Write it now, part 32: I’m full of ideas, but have writer’s block. What gives?

I read a post the other day complaining about an apparent paradox. The post writer was brimming with good concepts – but couldn’t write any of them down.

He wasn’t alone. A lot of those who commented had the same problem. Nobody quite knew the answer.

A photo I took of Giverny using 35mm Fujicolor Superia film, 100 asa, 1/125 at f.8. Monet wasn't an artist...he was a photographer.
The simultaneity of image; but it can be broken down into components – in this case, lily pond, bridge, willows and so forth. A photo I took of Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny using 35mm Fujicolor Superia film, 200 asa, 1/125 at f.8.

In fact this is a common writing problem. We’re often flooded with big-scale ideas that create worlds and novel-length stories.Or non-fiction, if you’re thinking about the real world.

But that doesn’t automatically translate into written prose.

The reason is that we usually imagine concepts as a simultaneous idea – a picture (though it’s more than that).  Whereas writing is a linear thread which, counter-intuitively, has to be expressed in ways very different from how most of those who write actually think.

To get from idea to written text we have to break the content down into that thread – deconstruct ideas and inspirations. That’s where writer’s block intrudes. The idea is there, but the start point to express that in words is missing.

The first way to tackle the problem, then, is to analyse the concept – work the problem. Try this; write down everything you’ve thought of on a large piece of paper, just a few words per concept. Step back and look at the page. Can you see patterns?

Re-write, this time reorganising these brief summations of the individual ideas into patterns. Can you see them break into other ideas? Do some parts fit elsewhere?

Do it again.

You’ll notice that I’ve suggested pen-and-paper. Computers force us to work to their frameworks of operation, and that’s true irrespective of how ‘flexible’ the software insists you can be. Paper has limits of its own, sure – but they are different from computers, and it’s the difference that counts for this technique. One of those differences is that you have to write everything out manually….again…and again.

This is important, too, because while we’re writing these things out – often slowly – we have to think about them. You’d be surprised what ideas float in, laterally from the side, while you’re doing that.

There’s a bit of time involved in this kind of iteration – but it’s worth it, in part because of the way it forces ongoing thought forces ongoing creativity.

Where next? Well, that’s for another post.

Do you get this problem – full of ideas, but can’t express them?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Note: Thanks to all readers enthused about the styling posts coming up. I’ve got whole sub-series – currently organising them, and will start posting in a few weeks.


5 thoughts on “Write it now, part 32: I’m full of ideas, but have writer’s block. What gives?

  1. When I was younger, I used to have a lot of trouble with writer’s block, but these days I really don’t–at least when I’m writing a first draft. I keep in mind that anything I put down on paper or on the screen is something I can always change later, so if clumsy or awkward words come to mind, I just relax and keep going. I used to be terrible about comparing my writing to polished, published stuff while I was writing it, which stressed me out and made it difficult to write. Nowadays I just relax and go with it.

    I haven’t revised very much of my stuff yet. I expect when I do, finding good ways to express my thoughts will be much more difficult.

  2. I haven’t had this issue as yet. however, the process seems similar to how I prepare for a new project. I take it and break it down until I understand what I really want to write.

    1. That definitely sounds like the way to do it. I do the same thing – have never had the problem of ‘block with ideas’, though I do get caught by having to write something to meet a deadline, when I am actually fired up and enthusiastic to write something else.

  3. I’ve lost count of the times pen and paper helped me understand my story better and clear my mind from a creative funk. Unfortunately, I tend to forget this when I need it the most!

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