Monday, July 13, 2009

Blocking Writer’s Block

Anyone who writes knows about writer’s block. Some believe in it, and some don’t. If you asked me what I believe, I’d say I don’t. But that’s not a completely honest answer...

Writer’s block is a very real thing. It’s something in a writer’s mind that is keeping her from putting words on a page. Some would argue that that’s why it’s not real, and I’ve even heard some people say “it’s all in your mind, get over it.” But I say that’s what makes it real. After all, where do our stories come from? Yeah, the mind.

Overcoming it isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely possible. Writer’s block can be as huge as a lack of confidence to produce good work, which might mean that the block is rooted deep within the person, and has nothing to do with writing. Writer’s block can also be as small as not being able to figure out what comes next in the story. No matter what it is, it’s possible to defeat it.

I’m stubborn. It runs in my family, on both sides, and my kids have inherited all of it. I think my family must have been cursed ages ago or something, because this stubbornness almost has a life of its own, and I think it will pass itself on through each generation until the world ends. Fortunately for me, I read A WRINKLE IN TIME as a kid, and Meg taught me that stubbornness can be used productively.

So, when I decided that I was going to make a living as a writer, it was as good as a done deal. The fact that it hadn’t happened yet meant nothing, because I would do whatever was necessary in order to get my work out there. : ) That may sound confident, but it’s not. Stubbornness is not confidence. And a lack of confidence can feed writer’s block.

I’ve gone through my share of writer’s block, and at one point it was as big as “everything I write is crap and no one is going to read my work.” I could have given up and pursued something else, which would have been fine. But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to write in the worst way, and I didn’t want to write crap. Here, I feel lucky to be so stubborn, and to have learned how to harness it. Otherwise, I could have let my dream slip away. Instead, I took some writing classes. That got me one step closer to the confidence I needed in order to succeed, but I still had many steps to go. Some of those steps had nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with me.

Over the years, I’ve beaten down the writer’s block from I-can’t-write to I-don’t-know-what-happens-next. When I run into that kind of block, I lay out the story and examine what I’ve written up to that point. Then I brainstorm and lay out all possible choices (even the ridiculous ones) from there. Often, one will jump out at me, then slide itself into place. If that doesn’t happen, then I move farther back in the story until I reach the place where I got derailed. Then I brainstorm again until I’m back on track.

If none of that works, then I go for a walk. Or, I call up a friend and scream about my stupid story. : )

I still sometimes question whether what I’ve written will ever be good enough, and that sometimes results in zero words on the page. When that happens, I always take a step back and look at what’s blocking me. Is it me? Or is it the story? Once I figure that out, then I can find a way around the block. Or over it. Or under. I’m not picky. : )

So, when I say I don’t believe in writer’s block, what I really mean is that I don’t believe in letting it stop me. And I never will.

16 comments:

PJ Hoover said...

I'm in the non-believer camp. I refuse to let myself believe in it. yes, there are times when words and ideas flow much more quickly than others, but in the harder times, it's my job as a writer to sit my butt in the chair and do something. Or like you said - take a walk, talk to a friend, read a book. Just keep in the mindset.

Nice post!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love your idea of laying out the story and looking at it. I keep meaning to try that and haven't. So I resolve to do so. Down with the blockage and on with the novel. Thanks for a great post.

C.R. Evers said...

Great attitude and great post!

WindyA said...

I have been going through the whole laying out the story process as I've stumbled upon shortage of creativity recently. I'm now at the stage of - walk away for a while and then go back to it. So I'm filling my time doing beta reading and some research novel reading to help the juices flow.

Great topic! So timely for my situation ;)

Rebecca Knight said...

You are a badass! I love this post :).

I am the same way. A trick I use is to always be one step ahead of myself. I never stop writing at the end of a scene, because I know I'll be "blocked" when I get back to it. If I am in the middle of a great idea and stop, I'll know where to go when I pick back up.

writerjenn said...

Thought-provoking, as usual!

I find there are different kinds of blocks, and different kinds of remedies. There's the I'm-drained-I-need-to-rest-and-refill-the-well block; there's the I'm-scared-to-write-what-comes-next block; there's the I-don't-know-what-happens-next-block. Probably others, too!

beth said...

I am the exact same way.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I think of it as stuck. Semantics, maybe, but it makes a difference for me. So, when I’m stuck (Grin) what I do work on revision. I find this gets me back into the story and dealing with my characters again. Since what I mostly do is follow the characters around and write down what they do, I find they lead me back to the last ending point. But usually, I see—through their eyes, where to go next. Works for me.

Best regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Danyelle said...

I love how you articulated this. I think one of the best ways to overcome the Block is to figure out which one it is. For me, it's usually because I took a wrong turn in the story, or I'm nearing the end of the story and my Muse doesn't want to let go.

Sara Jackson said...

I kind of believe in writer's block. Though I haven't really experienced the full potential of it. It's only hit me in short spurts. But then I must confess that I'm not privy to a lot of creative writing, I spend most of my time promoting myself as a freelance writer and writing and researching articles.

Since writer's block is a fear among most writers, head on over to my blog and tell me what your other fears are as writers.

http://sara-jackson.blogspot.com

Sheri said...

I've heard the only way around writer's block is to write every day.

Easier said then done...

Maggie May said...

I find when I have writer's block is when I feel hurried. I have to give myself large chunks of time to dawdle at the computer before I write

Sliding on the Edge said...

I not only get writer's block, I get severe cases of writer's blah! Is there a pill for that?

Shelli said...

i dont really get writers block but I do get "writers detour" where it takes me some long about way and just when I think im lost I get back on track. :0

Basil Sands said...

Amazing. I just went through a bout of the block that nearly derailed my whole WIP.

I had the general idea of how it started, a firm knowldge of the middle and strong idea for the ending. But when I sat to write the opening parts nothing came. The words didn't make sense and I was boring myself to tears with my own text...not good when you write fast paced action thrillers.

Then after two weeks of staring and starting and stopping and deleting and staring again I was about to throw in the towel. All of a sudden yesterday the words and the chapters and the characters rearranged themselves into something not only cohesive, but I ended up sitting at the keyboard typing like a madman for several hours as the storyline spewed forth.

Lesson learned: writer's block is only temporary unless you walk away before the brain police remove the barricade.

Kelly H-Y said...

Great post! Taking a walk or exercising always work for me too! Sometimes a drive in the car too!