Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writer's Block - or IS it?

The dreaded Writer's Block! By definition...

writ·er's block -
n. A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.

Or ...

a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece of writing

Or even...

Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some blocked writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.


Ever been there? 

Thankfully I've never been there to the extent of it affecting me long term. I've had days where I've been too stressed or sidetracked or busy to sit down and write quality words, or not inspired enough at the moment to    feel any desire to continue the story that day. But never to the extreme that I couldn't write anything at all for days.

Have you? How do you handle it?

Thankfully God made me with the ability to write well under pressure. (generally) Do you do better under pressure or with a deadline (self imposed or otherwise) or do you need freedom and lack of pressure to let the words flow?

There's no wrong or right way. We're all a little different and we have to do what works best for us as individuals. So what's your groove?

Here are some tips on how to beat writer's block. But really, first, you need determine if you even have it. I think there's a difference between true writer's block that probably comes from personal problems, stress, lack of sleep, pressure, fear, etc. and simply just not liking our story enough to continue with it. Figure out that difference in your novel first and go from there before you start going through these "beat it" steps.

1. Do something else creative. Use your brain in a different way - watch a movie, draw a picture, sketch, color in a coloring book! (this is really fun)

2. Take a break - watch a movie, read a novel, take a bubble bath (or all of the above!)

3. Exercise. Let those endorphins flow! They really work wonders and clear your head. And help you stay healthy and not get writer's-booty.  

4. Take a nap or rest your eyes a while. 

5. Treat yourself to your favorite snack - chocolate, ice cream, carrot sticks, whatever it is. (Candy corn cough cough)

6. Interact with family or friends. Brainstorm with a writing buddy or just call your great Aunt back that you've been avoiding for a few weeks. The conversation will distract and relax you and maybe even provide fodder for your story. 

7. If you don't do well under pressure, then take pressure off. Remind yourself that this isn't life or death. Adjust your deadline if need be. Talk to your agent if this is a "real" deadline and if it's self imposed, cut yourself some slack and make a new timeline plan. But if you DO work well under pressure, crank it up. Give yourself a deadline.

8. If this works for you, instigate a reward/bribe program. For every paragraph written, reward yourself with a game of Solitaire, checking email, hanging out on FB or getting a handful of M&MS. ;)

9. Change location - go to Barnes & Noble, or go sit outside, or just move to another room in your house. Can work wonders!

10. Work on something else. Keep writing but ditch the story for awhile and write an essay. A newspaper article. Work on a poem or short story. Get words flowing somehow in some way then switch back. Or even consider jumping ahead in your story. If you're blocked on starting Chapter 4 but know that somewhere around Chapter 7 there's going to be a great kissing scene or fight scene or whatever, write that first. No one makes you go in order ;)

What works for YOU?


  1. "No one makes you go in order" - thank you! I know that in my head but having you say it freed me to believe it perhaps. I've gone back to insert things many times already. Now I need to move ahead and let this component I'm struggling with work itself out as I go along. Sometimes seeing where it's going helps me understand how it got there in the first place.

  2. Carrot sticks, really?

    Ok I'm going to try and be totally honest here because I struggle with something similar to writers block. A writers block - like thing that can stop me from ever writing even though I think about writing everyday. I think it's insecurity, though that seems to disguise itself as "I never have good ideas" and fear of failure (I know writing is a tough business)

    Its something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Whyit's so strong? What I can do to overcome it? I don't have it all figured out but I've come up with some thing that's I'm hoping will eventually help. I have a tendency towards being type A & a like things organized so listing them always helps :)
    1. Really studying the basics. What is conflict? And then listing everything I can think of.

    2. Letting go of expectations. I was always I want to be published by X date, I keep trying to tell myself it doesn't matter how soon or not, it only matters that I keep writing,

    3. I'm trying to not come up with book ideas intentionally just ideas, like I said what is conflict? I've actually started writing a short story (& it's been hard to accept a short story just as a worthy a pursuit) about a teenager who's parents bought her a really ugly dress for a dance& she afraid to them bc her mom has cancer, Not
    a genius idea but that is conflict.

    4. I just keep telling myself it's ok, in learning, my really only goal & if I want to be a writer the most important thing I can do right now is write (& read good books). But how can I get any closer to publication if I haven't written anything.

    I could probably keep going but I think Im figure out how to overcome my insecurity block. It's really hard but I'm doing the best I can,

  3. Tonya ~
    Totally honest about insecurities? Let me tell you that I am in my mid thirties now....and finally accepting that I have to just write if I want to write (which I have wanted to do my entire life). I told myself I'm a writer even if I never publish (which is true; writing makes one a writer, not publication). I used to spend so much time critiquing every paragraph I never got farther than a few pages (well, a few chapters one time). Once I understood I had to let that all go, I have learned to sit and write unencumbered. (If I'm too insecure to share it, I can still write it - then rework it again and again...right? Either way, the writing still happened.)

