A Cure for Writer’s Block?

People often ask if I ever suffer from writer’s block. Frankly, on the whole I don’t for one simple reason: I’m always reading.

Some years ago, I read in Robert McKee’s excellent screenwriting book, Story, the cure for writer’s block: visit a library. He’s right. It is inspiring to simply read. The subject matter doesn’t necessarily matter. All writing can potentially spark ideas, even if it isn’t directly relevant to what one is currently penning. In fact, non-fiction is often the best place to start.

Some examples:

Ideas for characters, plot turns or even entire books can be inspired by newspaper articles or internet articles. George goes to Mars is a case in point.

Thumbing through an atlas, maps or geography text books often inspire ideas for names. This is particularly handy when stumped for names in fantasy novels. Sometimes place names – or fragments of place names – provide just the right word or syllable. Gorfenletch is apparently a small village near the Scottish border, but it is now also a city in one of my novels.

History books are also a treasure trove – not just accounts of kings, queens and battles, but details of daily lifestyles in different time periods. Reading about cookery in medieval Britain once provided fascinating insights that enabled me to write a character who worked in monastery kitchens.

On another occasion, when I was stumped on a particularly outlandish plot point, reading up on particle physics proved very useful indeed. None of what I subsequently wrote was scientifically credible at all, but it sounded credible because of the phrases I chose – wave particle duality for instance. Pseudo-science is wonderful in fiction: flux capacitor anyone?

Any subject can inspire: religion, linguistics, agriculture… Even a book on the history of concrete once inspired a sequence in a book (a comical one). Some writers don’t advocate a lot of reading as they think it can mean you end up copying (consciously or unconsciously) other people’s ideas and styles. I don’t subscribe to that view, as I find reading a lot helps to avoid copying and instead develop one’s own style. I have also found that Robert McKee to be correct. Reading is a surefire cure for writer’s block.

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