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Getting Beyond Blocked

Dear Barbara,

A few weeks ago, I decided to get serious about writing the romance novel that burns inside me. I made an outline, worked out my characters, got an idea of the various scenes I want to include, did my research and made heaps of notes. The problem is, now that it's actually time for me to sit down and get to the actual writing part, I can't seem to figure out where to start. The white blank page (or screen) scares me and if I do pound out a few sentences, they just don't sound right. The words are there, at the tip of my tongue but when I try to put them on the screen, they don't look right, or sound right or even convey what I'm trying to say.

I keep wanting to skip ahead and write the next chapter or the next scene - because all that seems more interesting than the scene I've got to start with. Someone said this could be a form of writers block but I'm not so sure. I think my brain is just scared to write because anything I put down will be laughable and there's also a lurking fear of failure. I keep thinking perhaps I'm more excited about the thought of writing and being a writer than I actually have the talent for. Then I think perhaps I've done too-much pre-writing and that's why it's not working for me.

What should I do?

Blocked in Belltown

Dear Blocked in Belltown

There are two things I try remember about writing. One is that it should be fun--hard work, but still plenty of fun. And two, nothing needs to be, nor should it be, perfect the first time through.

When you set out to write a scene, by all means write the scene that seems the most vivid and exciting to you at the time. Many writers write sequentially, but many do not. It's fine to write scene number two, or scene number twenty, or the final scene first, and then fill in the blanks afterward.

Write what excites you, what you're seeing and hearing inside your brain at any given time. Make sure you let the characters take the lead in the scene, and see where they go with it. Writing is a strong subconscious process, and you shouldn't let your conscious editor stifle your creativity, particularly in the first draft. You can clean up a whole lot of stuff during revision and polishing.

My approach is to come up with a couple of characters and their back-story, making sure I understand their feelings, wants and needs of the moment. Then I let them run wild on the page, saying and doing whatever they want. Sometimes it works, sometimes I toss it away, because it's not going to be right for the story. But it's always interesting, and it's usually fun.

I think writers block is a stress reaction that can sometimes be brought on by over-thinking both the story and the writing process. Relax and give yourself permission to write crap--as little or as much of it as you want. Gradually, you'll realize it's not crap that you're writing. It's a scene and a story.

I promise. If you're enjoying the writing process, odds are others will enjoy the reading process.

Good luck. And be sure to have fun!

About Barbara Dunlop

Barbara Dunlop

Barbara Dunlop penned–well pencilled, actually–her first major work of fiction at the age of eight. It was entitled How The Giraffe Got His Long Neck and was released to rave reviews. Unfortunately, the print run of one copy hindered distribution. But the experience whet her appetite for celebrity and acclaim.

Several years after that, she began writing romantic comedy. Barbara is now an award winning and best-selling author, writing for several Harlequin and Silhouette imprints. Her work is available in ten languages and in dozens of countries around the world.