    Reading about plot has really helped me, too, b/c I tend to avoid conflict....ha! I then surprised myself with how my story has become something entirely different than I originally thought it would - because I let it lead me. If something doesn't work, I 'rewind' and try that part again.

    By the way, I love your idea for the short story! Maybe you can make it into a longer one after you flesh it out some - perhaps you'll find your character has more going on that you realize or there are other issues with her family, or or or....
    And short stories have their place, too, so don't let that get you down!

  4. Thanks cjoy!
    I'm learning to let it go, my mom says anyone can themselves a writer & when you write a book you can call yourself an author even if it's not published. For a long time I took offense to that like she didn't believe in me, I'm trying not to be offended anymore bc it is true, if you write you are a writer, But I still want to be published :)

    I was thinking the other day it's ironic that I'll go so out of my way to avoid conflict in real life and writes need good conflict. Maybe that's why it's so hard for me?!

  5. Glad to help Cjoy! :)

    Tonya, insecurity as a writer is almost always a factor. At least for a long time. It's that way with anything we view as personal - art, dance, performance, speaking, whatever it is. You're NOT alone. Maybe it's as simple as praying daily for courage. Or maybe you need to evaluate why you want to write so bad in the first place.

    So - Why DO you want to write? For fun? For a career? For money? For fame? For success? For bragging rights? For a ministry? There's a TON of reasons out there and only you know which ones ring true. If it's a ministry thing, as in you want to write Christian fiction that will share the gospel or truth about faith in either subtle or obvious ways, then maybe this is a spiritual block. Maybe you need to pray through it. If you want to write for fame/success - then you're definitely putting too much pressure on yourself and just need to take it slow, and WRITE :) If you're writing to impress others, then that's also a spiritual issue to deal with. etc. See where I'm going with it? Whatever it is, figure it out, and then go from there. Internal steps then action steps.

    I think you had a great list going! Do whatever helps. Good idea on the conflict. That's a great way to start a story. One "easy" way to create conflict is through opposites, if that helps! :)

  6. These are really good questions! I have thought about them for a little bit & have a strong leaning toward an answer already. I'll keep thinking though & maybe write it down to check up on it from time to time!

    It's not for fame or success, if i was gunning for that I'd go to be an atcress, being dramatic- not so hard for me! Lol

    I think I was born wanting to write and read. I've always done it. When my parents sold their house my mom had stacks of stories I wrote even if they were just a page about where we took a day trip to. She said to me "you were always writing." My grandparents sold their house this summer, packing it up he called my mom & said "you won't believe how many cards I've found tonya"s written & drawer all over."

  7. I have a story that's been on my heart for MONTHS -well, two stories, actually. The one I used for my "proposal" on Erynn's post and then one that I just feel like I have to write. I've scrapped the second one at least 10 times, but I always feel like I should still pursue it. Yet, I can never seem to get past the first few paragraphs. It's like it just dies or something. I don't know if it's severe writer's block or something else, but either way it's frustrating. Beyond that, I just started college, so writing time has become a rare thing. I feel like I need to pursue both stories, but it's getting to be extremely frustrating and I'm starting to dislike writing. Yeah... Never in all 14 years (I "wrote" my first story about a bunny when I was about 4 -my aunt wrote it down and we illustrated it with Easter stickers) of LOVING writing would I have ever thought I'd say that... I've reached a point where I just don't know what to do. :(

  8. Good deal Tonya!!

    Ashley - that's a bummer, girl. I feel for ya. But all is not lost :) In some ways its just mind over matter. If two stories at once is depressing you or overwhelmin you, pick one. There's nothing saying that picking one means you can't write the other. Just have to decide which one first. Which story makes you the most excited? Choose that one.

    Sometimes I think writer's block isn't necessarily the author's fault but the story's fault. As in, it's not a brain block or inspiration block but rather an issue with the story or plot or characters that is holding us back. Maybe there's not enough conflict. Maybe you need to outline first so you know where the story is going. Maybe you need to switch up your characters. The possibilities are out there, maybe look hard at your novel that is blocked and see if the problem is with the actual story. Then you can brainstorm a way to fix it!

  9. Thanks for the tips. I like your idea of a rewar/bribe system.When I get stuck in the middle of writing I sometimes go to facebook, poste a couple of things then go back.
    I also like to get up and move around...go for a walk -with pen and small notebook in hand and my camera, in case I want to capture a photo for my blog (-:

    I love to get out and people watch at the bookstore or library.

    Thanks for the post.

  10. Thanks Angela! :) Those are great ideas too!