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Writer’s Block

noun

a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

noun

an inability to write; “he had writer’s block; the words wouldn’t come”

People go on about the fear and anxiety aspect of writer’s block which can impact upon writing greatly, but it can also be something as simply as temporary writer’s block when the words and ideas just don’t seem to flow or gel, and it’s difficult to get your mind in gear, to trust yourself and your abilities and get something down on paper. I don’t think there is such a thing as long term writer’s block – namely because it is an age old fact among us writer’s that ‘inspiration’ does not simply come – there is no lightning flash of inspiration that comes cascading down from heaven into our creative minds. It is our creative minds that finds the inspiration, by reading something in a book, observing an interesting character, listening to a story, hearing a snippet of someone’s conversation on the train, or as they walk by, or even watching something on tv. In short we have to work on our creative imaginations to spark the ever illusive ‘inspiration’.

So from my research (and my own experience), I can conclude that there is really only a few solutions to long term writer’s block:

One of the main things is to calm down, and let all the fear and anxiety, and countless frustration at having your brilliant creativity stumped and – forget about it! Don’t let it bother you. Thinking too much about something and you’ll feel it slip further away.

So turn off the computer, put down your pen and get out there into the world. Staring at the same four walls, a blank screen, or a fresh, crisp piece of paper will not help matters. But you never know when the cycle of writer’s block will end (for it is a cycle – writer’s block, then fear, panic, frustration, so further writer’s block). (for writer’s block begets writer’s block).

And if you think about the need to feel guilty for ‘neglecting’ your work – then think on it as research; or more actively you can read a book, whether related or not to your project – which will help to relax you and open your mind to new words and expressions, an essential part of a writer’s developing tool box. Again you can to stem off the ‘guilt’, call it research; expanding your mind.

For shorter term writer’s block,

I believe there are more ‘active’ things you can do. If you get up in the morning and get set up to write, with the same materials, in the same place, with the same research by your side, you may know what you want to say, where you want the story/project to go next, but for some reason it just isn’t coming….

Then what I do is:

I put aside the computer and pick up a pen and paper and write with those. I sometimes find it easier – I don’t know why – to write than type. My hand can flow freer. This may work for some but not for all.

Or you can stop pressuring yourself to write something and sit back, breathe, relax and think – possibly say aloud – of what you want to write next even jotting down a few keys words may help. Once your brain has warmed up, then your fingers can take over.

Think of it like this – a sportsperson will warm up, stretch their bodies before setting off in the race/training, a writer is somewhat the same. You cannot really expect your body and mind to be warmed up to the idea of sitting down and beginning to write right from the word go. You have to warm up and stretch your mind and creativity before beginning for the day.

Don’t think to hard on yourself

Don’t worry about what your writing, just write, get something down. In the very first instance it’s more important to get something down. Don’t worry if it’s not the most eloquent of prose, you can see to that in the editing process. Remember writing is not a test, it’s not a sprint – to keep the sporty theme – it’s a marathon. You don’t have to bash it out perfectly write from the word go, I know of nobody who writes like that. But it’s important to get something down – anything – even if it’s just a series of phrases. When it comes to the editing process you actually need to have put something down to be able to edit!

Planning and preparing

 It might by a good idea to implement a writing schedule, try to write at the same time, in the same place and to aim to write about the same number of words, or for the same length of time. Whether this is five hundred words or to start and finish a full chapter at a time. Once you have implemented a schedule, your body – and mind – will become used to being there – and will in time put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboards.

It may be an idea to implement a different sort of writing schedule. This could be a general writing brainstorm or a blow-by-blow account and time-frame of what you should write and when. (This may also help on chapter break downs). Sometimes I find that just planning something helps, even if it is just for the day.

Or to counter-act writer’s block, you could try what I did. When I was writing my novel and if I found myself stumped for the day/morning, I would write a detailed chapter plan and go from there. With a detailed list of where the next chapter would go I was able to push away the writer’s block that I had that morning and continue writing, again pushing aside the worry that I did not have to write a groundbreaking masterpiece the first time round.

Taking my mind off the creative side of writing and focusing for 30 mins or so, on the more ”practical’ side, I was able to re-connect with the creativity after I had clear direction.

