Is It Really Writer’s Block, Or Something Else? by Carol Malone
Please welcome author and editor Carol Malone. Today she’s sharing her article on “Is It Really Writer’s Block, Or Something Else?” Enjoy!
My friends and associates will always start a conversation with me something like this, “So how’s your writing coming?” or my fav, “When are you gonna publish your next book?”
I don’t know if you’re like me, but those two questions irritate me like a mosquito buzzing around the head, mostly because I’m stalled in my writing and it’s not “coming along” nor is my next book ready to be published. That’s right. I’m stuck, jammed up, immovable. I haven’t written new words on my Work-In-Progress – WIP in weeks. Why, you might ask? Because I’m blocked.
Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, I ran my husband to the ER because he was in great pain in his lower stomach. C-scans and blood tests revealed a fissure or tear in his intestine wall and an elevated white cell count suggested to the doctors something called “diverticulitis.” The dreaded word “surgery” was bandied about and fear grew in both of our hearts. Trying to be delicate, my husband couldn’t go to the bathroom, or even pass gas. When this happens, your whole body shuts down. This is complicated by an infection making the job of healing that much more dangerous and complex.
Well, I didn’t mean to stray off into my personal problems, but I wanted to use the analogy that being stuck, not being able to move stuff along is called a blockage. It’s true for our bowels and it’s true for our creative writing spirit and heart. I was and have been suffering from my own form of “writer’s diverticulitis.”
We all get blocked from time-to-time, but how do we free ourselves?
I talked to my writing coach/book midwife Beth Barany about this and she narrowed it down to one phrase: we’re filled with fear. We’re afraid. Our writing self becomes full of fear. “What if my readers don’t like what I wrote?” “What if I never sell a single copy?” “What if I can’t capture the freedom I had when I wrote my first book?” “What will happen to me if I never write another word?”
A lot of what I’ll write about concerning writers block in this article are my ideas, and some have come from an publisher and educator friend of mine, Laurie Sanders. She is in the process of teaching a workshop for Writer’s Block for the RWA group OutreachRW of which I’m a student.
So why do we become fearful as writers? Why do we get blocked or at least have an aversion to writing at one time or another during the years of our career?
Let’s focus on some of the reasons Laurie suggested for why we get blocked:
- A loss of self-confidence. Perhaps we’ve had a bad critique, a horrible review, or we’ve received that dreaded rejection letter. All of these things can cause us to fear and doubt our writing ability and this will freeze us up, sapping our writing self-confidence.
- Life is too busy. We can’t find the time to write and then use that excuse to avoid writing. We all lead busy lives, it’s just the fast times we live in. Eking out time to write is tough even if we had all the time in the world, but when we don’t, we let it slide in favor of other things. Outside influences can really stifle the tender creative sparks that flare. They can be snuffed out by pain and doubt and hopelessness.
- Being at an impasse with your characters. Have you had any of your characters look at you and say they weren’t going to do something you wanted them to do? I know I have. No amount of arguing with them, threatening, or bribes will persuade them to move forward. You’re both stuck.
- Writing yourself into the proverbial “corner.” Your delightful characters have headed off for a weekend in Fiji and left you wondering what just went wrong. They were so upset with the place your put them in, wouldn’t work with you, and now they’ve just left, said goodbye and took a plane.
- Others have put overwhelming pressure on you to produce. You know the person – the teacher standing over you with a ruler – “get this done or else.” But this can even come from within when we put unrealistic goals on ourselves. Then part of you now becomes like an overseer and the creative spirit becomes the slave. How long before the creative spirit withers away or shuts down under the slave master?
- Becoming overwhelmed with the tons of writing education out in cyberspace or in person in workshops and webinars. There are days when I just shut down due to the enormity of all the information out there on writing and publishing. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and freak out because we don’t know how to apply all that flood of information and make it fit with our writing.
So what happens when one or more of these blocks comes home to roost?
I know I’ve been suffering from a combo pack of blocks: feeling inadequate from criticism, slowed by not knowing where my story should go, overwhelmed with the glut of info, and fighting the doubt that my story will even work. It’s demoralizing and frustrating. A part of me has invited these negative words or thoughts into my living room or my office where I accept them as reality. My bad! So I’ve taken the workshop with Laurie and have scoured tons of websites dedicated to overcoming writer’s block, even this website, Writer’s Fun Zone. (Lots of links at the end of this article.)
So what’s the short answer on how we fight writer’s block?
Just go with it.
Huh? Yeah, it’s that simple, and I can see your eyes roll. It doesn’t mean we stop taking workshops, submitting our work for critique, reviews, or to an agent or editor. It doesn’t mean we’ll have more time to write or the oppressive overseer will lighten up, it just means we have to do some work to stave off writer’s block and throw it out once it’s taken up residency in our house. We must go with it until we can make a plan to defeat it, or at least, breathe through it and come out on the other side better for having lived through the experience with our shirts intact.
