Some thoughts on writer’s block

Hearkening back to an offhand comment in part 2 of Gremble’s Narratology — I’ve been pondering the question of how-much-do-we-verbalize-our-thoughts, and lately paying more attention to my own cognitive process as I go through daily life. I think I really do verbalize less than half the time, and almost never in complete sentences. I’ll see a dude with nice hair walk by, and the only word that pops out in my brain is, hair, accompanied by a non-verbalized cloud of approval. Or when mentally compiling a grocery list, must buy, followed by images of a bag of frozen broccoli or a gallon of milk, and where those are located in the store. Like some kind of nominal aphasia, that my brain doesn’t finish verbalizing the thought because the word for these things doesn’t come as readily as the rest of it.

I was chatting with a fellow writer-friend about this, and told him as much.

“Huh,” he said. “My thoughts are verbalized about 99% of the time.”

“Huh,” I said. “Really?”

“Yeah. This makes a lot of sense though — because I never could understand it when people say they can’t find the words to explain their thoughts. If I’m thinking something, it’s already in words.”

Which makes me wonder if mental verbalizing — or not, as the case may be — is at all related to writer’s block. If so, I am unutterably envious of people whose brains verbalize more than mine does. Because I’m never, ever out of ideas for fiction, but a frustrating amount of the time, I come up at a loss for words. “Soldier through” isn’t advice that works for me, because for the quality I produce when I’m soldiering, I might as well just roll my face on the keyboard.

The only thing that does work, with some degree of reliability, is to (1) go to bed reading and (2) wake up and write first thing in the morning — i.e., while I still have someone else’s words rattling around in my head. Which, unfortunately, isn’t always feasible when you’re a grown-up with other obligations in your life.


In other news, I’m back to work on the Dredd fic, and it still takes me a thousand words to get my people out of an elevator. Guys, I am not built for short-form.

4 thoughts on “Some thoughts on writer’s block

  1. Yeeeeeaaah, see.

    Most of my thoughts are sort of verbalized by the time I am aware of them, but that does not mean that I can write it down in much the same fashion? If it’s a scene I have in my head and it’s not in words, that’s hard enough, but when you know what you want to write and even have the words but still can’t write them down because they are just WRONG, then it’s not helping much either. So don’t be so quick to be jealous, it doesn’t always help.

    Then don’t write it in short, write it in long. There’s enough short fic out there that’s not worth the few minutes you spend on it. If you can weave a better picture that flows nicely in another way, go down that route. I know the new fad is to avoid long fic, but if I spend the time (either on consuming or creating) then I want it to at least be good.

    • To be sure, I’m aware that it’s not as simple as “words in your head = no trouble writing,” but I wonder if not having words in your head makes it even harder. >_< Trying to analyze the verbosity of your own thoughts is kind of Heisenberg, isn't it? The moment you start paying attention to it, you're forcing it into a semblance of order that it doesn't necessarily have. And don't worry, I don't feel bad about writing long-form. I'm not interested in reading short stories, so it's no surprise that I'm not interested in writing them either. (Fanfic is an exception, because the characters/world are already established, but I still like a good long & plotty fic best.) It just bemuses me, because I'm like, Does this fic really need to be a hundred thousand words? …well, apparently it’s gonna be, since I’m incapable of plotting on any other scale.

  2. Just popping in to say, I’m not really a writer but my thoughts are incredibly verbalized — I can sort of ‘read’ my thoughts, if that makes sense. Of course, that probably comes from being deaf, and even with a cochlear implant, I still depend on subtitles and prefer to communicate via text/chat instead of voice. I never have a problem with writing in that regard, but it’s academic writing so I get REALLY bored even though I know what I’m writing and how to write it — it’s just so boring, guys. ‘Soldiering through’ is unfortunately what ends up happening.

  3. Hi. Just popped over to your blog from the incredibly helpful and entertaining reviews of gay fiction you compiled (much thanks, by the way!). I am further intrigued by your blog and felt compelled to comment on this particular one. I hope you don’t mind!

    Like you’re friend, I verbalize my thoughts – well, if not 100% of the time, then pretty damn close. I can’t say that I have had enough introspection to question this fact but it’s an interesting question. Like you, I have a whole constellation of ideas in that space of a head I have, some of them brighter than others. When I sit down to commit them to paper, however, it is a rare occasion that I do not get exasperated.

    My issue: I have trouble connecting the dots. My ideas are points of light, bright enough to get me excited (an engaging scene here, a lovable character there, perhaps even a singular witty quip that I MUST use somehow). The rest – blank space. In my head, where I can step back and enjoy the view of my story, it is a shining galaxy that makes me bleary eyed to think that I can come up with something so beautiful. But the page forces me to stop stargazing and focus in on a particular point – say a character driving to work – and only emptiness greets me. I’m just left floating out there without a clue. If I do try to muddle through, I cannot keep myself from reading over it (a mistake many authors warn against) and deem it imbecilic babbling.

    As you can tell, I am not at a loss for words. It’s the story that’s the problem, putting flesh on the bones of it and making it move. I don’t know if being a more visual thinker would help – perhaps I could put myself in that fictional car on the way to work and write down what I see. Or, perhaps it is the scope of my thinking – being too distracted by the mileposts of my idea without a clue as to how to trail blaze through it, to connect these mileposts to lead the reader on a journey that will make any sense.

    I don’t know. But if you figure it out – please do a kindness and let me know! Thank you for letting me ramble.

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