This was asked in the AMA journal, but I felt it needed a standalone answer.
I get asked surprisingly often about writer's block, and how I personally approach the process of writing my stories (aside from "slowly", nowadays), and I have to admit those aren't easy questions to answer succinctly. What I do is the result of years of pattering around, no formal "training", workshops or even professional context to really force me to hone my writing or my ability to meet strict deadlines, so it's all very organic and disorganized to me. But there are definitely certain things I can pass on.
I'm one of the most prolific authors I've seen in the fandom - although I post infrequently, individual posts tend to be quite large, and a single chapter of one of my novels is often the collective size of every single chapter in a typical furry story online. So, despite being relatively quiet nowadays, I've still got a substantial amount of fiction online.
Leaving aside all digs at how my stories clearly need to be edited with a bloody brutality that'd make 14th century Viking berserkers run crying back to their mothers, what have I learned over the last few years?
Well, first of all, let's discuss how to defeat "writer's block". An extremely vague term to say the least, writer's block refers to the difficulty a writer or would-be writer may have in working up motivation or inspiration; for a reason that is not eminently practical, such as simply not having the time, the writer can't make him or herself produce as much as desired. A more specific definition would be: the phenomenon where a writer just doesn't have any idea what to write next, either because they can't think of anything, or they keep second guessing themselves.
The big problem with coming up with a consistent strategy against "writer's block" is that can occur for any number of reasons, and sometimes the best plan is to confront those real reasons directly and resolve them. They might be very serious; depression, anxiety, low self-esteem... These are all real issues that cause writer's block and should be addressed first; you'll be fighting an uphill battle to say the least if you don't.
Sometimes, one doesn't really want to overcome this creative inertia. Maybe you need a break. Maybe you started a project too large and vague for your experience as a writer.
So, here are a few suggestions for what to do if you find yourself bogged down; don't feel bad if you don't do these things right, or if they don't always work. They don't always work for me either; I'm certainly no master at defeating writer's block!
1. Take a break; go outside.
This is actually the most important thing you can do, not just when facing writer's block, but in general.
In much the same way as it's a bad idea to just sit in your bed and try to force yourself to sleep when you can't, you shouldn't lock yourself into a room and stare at the blank page (or monitor!) for hours, steadily getting more frustrated. Writer's block can often be caused by stress, so this will almost certainly make it worse.
Get outside, clear your head, and experience the world. Nothing is sadder and more creatively bankrupt than someone who refuses to go out into the world and experience it; you take those experiences, those feelings, those golden nuggets of knowledge back to the writing table with you. It's just as important to do this as it is to understand the conventions of fiction writing.
If all you do is recycle from the fictional worlds you expose yourself to, you'll just be reproducing the exact same material you consumed yourself, only more insipid, hollow and misunderstood. Without any of the real world magic and relevance.
Even children can write good stories, with their powerful imaginations, inquisitive forays into the real world and their unique way of looking at it. Someone who slouches in the back room of a house at every opportunity trying to force themselves to write something? Well, let's just say he's going to have a harder time.
Take a break. Learn something. Take a break while learning something related to the story you want to write (got some action in your story? Go take a handgun combat course!.... What?). Haven't even got the initial sentence down yet? Take a break and experience life until inspiration hits you - maybe consider my second point down there, and brainstorm for a little bit in a relaxed fashion, not expecting too much.
But just as a general rule: get out there. Get a life; or find it again. Remember the quote on my profile page!!
“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it; at the same time, he is a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference, to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, (Art) is not done to decorate apartments. (Art) is an instrument of war.”— Pablo Picasso
2. Free Writing.
This actually does work. Writing a stream of consciousness, or jumping straight into writing a nonsense poem, or whatever you feel like, will help. It can help you formulate ideas, and more importantly: it will get you in the mood to write.
If you've got music and movies and video games distracting you, forcing yourself to ditch all of that and write, well, just whatever the hell comes to you for a few minutes will help you push those distractions away.
Many writers use free writing or something like it just as a prelude to working on their main projects.
Question, folks. Why do you think I write all these journals? Hmm?
3. Read something else.
This might surprise a few writers: when was the last time you actually read another person's work?
Try reading something, maybe even something from a totally different genre. Break your comfort zone, too; don't just be, say, reading shitty tid-bit furry porn stories. Go to the library. Yes, they exist still.
Again, this can get you in the mood to write, provide some inspiration and ideas, and, well, reading is a powerful form of entertainment. That's why it's so sad to hear someone say they "hate reading." A good book should be able to pop out the stopper on your emotions.
If you want to write? READ. A LOT.
4. Don't be hard on yourself or your writing.
This is actually just part of the overall writing process, really.
Remember how your teachers pissed you off with making you write a draft of every composition before forcing you to re-write it? Well, what a great way for them to introduce this crucial element of writing to you, another score for the education system... Sarcasm, obviously.
This is a method of counteracting writer's block caused by uncertainty and self-criticism, as well as an important tactic when it comes to trying to meet a deadline: you must not concern yourself with making your story perfectly right the first time. Or even the second time.
At a finer level of granularity, this means you shouldn't get too hung up on the specifics of the dialogue. The quality of some descriptions. Anything like that.