Laurie gives us a glimpse into other ways of fighting writers block:
“In his bestselling book Getting Things Done the author, David Allen, puts forth the idea that our productivity is strongly related to our ability to clear our minds of the clutter that hangs about when we have a lot of bits of information hanging out waiting for us to take action on it. According to Allen, in order to be truly creative and truly productive we must clear our minds and organize our thoughts. It’s through doing this that we unleash our greatest creative potential.
Allen puts forward a method that focuses on doing one of four actions with the tasks, emails, thoughts, and other psychological clutter that hangs out in our minds.
The four actions are:
- Do it.
- Delegate it.
- Defer it [not something a writer can do – this is a solo job].
- Drop it.
The soul of a creative person – that deep, inner, creative part of you, is fragile so you need to protect it.”
How do we protect that gentle fragile creative spirit that dwells within each of us?
According to prolificliving.com, one can practice positive and meaningful affirmations to change our thoughts … and this can be effective.
I think that for most people it is just a matter of becoming aware of when they are thinking a negative thought about their writing and replacing it with a positive one.
I think it is always a matter of ending the writing day with something that you can be positive and grateful for – and focusing on that.
But perhaps first, we need to define it better. You might be a bully if you are mean and unkind to yourself, if you get angry and berate yourself for your actions, if you slather on the guilt, the shame, the judgement along with the berating self-talk that goes something like this:
“You’re so stupid! You’re such an idiot! You can never get anything right!”
Time to stop that kind of self-talk. Time to slather on the positive affirmations instead. Two of my favorites from prolificliving.com are:
- Morning affirmations: I am feeling healthy and strong today. I have all that I need to make this a great day of my life. I have all the information I need to solve any challenges that come up today. I have the knowledge to make smart decisions for myself today. I make the right choices all day using my inner wisdom. I am happy and content with my life. I am patient and calm and greet the day with ease. I am filled with gratitude for another day on this earth.
- Bed-time Affirmations for the Soul: I have done my best for today. I have earned my rest for tonight. I have put my love into all my deeds. I have used kindness in all my thoughts. I close this day with pure joy and now drift into a sound sleep.(http://www.prolificliving.com/stop-bullying-yourself/#more-42043)
These are just two ways I’m working on to “just go with” my block and get on with writing and remain positive. There are as many ways to overcome the block as there are writers out there who’ve been through it.
Maya Angelou suggested we just write crap and keep writing.
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’ ”
Neil Gaiman tells us to step aside:
“Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it.”
Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird suggests:
“I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing – just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day. Then, on bad days and weeks, let things go at that… Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck. You’ll sit there going, ‘Are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?’ But it is trying to tell you nicely, ‘Shut up and go away.’ ”
Ernest Hemingway tells writers to stop in the middle of the good stuff:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
So kids, you can overcome your block. I’d love to hear about your own battle with blockage. Please comment below.
Check out some other ideas for overcoming the block and let me know if you have other tips not mentioned here:
Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block by Richard McMunn http://writersfunzone.com/blog/2013/04/04/top-10-tips-for-overcoming-writers-block-by-richard-mcmunn/
Watch Beth Barany’s video: “Overcoming Writer’s Block” – 5 Writing Tips: http://writersfunzone.com/blog/2011/03/20/video-overcome-writers-block/
Overcome Writer’s Block: Writing Prompt: Apples http://writersfunzone.com/blog/2012/02/25/overcome-writers-block-writing-prompt-apples/
How to Overcome Writer’s Block: 14 Tricks That Work by Jeff Goins
Writing Tips: Strategies for Overcoming Writer’s Block http://www.cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/tips/writersblock/
13 Famous Writers on Overcoming Writer’s Block by Emily Temple http://flavorwire.com/343207/13-famous-writers-on-overcoming-writers-block
A whole list of articles on battling writers block can be found on Writer’s Digest: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/beat-writers-block
And by the way, my husband made a miraculous recovery and didn’t need surgery since his blockage was cleared and the fissure healed.
About the Author
An award-winning novelist, Carol Malone writes romantic suspense, rocketing readers into the past to uncover a hard-fought happily-ever-after. Based in coastal California, when not hammering out new tales, Carol reads, watches sports, the Food Network or HGTV, or spends time with her author husband. She loves to connect with her readers on her website, Twitter, and on Facebook. Her latest book is Summer Holiday.
If you’d like support jumpstarting your writing, take Beth Barany’s free 5-day Writer’s Motivation mini-course here.