Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nothing Gold Can Stay: Writer's Block

There is something that has always perplexed me: Writer's Block. I had yet to come across it.

Until Now.

There were days where I looked forward to it. Days when my characters were especially loud. Days when their adventures were ridiculously rambunctious. Nights the talking and adventuring continued to the detriment of my sleep.

Well. It's here. And I'll tell you: things are getting mighty lonely in the 'ol pumpkin. It feels like I have just grown out of my imaginary friend (cue the violins).

This Writer's Block in particular is all-encompassing, affecting my desire (ability? drive?) to write or read. I don't know if the synapses are firing slower than usual or if everything else surrounding me is extra shiny.

Ironically, this Writer's Block is accompanying a major desire to be creative. Perhaps it means I am supposed to participate in some form of physical activity or weed my garden, but I will resist. Why? Because I Am A Writer (and accident-prone and it's raining).

The best ever tip I have been given on how to combat Writer's Block: sit your butt down in a chair.

For those of you sitting in a chair in front of a computer/pen in hand and still facing Writer's Block, here is my non-professional, totally unauthorized tip on how to battle Writer's Block: Stop before you want to. Hang on to that feeling of anticipation.

Here are a few small exercises you might want to try:
  • Randomly choose one page of work. You have 5 minutes to read and edit it. You are not allowed to do this again for another 20 minutes.
  • In one scene, highlight anywhere you describe any of the five senses. If there are less than five senses, add a description of one of the missing ones. Brush your teeth. Add another. Floss. Add another.
  • Make a grocery list. Go grocery shopping. You can write again once you have picked up your groceries. Even better, have one of your characters make a grocery list. Dress like them to go shopping.
  • Set an egg timer (5, 10, 15 minutes). Write. Even if it is the same word over and over. When the bell goes, stop.
  • Figure out what the message on one of your character's answering machines would be. If your character is pre-answering machine, how would they end a letter? Yours, your dearest friend ... humble servant, etc etc. There are an amazing number of ways to end a letter. Check out a museum and find some archived files.
  • Read something. Find out what works. What doesn't.
  • If you are having difficulties reading novels to the end, read short poetry. Nothing puts romantic imagery into perspective like love poems. Especially authors like Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, Byron, Robert Frost and Tennyson.
I look forward to the inevitable cacophony of my characters and their adventures when they return, but I'm a patient person. I can wait. And while I wait, I have Pablo Neruda to keep me company.

Please, please, please: Anti-Writer's Block tips. Any and all are welcome.


Helena said...

The writer's block virus is very insidious. It takes hold when your defenses are down, and before you know it you are in its grip. I think it's a commom malady at this time of year, with so many other distractions around us.

You're right about how it seems to come hand-in-hand with a moment of high expectation of what you want to write but just can't get down. Maybe it shouldn't be considered a 'block' per se, but more a lull before the storm, or the moment of anticipation before a great event or journey. Maybe it's a necessary step in the process, no matter how much it annoys or frustrates us. It's that instant before we speak when we are not sure what we are going to say but we know it should be something meaningful and significant.

How to get through it? (This often happens to me before I can bring myself to write the scenes which are the most intense, and I don't want to blow it, so for a while I avoid them!) First thing I'd say, as you have, it's extremely important to keep with the habit of sitting in front of the keyboard, or pad of paper with pen in hand, and writing something, anything. You will then be poised to start grabbing the words out of the air when they do come to you.

Sometimes it helps to write some other part of your story out of sequence. It can always be rearranged later. That technique helped me during NaNoWriMo -- if the scene wouldn't come, I'd skip it and write something else that was either back story or a future scene that was not so difficult. Doing this will sometimes give the heavy stuff a chance to creep in the back way.

But sometimes you just have to herd your characters into the corral and make them behave. Crack your whip, Stephanie! (And thanks for all the suggestions and tips in your post. I'll keep them handy until my next bout with block arrives and I need to use some new tactic.)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Stephanie,
There are times when I don't feel like writing anything, much less an 85,000 word opus. For me these lulls (I hate to acknowledge writer's block)usually accompany some upset in my life. I can't write when I'm anxious.

The best advice I can give you is the same as Helena offered. If you're stuck on your current project, write something else. Write something short if a longer project seems too daunting. Write a different scene if the current one just isn't working. Write poetry if that floats your boat. but just write something. Don't let too many days pass without putting pen to paper.

Best of luck,

LindaC said...

Taking a shower, going for a drive, doing the dishes, sweeping, vacuuming and/or mopping does it for me. Best of luck to you.


Stephanie said...


You are right. I think it is time to crack the whip. Thanks for the inspiring comment.

Stephanie said...

Thanks Jana,

You are right. The longer a person spends away from writing, the harder it is to get back into it.

Stephanie said...


I'm going to try the drive tonight. Thanks for the great tips!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Stephanie,
I'm in a block right now. I think it's a self-made block, however! I want to get moving on my next manuscript, but I'm forcing myself not to, since querying takes so much time/effort. If I didn't reign myself in, I'd never get the queries out!

I think the query process has also killed my creativity. Now it's all about business, having a product to sell, and the bottom line. Nothing kills creativity like that!

Stephanie said...

Hi Joanne,

I wonder if part of it is anxiety-related, like Jana mentioned. Querying stresses me out and I am nowhere near that stage. At least if you are writing a query letter, you are writing. Good luck with your manuscript!

Anne Germaine said...

Hey Stephanie,

I've been stuck in a block so long I've begun to think it is terminal! I'm holding out my arm waiting for the intravenous that will put my inner critic in remission!

Take heart – you will find your way out of this block. And you are right – it is anxiety. So stop, breath, and then write!

Great suggestions by the way.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I look forward to the inevitable cacophony of my characters and their adventures when they return, but I'm a patient person.
That's a unique way of looking at it, since most of us--or is it just me--think of us returning to our wips and not our characters returning from their adventures.

I'm like Helena and usually switch to another scene. Usually, I'll just to the black moment and the end since I can't wait to get there. :)

I also do my best plotting while I'm driving so I'll just head into the city. By the time I've driven 2 hrs total and walked around a bit, I'm ready to get back to work.

Great post, Stephanie.

Janet said...

A writer's block!! Some wonderful advice in your post and in the comments - and if I could expand on Jana's response: don't let writer's block become a habit. It's hard to get out of the habit of NOT writing! Much easier than getting into the habit of sitting that butt in the chair and pounding on the keyboard.

Great post, great ideas to get back into the writing swing of things, Stephanie :)

Stephanie said...

Anne and Janet,

Thanks for for the pep talk. Butt is in chair as we speak.

Stephanie said...

Hey Anita,

I took a little drive yesterday and came up with a few ideas - on a new story, but I'll take what I can get.