It's not a linear, procedural process. Writing involves backtracking, reviewing, making changes that result in other changes, a knowledge and awareness of flow and audience...
So you're coming back when you've got the outline done, and fixing it all up. Even if that DOES mean erasing entire paragraphs and trying a different path. You see, you've constructed the framework and given a more firm context (both in your head and within the narrative) to the details you need to hone and improve. It's similar to how the first few lines in a new story are going to be harder than almost any other part - because you're facing a blank canvas.
Ultimately, having something down is better than nothing at all, because it gives context and a framework for you to improve upon it until it's perfect. I consider most of my stories here to be in their final draft form, not properly edited or exactly what want them to be yet ... which is why I may be re-releasing TS in its final form at the same time as I finish up Astray and post the supplemental materials. Shhh. Not everyone will read this far~
OK, so you've written the chapter (first mistake -> thinking that you're "done" with that chapter). You review it. The dialogue is iffy and the narration is a little clumsy or wordy. This section doesn't capture the emotions it did before. OK, so you know that. ... Now fix it as best you can.
Never forget that almost every best-seller ever in the existence of the printing press went under the cruel knife of a professional editor. You are not perfect, your work won't be perfect, and the same was true of J. R. R. Tolkien.
If you don't have access to a professional editor, do the best you can. At some level, every author has to edit their own work. A creative process is never a straight line from pen-to-paper to epilogue to publication.
You don't have to be perfect, especially not at first, and that's especially true of your works.
5. Watch those distractions!
People sabotage themselves more often than not.
I'm going to keep this brief, because I want to cover this in depth later in another journal - I think I can make a series of journals out of this, actually.
Many people I know try to write while accompanying that activity with a variety of others. Some of these supplemental activities are more destructive than these people seem to realize, and almost without fail these people have difficulty focusing, then they complain about writer's block.
Music is a common one. Don't presume that listening to music will "help" you write! It often breaks focus and tricks the author into thinking his writing is achieving something it isn't (again, covering this later). Some people handle music while writing very well, and there have been times where I wrote with music going.
It does depend on your personality (and the genre of music) - be honest, are you getting distracted? Are you thinking the lyrics over in your head? Do you have some stupid tune trapped in there? Do you find yourself diddling with your playlist? Have you ever tried comparing a distraction-free writing session, where you cleared your head, your workspace and got yourself into a groove? What caused you to work harder and more intently, getting more into the emotions generated purely by the scenes in your head?
Are we talking about just nibbling on the story here, or are you trying to really get into it?
Sometimes, music and other distractions like that just sort of fade into the background - but they never stop affecting you entirely. If they're in the background, "not distracting you" then you should probably ask yourself if it's worth having it on.
Television is just... no, turn that off. Don't be silly. Same with radio. Both of them regularly air pieces specifically designed to grab your attention. WATCH TV, sure, just not necessarily at the same time as you're writing.
Again, be honest with yourself. Can you really focus with that crap going on?! At least be aware of distractions and see if, despite what you thought, maybe they really are distracting you.
Alcohol. Oh boy. Be very, very careful with alcohol. Most authors would warn you against writing and drinking simultaneously. It's widely considered a myth that Ernest Hemmingway drank while he wrote: he had two loves, drinking and writing, and he steadfastly kept them apart.
Alcohol doesn't help you do anything better, it merely makes you think you're doing better. It relaxes you, but that doesn't somehow intrinsically make your writing better. Alcohol intake is conducive to other distractions, and before you know it, you're tipsy, half-asleep, watching YouTube videos on repeat instead of working on that damn paper!! Or, you know, writing crap because you're half-drunk, with gastric disruptions that could theoretically allow you to fart out the entire Bolivian national anthem in D-minor.
For a third time: be honest and evaluate your productivity while drinking and writing. You'll likely find it's actually pretty garbage.
If I'm being honest: I've tried many tactics and techniques, but the truth is that I find I write more, more intently, and better, when I have:
- no music. I've taken to using a "white noise" generator app on my phone now. Find it works out better.
- no chat programs open (or I end up ignoring people for hours accidentally).
- no TV.
- nobody lurking around behind me. I have privacy.
- in my own comfortable, clear, organized workspace.
- no open browser. Sometimes I turn the router off.
- no alcohol.
- nothing looming in the back of my head, like "Oh shit, the oven's on, am I about to burn down the house?"
- taken steps to get myself to focus.
- nothing else to focus on aside from writing.
I don't do this nearly as often as I should...
So there we go. That's just all the stuff I could think of right now. Trying to type on this new wireless keyboard thing, it's getting frustrating. So I'll leave this here, and probably work on Astray until it's time for work.
One thing I'll leave you with: when I was writing the later scenes in Tai's Story, I wanted to truly get a feel for the industrial dockyard area. I visited local docks and wharfs in the evening and night, and even downloaded maps and graphics for games and rendering programs that matched the theme, including maps for L4D2.
Inspiration, research, and getting things like this all cleared up in your mind? It can all take many different forms. Not that, you know, you should play hours of video games and excuse it away on "research." But we've all done that anyway. Ahem.