See “Writer’s Block” As A Puzzle Rather Than A Curse

2013 Artwork Writer's block chess sketch

Since I’ve kind of gone back to making “Damania” comics at the moment, I thought that I’d write a short article about the creative process behind these comics since it illustrates a very important point about the whole subject of “Writer’s Block”. Although this article is mainly about “newspaper comic”-style webcomics, it almost certainly applies to other forms of writing too.

If you plan and script your comics meticulously, then this probably doesn’t apply to you. But if, like me, you find that planning ruins the fun of making comics and just like to dive into making them with just a vague idea about the theme of the comic at the very most – then you might find this interesting.

The thing I’ve found with making “Damania” comics is that they often end up being like solving a puzzle. I know that this is a rather strange simile, but it’s true. The fact is that I’ve got one A5 page with 1-4 panels to work with and it has to be funny. Basically, it’s fairly similar to writing the kind of short syndicated comic you find in most newspapers – except, since it’s a webcomic, I have a lot more freedom when it comes to panel layout and content.

Interestingly, the first few panels of a “Damania” comic are usually fairly easy to write and draw, since I can come up with any situation I want to with the only condition that it’s the set-up for a punchline. The true puzzle comes with the last panel.

A while earlier, I was writing and drawing a “Damania” comic – it started out with Roz walking down an old stairway and saying that the house was haunted. Harvey was standing at the bottom of the stairs and he says “I’ve been to more than a few haunted houses and this one isn’t.”

Ok, the comic has gone well so far – the art is reasonably good and these lines of dialogue came pretty easily to me – but then I realise that I’ve got one panel left. I have to come up with a punchline. My mind goes blank and I start frantically searching it for ideas…

How do I "solve" this comic? [I've added some of my initial thoughts to the last panel]

How do I “solve” this comic? [I’ve added some of my initial thoughts to the last panel]

None of these ideas really worked, but the set-up seemed too good to waste. In short, it was like a lot of my other “Damania” comics – the punchline was a mystery, a puzzle which I had to solve in order to progress to the next comic. In some ways, I guess, it’s like playing one of those old “point and click” adventure games – although the only difference is that you can’t just go over to Gamefaqs to look for a walkthrough if you get stuck.

It’s a game. It’s a challenge. It’s a puzzle.

It surprised me that it took me until I got stuck on this one comic to finally see “writer’s block” in those terms. Because, by looking at it in a different way, it went from being just “Writer’s Block” – that dreadful curse which afflicts all creative people seemingly at random – to being I could solve. In fact, it even made it slightly fun – I knew that I’d find the solution eventually and that there was probably one somewhere, so all I had to worry about was the journey between the problem and the solution.

So, like any puzzle, I thought about how similar puzzles can be solved. Usually a punchline subverts the expectations which the earlier parts of the comic have set up. However, this didn’t apply to this comic – since I had to work out a reason why the house wasn’t haunted. However, instead of just feeling hopelessly blocked, I knew exactly which direction to look in (namely “reasons why a house can’t be haunted”). I discounted some of my more obscure ideas – namely one about the house being too warm, since it relied quite heavily on people watching enough horror movies/TV shows about ghosts to know that a sudden drop in temperature is usually a sign that a ghost is nearby.

Although this punchline really didn’t work, at least I had a possible punchline. It wasn’t that funny, but it was a possible solution – I had a “backup” punchline I could use if I was totally stuck (and usually when my “Damania” comics aren’t that good, it’s because I’ve had to resort to actually using the backup punchline). This took a lot of the pressure off of me and I could relax a bit. It was still a puzzle, but at least it wasn’t a “make or break” kind of puzzle any more. It felt more like a game.

Anyway, a while later, the solution to the puzzle of how to end this comic suddenly came to me…….

"Damania - Not Haunted" By C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence)

“Damania – Not Haunted” By C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence)

Now, whilst I’d have probably thought of it anyway after enough time – the fact that I saw my creative block as a challenging puzzle rather than just bad luck put me into a very different frame of mind which probably allowed the rest of the comic to come to me a lot more quickly. In emotional terms, it’s basically the difference between feeling hopelessly frustrated and feeling like you’re playing a game with your comic.

I don’t know about you, but the latter sounds like much more fun than the former. And creativity should be fun! Yes, even “writer’s block”.

Yes, but what about failure? What if you lose the game or can’t solve the puzzle?

Now that I’ve written this long inspirational speech, I should point out that your story or comic is probably going to win every now and then. Like any game, it isn’t really that fun if you’re always guaranteed to succeed. Every puzzle has a solution, but occasionally it might just be slightly too well-hidden.

But, at the same time, failure isn’t a major calamity either – you just put the failed comic to one side and either start a new one or try making it again. In fact, I even wrote a whole article about good things to do with your failed stories and/or comics.

And, just to prove that failure can happen and that it isn’t that bad – here’s a “never seen before” unfinished failed “Damania” comic I tried to write a couple of days ago. Just because I failed with this one comic didn’t mean that I stopped making “Damania” comics altogether.

Ok, not every comic you'll ever write will be successful, but don't let this put you off. It's all part of the game of creativity.

Ok, not every comic you’ll ever write will be successful, but don’t let this put you off. It’s all part of the game of creativity.

So, what I’m basically saying is that you should see the times when you feel blocked as being a challenge or puzzle rather than a curse. Every puzzle has a solution – the only challenge is finding it. This is how a lot of games work.

Unless you’re a character in “Saw”, “Battle Royale” or even “The Hunger Games” (I haven’t actually seen this film, but it looks a lot like a sanitised version of “Battle Royale”) then games are meant to be fun. Therefore, “writer’s block” can be fun. If it’s fun, then you’re probably going to enjoy it. If you enjoy it, then you’ll probably get into a more creative frame of mind.

Anyway, I hope that this has all been useful. Good luck 🙂

4 comments on “See “Writer’s Block” As A Puzzle Rather Than A Curse

  1. […] earlier, including an animated comic too. I’ve already posted one of today’s comics in my article about seeing “writer’s block” as a puzzle, but I’ll post it here as […]

  2. […] “Damania – Masquerade” and “Damania – Initiation” were quite unusual, since I actually ended up planning parts of both them in advance (which is something I rarely do with “Damania” comics). […]

  3. […] tend to use this type of joke a lot in my “Damania” comics – in fact, I even wrote an article about writer’s block involving an example of it. It’s a fairly well-established type of joke and, when it’s done well, it can be […]

  4. […] – “How To Come Up With Mysterious Metaphors And Strange Similes“ – “See ‘Writer’s Block’ As A Puzzle Rather Than A Curse“ – “Use Nostalgia In Your Stories And […]

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