Monday, January 10, 2011

Getting Unstuck

Last week, Jennifer Matteson and Edward Necarsulmer IV shared signs that you’re ready for an agent. Today, I want to share what Tamra Tuller from Philomel Books had to say about writer’s block.

Tamra’s talk was easily the best I’ve ever heard when it comes to writer’s block. When she was done, the whole room was in awe. I will do my best to do it justice, but her delivery was so heartfelt and honest that I’m not sure I can get all of that across. So any fault on that part is mine alone.

She began by sharing her own experience with writer’s block—she couldn’t get started writing out her notes for this very talk! After much hemming and hawing and puzzling about, she figured out a key piece of information.

The source of all writer’s block is FEAR.

The most common fears are the fear of failure, your work sucks, you feel exposed, you’ll look stupid, you’re unoriginal, etc. Fear then leads to resistance, which manifests itself as pessimism and excuses. THESE ARE ALL LIES. If your inner critic is being mean, then it’s a dirty rotten liar. Don’t listen to it.

Fear actually isn’t a bad thing if you understand it. You don’t need to overcome the fear; you just need to be able to face it. Because when you face it, something else happens. You grow.

If we never did anything scary, if we never challenged ourselves, then we would remain stagnant. So, instead of listening to your inner critic, simple acknowledge it. Then let go of those thoughts. If you don’t, your inner critic will become your censor.

When you write, just write and don’t edit. Instead, write like no one will ever read it, and give yourself permission to suck. Most writers write terrible first drafts. Then, they revise. So, when you write, don’t expect perfection. Just expect to write something that you can revise. This will silence your inner critic.

Some tips and exercises for overcoming writer’s block:
-Get a routine. Keep writing even if you don’t want to, or if it might be too difficult to get back into it. Plus, you can’t improve if you don’t keep doing it!
-Do research. Research is just as important as writing. You might be stuck because you need more information on a particular element in your story.
-Explore the senses. Do some writing exercises that explore all five senses. It can be either in your story’s setting or in the real world.
-Journaling. Write some journal entries from your characters’ points of view. You might be surprised what they have to say.
-Explore the plot. Sit down and brainstorm any possible ‘what if’ scenarios you can think of, even if they’re stupid. You can always cross off the stupid ones later.
-Write a different project. If you’re good and truly stuck on one project, then it may just need time to stew in your head. Try writing something else in the mean time, and then come back to it later.
-Go to a new location. Getting unstuck may be as easy as moving from one room to another. Or to a place with less distractions. Changing your venue can sometimes shift your frame of mind.

She had lots of recommended reading, too:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
For Writers Only by Sophy Burnam
Outwitting Writer’s Block by Jenna Glatzer
Writing From The Inside Out by Dennis Palumbo
The Courage To Write by Ralph Keyes
Write: 10 Days To Overcome Writer’s Block by Karen E. Peterson
Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer’s Block by Jane Anne Staw


Logan E. Turner said...

Fabulous post, Tabitha. I think you did it plenty of justice. :)

Fear is definitely a big blocker for me. I will be checking out some of these resources, too. Thanks!

Tabitha said...

Thanks, Logan. :) I saved this post for last because I was worried about not getting it right. :)

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing these tips!

Liz Grace Davis said...


This is just what I need. Thanks for sharing. "Writing Down The Bones" is a must have. It helped get me unstuck a few times.

Carrie said...

I really enjoyed this post, Tabitha. The idea of silencing that pesky inner critic and writing something not perfect is so important. I just try to keep telling myself that at least if I have something awful I can fix it later. Sure, it's safer to keep it all in your head (where the whole book is already perfect) but harder to get other people to read it that way!

Julia Hones said...

Good tips here. I happen to do all of them myself already. Creativity is about dealing with uncertainty and that leads to fear. (My last blog entry is about writer's block too).

Tabitha said...

Kelly - glad you found them helpful!

Liz - I haven'nt read it yet, but I'm going to now!

Carrie - sure is! :) I loved hoe Tamra said her inner critic was a dirty rotten liar. The whole room burst out laughing at that. :)

Julia - yeah, I already do these, too. Plus, I'm not a fearful person in general so dealing with writer's block is always manageable. But I loved how personal and open Tamra was sharing her experiences. It left the whole room in awe. :)

Marcia said...

Oh Tabitha, we are still twins. I have a writer's block post scheduled for Thursday. :)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

These are great. Thanks.

Catherine Stine said...

Good booklist and tips! There's another kind of lag-time where one doesn't write--and that is between projects, where you might need time to read other peoples' work, or do something completely different. Not to be confused with the block you're describing, which does involve fear and dread.
I thought this was important to mention as when you're taking that much needed break, you often feel guilty and wonder if it's writers' block too!