Brian Jay Jones
Writer's block for a biographer is probably a bit different than it is for those who write fiction. We have to work with what really happened,so we're not usually stuck for plot points, or trying to figure out what to do to get our main character into our out of a particular jam. There are places where you might think, "Man, it would be really cool if there was a gun battle here," or "Wouldn't it be great if George Washington turned out to be a vampire? -- but unless that really happened, we as biographers can't do it. That restriction alone, I know, makes some of my fiction writing friends INSANE. But writing biography or non-fiction means you always generally sort of know what happens next -- so the place where you can get stuck is: how do I get from A to B? How do you use your various sources to tell your story?
Me, I look at it sort of like putting together a puzzle. I'm a pretty strict outliner -- I outline each particular chapter on a giant whiteboard in my office, so I know all the points I need to hit in a particular chapter. I generally know, then, what the picture looks like, but some of the puzzle pieces are mixed around, turned over, or haven't had the border pieces sorted out yet. When I'm blocked, I tend to read back through all the quotes I have from my sources, all my tidbits and notes, and look for a progression or theme -- bundling together everything that looks like the sky or a wall, turning over pieces again and again to see what they look like, and finding border pieces to hold it all together. There's usually a pattern in there somewhere that'll help you fit the pieces together, no matter how weird looking they might be. What looked like it was a bit of tree might turn out to really be someone's eye. Eventually, things become clearer and start to fit together.