Writer’s Block and Problem Solving

Some would argue that writer’s block doesn’t exist. That it is simply an excuse used by writers who have struggled to produce work.

There is an oft cited quote on writer’s block from Philip Pullman that speaks to this view. In fact, my friend and fellow writer, KM Alexander, author of the Bell Forging Cycle recently had a post using that very quote and it got me thinking, which for those who know me, is usually a rabbit hole. I definitely fell into this one and thought it might be fun to work up a little rebuttal. Love ya buddy! Anyway, here’s Mr. Pullman’s quote.

“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

Philip Pullman

Now, I want to agree with this quote. To be honest I almost do but I can’t ignore a fundamental oversight happening within the words. Plumbers and doctors do suffer from their respective blocks. They aren’t referred to as blocks yet they exist. All of these “blocks,” writer, doctor, plumber or otherwise, are simply puzzles that need a solution.

All forms of labor, thought, and creation come with difficulties. All forms of work come with problems that must be solved before one can move on. Problems that take time to solve.

Mr. Pullman is spot on when he points out that it is ridiculous for writing to have its own special name for and to expect sympathy for the puzzles inherent in the work. It’s childish. Even so, what happens if we strip away the silly name and the need for pity? Continue reading

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Through the Peepers of Others: Part 3 of 3 – Focusing the Feedback

We’ve talked about the importance of letting others read what you’ve written. We’ve talked about the way in which an author can make use of alpha and beta readers. Now it’s time to discuss the trickiest part of the process. Now we get to deal with the chaotic landslide of feedback.

And you should be hoping for a landslide. That was the point of using your alpha and beta readers. This feedback can come in a variety of forms. From notes they’ve taken for you (more common and necessary from beta readers) to notes you’ve taken yourself as you discuss the work with them (most commonly performed with alpha readers). Today, I want to focus on beta readers and their feedback because this is where you’ll receive the most volume. It’s also where the most detailed critiques will occur. But first, a note on alpha readers particularly those found in critique groups.

Writing critique groups are a great way to get your writing in front of others however, the efficacy and quality of this form of critique can vary, a lot. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of multiple critique groups over the past few years and each was useful in its own way. One was a group where five fixed members attended once a week. We were thus familiar with each other’s work and with each other’s style of critique, making the task of analysing that feedback much more easy and consistent.

Another group I attended had a core cast of regulars plus a rotating cast of writers each week. This meant that, while always great company, not every piece of feedback was useful. This also boiled down to familiarity or a lack of it, both my familiarity with their personalities, preferences, and critique skills and their familiarity with my work. The feedback from a group like this can be and has been very valuable to me but I had to work harder to evaluate their critiques. It’s much more difficult to establish the necessary trust, though with some of the regular members, it was there in spades.

Okay, back to beta readers. Here’s is where the “fun” really begins and by “fun” I mean work. I’ve received anywhere from one to ten pages of notes from beta readers in the past and tend to provide between five and ten or more pages when beta reading for others. That’s a lot to sift through and sifting we must do. (Note: This volume reflects beta reading for a novel sized piece.)  Continue reading

Through the Peepers of Others: Part 2 of 3 – Alpha and Beta Readers

No matter how good your first, second, or even third draft is, it’s not ready for primetime until someone else can evaluate it. Like a doctor operating on their dying child, it’s a bad idea to only trust your own work. You’re just too close.

In the traditional publishing world, at least a few sets of eyes (agents, editors, etc.) will scour your book to help you make it something worth printing. Self published authors who are doing it right also hire editors. These people are paid. Their time is precious and limited. Your book isn’t the only one on their plate.

What if you could fine tune your work so that a.) you could present agents with writing that is attractive and b.) you could present editors with work that is already mostly fixed, therefore leaving them more time to scrutinize the small stuff? Well folks I’m here to tell you it’s very possible. Enter your best friends, alpha and beta readers.

I say “best friends” because chances are, that’s who they are. Your friends, your family, your coworkers, the cool lady from your ultimate frisbee league, these could be the saviors of your story.

Before we dive into how to utilize alpha and beta readers, let’s get clear about what they actually are. Continue reading