How to Cure Writer’s Block and a Solution to Problems with Dialogue in Stories
I once heard that the cure for writer’s block was to write anyway. Write about anything. In fact, the article suggested to write about writer’s block — how it feels, what it does to the mind, how words cannot seem to escape. In one regard, I don’t think I suffer from such a curse, at least not at the moment, rather I do honestly believe myself to be tired. If I have writer’s block at all, now or ever in the past, it always presents as a lack of inspiration. Typically when I write or want to write, I am full to overflowing with ideas. I used to have so many ideas occur all at once in my head that attempting to get them out made it difficult to keep a narrative going. I have learned in my many years of writing to start with a few ideas and let the story tell itself. For the most part, this works very well and what I end up writing is actually better than the ideas I had in my head. I have struggled with dialogue with respect to this strategy, however. If I’m writing a story that calls for dialogue, I lose the flow. It’s like hearing a song and finding the beat, enjoying it, maybe tapping along, then suddenly you become aware that you are keeping the beat and in that instant you lose the beat to your own awareness of it. Dialogue does that to me because hearing or even speaking out loud something that someone might say is completely different — in my head — than writing it. When I write dialogue it doesn’t sound the same. So I stop writing when I need to use dialogue and verbally speak what I want my character to say, then write it.
I was pleased with this strategy when I first discovered it, but yet another flow-killer emerged and stopped many of my stories with dialogue dead in their tracks. I suffer from “eternal editor mode.” Dialogue is tricky in that placement and punctuation and spacing are all important. When I need to insert dialogue, I stop, speak, write, then spend the next minute or so making sure that all of the above criteria have been met with regard to editing. This absolutely kills my flow and makes it difficult to get back into the rhythm of the story.
My strategy to correct my first strategy is now to speak my story out loud as much as it is possible for me to do so. I record it and as I’m speaking, I make sure that the story sounds natural and is as engaging as it would be if I were writing it. This has helped me immensely on several fronts. One, it lets me get words and thoughts out at the speed of speech as opposed to the speed of typing, and if you’ve ever heard me talk — especially when I get excited — I talk very fast. So if the story all gets out and gets recorded, instead of writing off the cuff, I simply dictate. Two, speaking a story and telling it with your voice is considerably different than writing it — for me anyway. When I speak and hear the words I want to use, I find that certain sounds are more noticeable in their audible form. This lends itself nicely to create an almost musical essence to what I end up saying. I wouldn’t do the same with writing. In fact, something opposite, but also interesting occurs: I see words that look similar or I see a word in the sentence before which dictates the words I choose for the sentence after. I’ll play with words that have similar structures or features in their spelling. As such, the two different modes of writing produce two different stories. Perhaps the final story is ultimately the same, but the journey I present to the reader is surely different. For instance, let’s make up a few sentences strictly by writing and compare those to sentences I created by speaking them aloud before writing them. I’ll keep the story the same and see what emerges.
Written: It had been days since Tim had been out of his apartment. He desperately needed food but he could hardly muster the energy to get up and even put on his shoes. He knew it wasn’t going to happen the second he saw his shoes for the dog had apparently used them as a chew toy during the night. Great, now his eventual journey into the world would be with one and a half shoes to buy groceries and new shoes. Yes, and of course a chew toy for his dog.
Spoken: Tim tossed and turned in his bed. He was hungry. He knew his cupboards were bare — they’d been bare for 3 days. It was time for him to go to the store. As he forced himself upright, out of bed, he walked over to his shoes and realized that half of one was missing. It wasn’t a mystery. It was clear that his dog had delighted in this treat throughout the night.
Similar story, same outcome. What is interesting is that seeing what you write provides you with feedback that can immediately dictate what comes next. Speaking the words aloud, however, relies on your ability to remember what you have said and the feedback is in sounds and how well they work with one another. I know now that my writing time for the day is over because now I’m in editor mode re-reading everything and my tired brain has neither the patience nor space for that at this moment. Thus, I end with a thank you for reading and perhaps these different approaches to writing may help you in your stories as well. And for what it’s worth, it turns out that when you are “blocked,” writing anyway opens the door again. Just write.
© Anthony O’Dugan 2021