I saw a private forum post out at Webcomics.com yesterday that caught my attention:

Just wanted to make a quick post about a podcast that Brad and Scott did a while back; the first (and only) episode is about writer’s block, an issue that I am currently struggling to overcome.

The person wanted to open up a discussion on writer’s block and presented some of the points made in the podcast, but the first thing I noticed with this quick post was the length.  217 words.  Nearly the length of an average page of a novel.  I felt compelled to respond…

You can’t have writer’s block.  You just wrote that post.  Thus, you wrote something.  I know you’re probably thinking “But that’s not what I’m blocked about!”  But you can apply the same principles it took to write that post to other writing and get going again.  Let’s look at what the main factor to a forum post is:

1 – You have a goal.


You know what you want to say or what you want to ask.  You know where you’re going with the post.  Do you know where you’re going with your writing?  If so, go there!  If not, break down where you’d like to go with it until you can start writing it and then just get writing.

The first thing I ask writers I chat with who have trouble sitting down and writing is this… “How does your story end?”  Most don’t know.  They have a cool idea for a story, but they haven’t thought that far enough ahead.  They’ve focused on how they want to start the story without knowing where it goes.  And most of the rest… they only have a vague idea of their ending but not enough to establish even a loose spine to the story.  The thing is… it’s all about endings.  Visualize this:

A group of friends lounge about the living room.

Friend1: “Hey, let’s get out of here and go do something,”

Friend2: “Whadya wannna do?”

Friend1: “I don’t know.  What do you guys wanna do?”

Friend3: “We could go to the video store.  Or hit the $1 DVD box.”

Friend2: “Maybe the park.  Shoot some hoops?”

Friend3: “I hear there’s a Cajun food festival downtown.”

Friend1: “Nah, Cajun gives me gas.  We could catch a move?”

Friend2:  “Sure.  Whadya wanna see?”

… etc, etc, etc.

Notice, they haven’t gone anywhere yet.  And until they figure out where they’re going–what their goal is–they probably won’t leave that living room.  They could debate it all afternoon and wind up not going anywhere at all.  When you don’t know where you want to go, this is what’s happening in your head.  You want to write, but you haven’t defined a clear enough goal to get started.

And for those people that know where they’re going and still have trouble starting, most haven’t broken down things to a small enough scope that they personally can deal with.  With the example above, they finally mention a movie.  Until they figure out which movie, they can’t figure out which theater it’s playing at.  Once they decide on a movie, then they can break down which theaters they could go to.  Unless they’re in a one theater town, but hey, work with me here (it’s just an example).

Everything introduced in a story must be resolved.  If you look at any good story, it’s a series of beginnings and endings.  Story begins.  Story ends.  Subplot B begins.  Subplot B ends. Chapter begins.  Chapter Ends.  Scene begins.  Scene ends.  Interaction begins.  Interaction ends.  Awesome begins.  Awesome ends.  Crap begins.  Crap ends.

If you can break your story down to the individual endings that occur–the individual goals you want to achieve within that story, you win half the battle.  Now you have goals to reach, and you can start any way you like as long as you point yourself at that goal and get going.

Sure, perfectionism freezes people.  And procrastination takes hold.  And there can be serious bouts of “Ooh, shiny video game!”  Just set aside some (any) time for writing… and make the most of it.  If you have a series of shorter goals to reach a larger goal, you always have something to work on when you sit down to write.  When you know where you’re going, writing doesn’t need to occur linearly.  You can tackle whatever part of your story you want whenever you want.  Not feeling that opening scene right now?  Go ahead and write that cool sequence you’ve been thinking about for weeks.  Or write out some dialogue between characters for a later scene that’s been rolling around in your noggin.  Work on any part of the story, and your brain will fiddle with those other goals in the background until it finds a good path to take.  Let that brain multi-task… it can handle it.

And yes, I know this is more for the longform style stories–the comics with longer story arcs, but the same principles apply with gag-a-day stuff as well.  With a strip like that, it’s all about the gag or punchline.  The wonderful zinger in that last panel that ties the whole thing together.  Instead of starting with the beginning, start with the punchline and step backwards to the beginning.  “What could make <character of semi-awesomeness> say or do something like that?  And then what would cause them to do that?”

And if you know the punchline and still have trouble writing that strip?  Write another punchline.  Keep writing them until one takes hold.  Now, you can work on that one while your brain fiddles with the others in the background.  See?  It’s the same process… just on a smaller scale.

Just remember, it’s very difficult to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going.