Getting a case of Developer’s block and what it taught me about Writer’s block

We’ve all had it, sometimes we just don’t want to move forward or worse still, know how.  But did you know that you get it in all walks of life?  It’s not just a problem for writers.  Sometimes you get stuck thinking about a problem or avoiding the problem altogether.  How many of you have avoided that difficult conversation or the annoying task?  It’s writer’s block, just manifested in a different way.

Recently I’ve suffered with a case of Developer block.  I had a technical problem to solve that I just didn’t want to tackle.  Creating version 2.6.5 of Quoll Writer was extremely painful for me.  It was repetitive, technically frustrating, repetitive and tedious.  It drained my mental resources and even a long-ish holiday to New Zealand only partially helped restore me to “normal”.  In the past few weeks, apart from releasing bug fixes for QW, I’ve been working on an update to the User Interface translation editor to support creating translations for the QW website.  However I kept getting stuck, I kept getting Developer’s block.  I knew what I had to do I just really, really didn’t want to do it.  I would make any excuse I could to avoid it, “I’ll just do this first”, “I’m too tired tonight”, “the kids have been annoying me today”, “I’ll play Witcher 3 for a bit”, “mmm biscuits…”

Growing increasingly annoyed with myself (sound familiar?) I thought about what was actually blocking me.  What was the task I was avoiding like it had a terminal case of leprosy-black-death.  After some introspection, I realized I was avoiding making the Quoll Writer desktop application interact with the Quoll Writer server.  The application needs to make a request to the server to get the English strings that act as a base for all the translations.  It’s not trivial to implement but it’s not difficult either, however it is fiddly and tedious.

With the problem identified the block disappeared, I had identified exactly what I needed to do and why I was avoiding it.  Instead of the problem being a vague miasma lurking just beyond my reach I had given it shape and form and, more importantly, given it a clearly defined boundary.

So how does this relate to creative writing?  To me, the problem of Writer’s block is the same as Developer block and the solution is the same.  Identify the problem, define it, give it a form, a shape, a boundary.  If you have to write a difficult dialogue scene then plan it out, give it form and flow before tackling the details.  If you have to write a descriptive scene then maybe draw the geography or thing you want to describe.  The important thing is to identify exactly what you have to do and give it a boundary.  Know thine enemy.

But wait, there’s more.  You see thinking about this problem helped me realise that I always dislike doing server interactions for the QW app.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had this type of block.  But now I’ve identified what I dislike doing I can plan for the future.  The next time I have a server interaction I can detail exactly what I need to do and plan for it, I can give in a boundary.  In my own writing I often dislike and avoid descriptive scenes.  I love me some Tolkien and that guy could describe for his country but I’m not Tolkien and I need to know what I dislike doing to be able to give it form.  So, the next time I have some writing I know I’m going to avoid, descriptive or otherwise, I know what to do.

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