I started writing my debut novel and doing the world building for it in late 2011. Well, I did mostly world building and hardly wrote much of the story. Whenever I sat down to write the actual story, I’d stare at the blank screen for hours. And hours.
In a good day, I’d scribble down a few sentences. So I quit writing it in the summer of 2012. Fast forward to year 2013, I’ve moved to Finland and once I settled in, I picked up the writing again. This time I was making some progress: 1 paragraph a day, roughly 50 words. The NaNo crowd will laugh at that but it was far better than staring at the blank screen for hours.
Then one evening, while surfing the net, I saw a post on R.A Salvatore’s Facebook page wall. He was complaining about the noise in long flights and wrote something like “I’ll put on my head phones, and go away into the Forgotten Realms, writing the chapters of the next Drizzt book during the flight.”
That set off the light bulb in my head. My problem was not being able to “go away” into the world I created. I couldn’t write at home. I had to find someplace I could “go away”. I’ve also never tried the headphones, since I thought listening to music was distracting and not good for writing. So one day after work I headed to this bar-restaurant place in the middle of downtown Helsinki with my laptop, grabbed a seat at the nice cozy couches, put on the headphones and made a medieval-instrumental playlist on my itunes library. It got quite crowded as the hours passed, and I churned out a whopping whole chapter!
The next day I did the same. I think I wrote 2000 or so words. The next day was Saturday, I called my BFF and asked for a recommendation for a seaside cafe. She recommended Johan & Nystrom cafe at Katajanokka (a small attached island-like place east of downtown Helsinki, look it up on Google Maps if you are curious) and 6 hours, a triple latte & a few teas later, I walked out with 6000 words more. Now I am at 33k words and counting, in just over 4 months! With a full time job and language classes, I can’t do the NaNo sort of thing, but I made more progress in the last 4 months than the entire 3 years.
So, the secret is to find the correct environment where you can “go away”, for me it was crowded cafe-bar places with cozy couches and very low music volume. The place can’t have loud music, I should be able to listen to my medieval-instrumental inspiration playlists with my headphones without having to max out the volume. Also, the more crowded, the better. I ignore everyone and type away. If I have trouble coming up with background character descriptions (like inn and tavern scenes) I just look around and describe the random people sitting around me, it’s kind of fun.
I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as writer’s block. I think people are confusing the wrong environment for writing with writer’s block. I am a crowds person, I find my energy in the aura of the crowds around, so I can’t write when I’m at home alone. It took a while but I found the best environment I can write and I’m writing like no tomorrow, it’s like magic. I suppose I could write during flights like R.A. Salvatore, but I’m broke so I rarely ever fly anywhere, and if I do, it’s the cheapest deal available and usually at ridiculous hours like 6 am, so I end up sleeping during the whole flight.
But anyway, the moral of the story is, you need to experiment and find your perfect environment for writing. Maybe it’s supposed to be quiet and you have too much noise. Maybe you just need to be outside home, on a park bench, or a coffee shop. Once you discover your writing place where you can truly “go away”, the pages will pour out like a waterfall.