them.

With that in mind here are some programs and ideas for keeping all those little notes organized and archived.

Notepad -

Notepad is an old, old program that comes with every PC. It has no features,  no bells, no whistles. But it will get the job done. Creating a chain of folders on you computer filled with notepads will not be pretty, but it will be functional. A great place to start for new writers who just need a simple solution for keeping track of their notes.

Simple folder organization and a few of these notes can go a long way. For example: Projects > Fantasy Story > Characters. With notepads in the final folder, one for each character listing the information you have for them.

Notepad's greatest strengths are that most people already have it, it's free and most importantly, it's quick. A notepad will open instantly, unlike word or a web browser. Proof that you don't need a fancy, expensive program to get the job done.

WikidPad -

WikidPad is an awesome little program. Free to download and easy to use, it was one of the first programs I started using to organize all my notes. Makes it easy to link projects and organize your notes. One weakness, and a strength, is that pages are global across the program, so a if you have two character names across two projects it will show you that. Though it can be annoying to have each project's Character or Setting page to need a  project tag so they don't over lap.

OneNote -

Unfortunately, OneNote by Microsoft is not free. However if you could find an "alternative method" for acquiring the program, I would highly recommend it. OneNote is an amazing program once you dive into it. The formatting options, ease of picture embedding and simplicity of the program is unrivaled. Being able to have a notebook for each project, sections for characters and settings with their own pages and sub pages is fantastic. The ease with which you can jump around your projects really helps and the always on functionality means it's snap to pull up. A friend turned me onto this program and I'm glad I took the time to migrate over.

What I Do -

Personally, I've cobbled together a solution that works for me. This is by no way "the" way to do it. I include it here only as an example for others who may not know where to start. This is a solution still in progress that I'm constantly experimenting with.

I start by writing down every idea I get, no matter how small or stupid it may seem at the time. When on the go I use the notes function on my phone. When at my desk or in bed I have a small notebook and pen always ready to go. As an insomniac I do my best thinking and get my best ideas when lying awake at night trying to fall asleep. Having a notebook on the nightstand ready to go is invaluable.

Next I have an actual notebook, standard college rule variety you can get at any store. I write out plot lines in it, flesh out ideas, outline scripts and episodes and do most of my brainstorming work in it.

Last is my archive on the computer, currently in OneNote. This holds all the information of my projects. A wiki level of detail for each project. Every character, every plot line, every setting, written out and put down in a program I can easily access while writing in case I need some obscure bit of information about a character or race, scene by scene notes for scripts, and a host of other information.

In addition to this I have a scattering of notepad documents with random notes on them. I regularly archive the notes from my actual paper notebook and the notepad documents into the archive, to make sure everything is preserved and organized for when I need it.

Closing -

So there are some solutions and ideas for your note taking. If you have an ideas you want to share or programs you love to use please do so in the comments below. I'm always on the look out for new solutions and would love to hear them.

And remember, back up that data!