Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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When in doubt, bury someone alive

Who knows, I may take this advice someday, if only because I’d never heard it before and it made me laugh.

Over at Kill Zone blog, this brief post for how to get unstuck when you have hit a difficult patch in your novel.

“When in doubt, bury someone alive.” Edgar Allan Poe was purported to have said this as one of his five essentials for the betterment of a story. Although it’s never been confirmed, if he didn’t really say it, he should have. So let’s figure out what Mr. Poe might have been suggesting. My interpretation is that there is always a solution to a writing issue. And one of the biggest issues new writers (and old) have is getting stuck without an idea what to do next. Poe suggests doing something drastic.

I agree that Poe should definitely have said this!

Also, the suggestions for getting yourself unstuck are pretty sound. I especially agree with #5: Don’t decide to stop until inspiration strikes. Yeah, I doubt that works very often. Me, I follow #7: write through the stuck feeling. Just force it. You may wind up going backwards later, but forcing yourself forwards will eventually break you out of the part where you’re stuck.

I do disagree with the fairly typical comment: I don’t like to use the term writer’s block because I don’t believe it exists.

Though I don’t suffer from clinical depression, I do believe this is something that can produce a very significant and real blockage; really a whole different animal from just the general feeling of being stuck or the basic lack of motivation that afflicts us all from time to time.

We really should have two terms for writer’s block: one term for the self-indulgent kind that you ought to just work through, and another for the kind that emerges from depression. For all I know, there’s a third type that ought to be broken out, too.

Alas, it’s difficult to get any new term to hit the critical mass of usage where people stop having to define it and can just start using it casually, knowing their meaning is clear.

In the meantime, it’s perhaps better not to declare unilaterally that writer’s block doesn’t exist. That only reveals your belief that everyone else’s experience of life and writing are pretty much like yours.

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2 Comments When in doubt, bury someone alive

  1. Mary

    Usually attributed to Raymond Chandler: when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.

    Which underscores the importance of genre in using this axiom. First you have to figure out what, for this story, is “burying alive” or “gun in his hand.”

  2. Rachel

    I believe I’ve heard that version! And yes, but it is more catchy to say: When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand, then, When you get stuck, present your protagonist with a deadly threat.

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