Writer’s Block

So what about writer’s block?

I had a conversation with a couple of the members of the Woodlands Writers’ Guild about writer’s block after our last meeting.  I’ve thought about that quite a bit since, and decided to touch on it today.

Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “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.”  The article notes that “writer’s block is a common affliction that most writers will experience at one time or another.”  It also quotes Mike Rose (Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension), who further defines writer’s block as “an inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment”.

The Wikipedia article lists the following as some of the causes of Writer’s Block:

  • Creative problems that originate within an author’s work itself.
  • A writer may run out of inspiration.
  • Being distracted, feeling that something needs to be done beforehand.
  • A project may be fundamentally misconceived, or beyond the author’s experience or ability.
  • Adverse circumstances in a writer’s life or career: physical illness, depression, the end of a relationship, financial pressures, a sense of failure
  • The pressure to produce work may in itself contribute to a writer’s block, especially if they are compelled to work in ways that are against their natural inclination, i.e. too fast or in some unsuitable style or genre.
  • Feeling intimidated by a previous big success

writers-blockSince this is a blog post (not to mention my opinion rather than a scholarly work), I’m going to limit the scope somewhat.  Specifically, the last 3 listed causes are way beyond this post, “adverse circumstances” as requiring more help than cheerful advice can bring; the last 2 as being primarily observed in long-term, successful, and/or published writers, which is WAY beyond my experience.

I’m further going to discard the Wikipedia assumption that writer’s block is “primarily associated with writing as a profession.”  We’ve all experienced what we’d call writer’s block.  We sit down to write and . . . nothing comes out.  We play a game of solitaire for inspiration, then go wash up the breakfast dishes, check our email, and still nothing.

Doesn’t sound too serious, except it’s like a slump in baseball.  The next time you’re afraid that you’re going to swing and miss, and it thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My solution – you won’t be surprised to learn – comes from the sage wisdom of my T-shirt: “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.”  Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  So if you run out of inspiration, you still have 90% of what it takes.  Write something.

OK, so write what?

If you’re written yourself into a corner and don’t know how to go forward, make up a ludicrous ending that you know you’re not going to keep.  Go back to where the current problem started and write an alternative chapter, getting rid of the problem.  Write a letter from the character to you describing the problem.  A dialog between you and your mother, where you describe the problem and she tells you her answer.  Something.  Anything

Here’s what’s going on:  your mind is made of up two “co-processors,” your logical left brain and your creative/illogical right brain and/or subconscious.  Your subconscious is sitting down there, full of new ideas and thoughts and wonderful things just waiting to get on the page.  You just have to get your left brain, who sometimes thinks it’s in charge, out of the way.  Plus, the discipline of writing something that you know you’re going to throw away works through the distractions of feeling that other things need to be done beforehand.

Remember: at your innermost core, you’re a writer.  So don’t take any crap from yourself.



14 thoughts on “Writer’s Block

  1. Olive or twist? Can you hear the groans?

    Timely post for me as I sit here dithering over whether an excerpt from a novel my main character is writing should be in first or third person. Talk about my left brain’s clever tricks! Time for a 20-minute drill – just write for 20 minutes, no goals, no standards, no expectations. Has usually stopped the dithers. I’ll report back on my imaginary friends.

  2. What I like to do–actually love to do now–is when I’m stuck I put myself in the head of a character other than my main. Then I compose journal entries or letters of their thoughts–either on paper or in my head. It’s invigorating!


  3. thanks for this evocative post. there’s so much written on writer’s block … hmmm, no one seems to have trouble writing about that …. i find the writing isn’t the hard part, it’s the commitment. when i commit to writing regularly (a small blog post every day, even just a line, a riff, anything on the guitar), the stakes for each thing i write go down. there’s less and less pressure to be great all the time. the amazing truth is that not everything an artist makes is brilliant. but when enough things are, he leaves his mark. tony

    • Well said. I definitely think the discipline of writing regularly gets you over your own illusions of greatness and back down to earth. Among other benefits. In fact, I can’t think of any downsides.

  4. This is precisely why I try (and let me *emphasize* that word) to have at least two projects going on at the same time. If I get stuck on one, I can crank up the other.

    John Creasey used to have FIVE books going simultaneously. “Ellery Queen” would be writing two while outlining the next three. It’s all what works for you…:)

    • I admire and envy that ability (I think). I hate to have two projects going, unless one of them is in the garage. The novel that I’m writing now has me by the throat, and I’ve begrudged every minute away that I’ve had to spend on edits and rewrites of other novels.

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