writer’s block: (creative writing) The inability to write a story, especially to start writing is referred to as writer's block. In terms of creating and starting to write a story the image of the blank page, the empty screen, of the writer being faced with the impossibility of being unable to write even a single word because the challenge is so great, having writer’s block, can be explained without considering the personal issues of anxiety and procrastination. The blank page is a barrier that seems insurmountable because the writer isn’t able to tell a story, because they don’t have the skills to do the work. The writer may have a sense of some or even all of the plot for their story, which would seem to prompt the writing, but they haven’t decided on the narration, how to tell the story, they are unclear what form they will tell their story in and they may not understand how to narrate a story in the form or the medium they are writing for. Therefore they can’t write and the page stays blank. Sitting behind the wheel of a car and having a sense of where you want to drive is not going to teach you how to drive a car. Looking at a blank screen is not going to create an understanding of storytelling for any medium. Writing is not an intuitive process and its not the same as speaking and talking.
A story is not just a sequence of events in a temporal order as an over-simplified and generalized definition will indicate, a story is not a list of incidents, and a writer will only successfully write a story when a full range of skills are in place: having an idea, a vague concept for a story is not enough. A writer is able to write when they can develop a plot, when they know how to narrate a story for a film script or for another medium, and a writer needs to decide on the specific mode of narration for their story. The blank page is not the real challenge for the writer: the true barrier is not having clarity in terms of the different elements that need to be in place for storytelling and then understanding how these are combined together to create a story: the barrier to writing is limited knowledge, practice and expertise. The elements of story are: plot, narration, form and medium, and to write with purpose and coherence these need to be understood, decided and acted upon.
There are writers who can write a hundred novels or more, writers who can write dozens of story episode of a sitcom or a television serial or series. These writers’ achieve this through work and effort but also by making choices that enable them to write: often through using the same type of plot, working within a genre, using the same mode of narration and the same dramatic form for the majority of their stories. These writers can write without significant pause and fill up the blank page that presents such an obstacle to others because they have decided on the different elements that combine to create a story. There’s a habit of assuming that a detailed plot is enough to successfully start writing a story, but plot is only one element, a partial aspect of storytelling.
Of course there is writing without planning, just starting the story with no clear idea what events will take place, what the plot is, and this can work well when the writer is familiar with the genre they are writing in. They can the craft plot as they go because they understand the form they are writing for. This type of writing is like a skilled musician who knows many different tunes, their form and content, and so they can improvise and play a new tune unplanned. Similarly, like the musician, the skilled and experienced writer can develop the plot as they write, but the inexperienced writer who has only a vague sense of plotting, narration and form is going to face insurmountable problems: they stare at the blank page and they can’t find a way to start writing, or they write for a period, producing pages of events, but then this impetus fades, finally fails and the story is left incomplete. There is also what is presented as a complete work, a complete story, which is actually badly crafted in terms of plot, narration and form. It’s possible to fill up pages with poor writing, but this is to be avoided. Hoping to just write and then to shape the results into a well structured narrative is to produce in long form what might be better developed as the notes and planning for a full story.
Manuals and teaching for creative writing usually focuses on prompting original stories, which is actually a focus on plot ideas, and the skills and knowledge of form and especially narration, narrative technique for storytelling are passed over. This is comparable to asking an untrained artist what they would like to paint and offering minimal guidance on painting technique: line, colour, form and perspective. The paintings produced through such a vague notion of teaching and the skills needed to be a painter would be lacking. Originality is a culturally valued concept, but it’s not the principal on which to base a training, understanding and competence in relation to a medium and its practice. One effective way to teach and understand writing is to have plot in place, and then study and learn how to narrate the same plot in different ways and to realise the same plot in different forms and medium: this would enable the development and show the evidence of competently developed writing and storytelling skills. Writing, by starting with the short film can work well, if it’s understood that this is only the initial stage: the plan being to try things out and to develop writing and storytelling skills.
External factors can stop a writer being able to write: the location, the noise, the type of software available for writing. These are things that can act as distractions that prevent concentration and work. They are not the essential factor that incites writer’s block. Usually, distractions just rise in attention with the writing is stalled. The writer’s block will remain if an understanding of storytelling is not in place. Having the perfect setting, equipment and even supreme confidence will not help a writer who does not understand, plot, narration and form.
When someone trains to be a musician the first sounds are awful, the basic playing is not there, and then through hours of work the skills develop and finally they are fluent. In storytelling this can seem to be achievable without the basic stage of skills or these are already in place: the person knows how to write, they can recount a story, understand films, but this is misleading: being able to write is not storytelling, being able to recount a plot is not writing a screenplay, understanding film is not the skills of creative writing. So, a training is needed. The manuals for screenwriting want to support writing, and so offer skills, but a writer will start with work that can be improved and only slow develop before reaching a high standard: at this stage it is still a challenge to write, but here the challenge is telling the story well. Writer’s block is primarily a lack of skills and knowledge.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019