Alternatively you could brainstorm – using lots of pretty colours if you want; you could write down key words and phrases; you can sit back and think – closing your eyes and relaxing; you could talk to yourself – take caution to where you are, not recommended in a public environment say! – and describe what you want to say/write and once you have it out there, you can; or you can simply write a brief list of the things you want to get done that day (focuses the mind); the list goes on, in short what you can do is put your mind at ease, focus your creativity and then try writing. With a clearer intention of where you want to be, the worry should lift from your shoulders and you will allow yourself to write again, free from the fear of writer’s block.

All this needs to be taken with the same precaution as above – don’t be too hard on yourself! Relax and enjoy!

Most tips on the internet and in books state to stick to your writing schedule, but sometimes you can’t. You may be – like me – called into work at a moment’s notice, or you or a family may be ill for the day, hampering your schedule. Whatever happens, life does get in the way from time to time, but what a lot of tips don’t say, is when this happens, don’t panic, don’t feel guilty. Life does get in the way, don’t fight it. Of course this can only be justified if it doesn’t happen too often, if everyday – something gets in the way – that could be a case of avoidance, and you will need some sort of schedule – even making sure you write for just 15 minutes a day will be fine. You do need to try to stick as rigorously to your schedule though. But remember you can always make it up another day.

So we’ve discussed tricking your mind with a pen and paper to spark creative juices to flow, another tactic is to…

Write something, anything

Open a book and start to write from it. Write a diary. Write lists. The practice of writing/typing, may well get yours fingers on the pulse, ready and raring to go. It might get them ‘warmed’ up and your brain relaxed and receptive to turn back to your own work.

Consider where you are actually writing

It’s important to be comfortable. To be in a well lit space. So sort this out. Be comfortable when you write, the last thing you need to be thinking about is bad backs, from bad posture, for example. Also, sometimes for me writer’s block, can be simply down to the fact that I need a new space to write for the day. Try a different room, the garden, the library, the coffee shop – or even the pub (soft drinks please). And it is this change in scenery that can do wonders. Sitting facing the same four walls sometimes for me hinders my writing – in a word, I get a bit fed up. I need change. Now I’m not recommending that you go down to the pub everyday to write, but once in a while, it may be nice to shake up your writing habits, and you never know how you may be inspired.

Remember why you are writing.

It is important to enjoy your writing. As anybody does in their job – no matter how much they may love it – they always dream of being somewhere from time to time, or huff and puff of the prospect of going to work, and on, notoriously, friday afternoons watching the clock intently for the hands to reach clocking off time. At times like these, for writer’s it’s best to re-connect with yourself and think about why you are writing. Again relax and enjoy.

If your writing a novel and you have writer’s block, you could try

Picturing yourself there, or you could do some field research and literally put yourself in your characters place. In a cafe. In a restaurant. On a ship on the high seas. In the Tudor courts. Fighting on the battlefield in the Somme. If you can’t get there (the last three in particular, each for obvious reasons), then picture yourself there. See every detail around you.

On a ship: see the sea. Feel the rocking of the ship on the waves. Feel the sea breeze and the spray. Hear the shouts of the sailors, the orders barked, the creaking of the hull and of the ropes, the sound of the wind buffeting the sails. Picture anything and everything, see yourself there and you’ll see your character there. Think long and hard about it. Close your eyes – but not napping – and think, picture, dream. Once this world becomes clear it should be easier to write about your character there. This is especially useful when its difficult – if not impossible – to get there and experience it first-hand.

At the moment I have several projects on the go. It keeps me on my toes and it minimises boredom and the fear of writer’s block. I don’t know if this is useful advice, but when one project isn’t ‘flowing’ then I turn to another, and so I’m still doing something useful, something practical. You too may find it helpful to switch from one project to another, others may find this a bit too much to focus on at any one time, so one project at a time may be useful.

Failing everything else…

If you’ve tried the schedule, writing something, planning and preparing, a change of scenery, picturing the story in every detail, talking to yourself, researching, switching projects, switching to paper…

…if none have these have worked, you may well be frustrated and fed up…so leave it.

Go for a walk, do sports, go to a gallery, for a coffee with a friend, or read a good book……free your mind.

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One comment on “Writer’s Block

  1. Ugh, my writers block right now is a function of simply being at work so much that I can’t write! It’s most frustrating to be all ready for writing and not have the ability.

    Great post though! You really hit a lot of key points and ideas, especially the difference between long term and short term writer’s block.

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