META: Writer's Block and Crazy-Ass Ideas

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Tue Jul 1 17:04:35 PDT 2008

I can't write a sentence until I've written the one that comes before
it.  If I get stuck on a scene, or a line of dialogue, or even trying
to find precisely the right word, I am unable to skip ahead and come
back to it later; if I'm blocked on one thing, I'm then blocked on
them all.  Even if I know what happens next, even if it's been plotted
out and I'm itching to write it-- nothing comes.

This tendency is exacerbated by the type of story I usually write-- a
superhero story-- because those stories (and other stories of a highly
speculative nature) thrive on details.  And if I'm stuck for a detail,
then I'm stuck on the story-- sometimes for days if not weeks at a

It's a little embarrassing, and also somewhat odd.  One of my
favourite things to do-- the thing that gets me excited about the
genre-- is to find those details, surprises, and off-the-wall ideas.
And I especially love "tossing them off"-- mentioning an adventure,
villain, gadget, or _something_ in passing, giving the reader just
enough time to say, "Wow, that's cool, I wish there was more of that".

This was something that the superhero genre is really good at-- the
ideas that are simultaneously ridiculous and grandiose, silly and
sublime; other genres can't accommodate the same sheer number and type
of ideas within a single story.  Mystery stories have to be tight and
economical; there's no room in romance novels for talking animals,
space gods, and just sheer crazy-ass shit.

I'm talking about the kind of stuff that Kirby did, especially in his
Fourth World stories: the Black Racer, Goody Rickels, pyro-granulate,
Flippa Dippa, super-hippies the Forever People, Glorious Godfrey and
his Justifiers.  And then there's Mister Miracle-- Scott Free-- who
has just about the most obvious name a super escape artist could.  But
then you look at a story like "Young Scott Free", and you get Scott's
departing lines to Darkseid as he crawls his way to Earth: "Let me be
Scott Free-- and find myself!"

And that line is so incredible-- so strong and awesome and true and,
yes, obvious-- that it takes the silliest name this side of Pamela
Isley and Edward Nigma and makes it Awesome.  That's one of the
greatest things about the superhero genre-- it can take things that
are utterly ridiculous utterly seriously, and in the process create
something astonishing, something that works both as drama and comedy
at the same time.

That's one of the many thousands of things that attract me to the
genre, and that's what I try to do in my work, particularly my Jolt
City stories.  And while I have no trouble coming up with crazy ideas
for stories proper-- Apelantis attacks!-- I do sometimes find myself
blocked with the toss-offs.  What hopefully looks like effortless
invention actually takes a whole lot of effort on my part.

I especially have trouble coming up with villains who aren't the main
focus of a given story; writing JOLT CITY # 10, which introduced over
twenty-odd villains, was something of a nightmare.  I often try to
jump-start the process by surfing the internet, hoping something or
another will pop up and I'll go, "Ooh, I'll use that!"

But it almost never, ever, ever works; not even randomly plucking
cards from a card catalogue, or using the "random page" button on
Wikipedia are able to do the trick.  What happens usually is that a
few days later, something just pops into my head, and it's usually
more-or-less the perfect idea.

It's a bit maddening, and certainly not conducive to maintaining a
monthly release schedule. :-)

Anyone else want to share their thoughts on writer's block, crazy-ass
ideas, and inspiration?


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