writer's block n : an inability to write; "he had writer's block; the words wouldn't come"
It seems writer's block comes to us all at some stage. Perhaps you've struggled with a piece of work, finding yourself unable to continue for one reason or another. Maybe you're fresh out of ideas and the act of writing and starting something new seems overwhelmingly impossible. Whatever you're experiencing, you aren't the first and you certainly won't be the last. And, as difficult as it is to remember sometimes, you're not alone in this feeling. Right now, there are countless numbers of writers out there suffering with this very same feeling, and as unpleasant as it is, there are ways to get out of it. With a little work and encouragement.
As far as the internet goes, where I have largely been researching this article, it is both a lifesaver and a curse to a writer's block sufferer. There are countless resources out there talking about how people get blocked, ways to overcome it and exercises to work through it. The trouble is you can get so carried away reading through all this, it can fast turn into a form of procrastination, stopping you from ever writing another word again! Realising that has made me stop and take stock of the information I've gleaned so far..
According to one website
, writer's block is easily confused with other things. Maybe it's more a case of finding the time to write, maybe you're suffering with physical or mental anguish from an outside source or maybe you're in the throws of your natural rhythm and this simply is not your time
to write. If you think you might be suffering from one of these things, then click on the link for some suggestions about how to overcome them. Mark McGuinness
makes some suggestions on how to overcome writer's block:1. Make a deal with your Inner Critic
All writers have an 'Inner Critic' or editor at the back of the mind. We need one, to maintain quality control. The purpose of your Inner Critic is to make you a better writer - but sometimes s/he gets a bit carried away, and starts pulling your draft to pieces before you've even got it down. So every time you try to write, you end up listening to a nagging inner voice telling you everything that's wrong with your work and why you'll never cut it as a writer.
If this starts happening, imagine sitting down with your inner critic over coffee, and make the following deal:
Thank the Critic for trying to help - but point out that the criticism is having the opposite effect 2. Remember who you're writing for
Ask for time and space to write the draft first - save the critique for afterwards
Ask to hear about what's right with your work as well as what's wrong
Ask for feedback that is specific (what needs to be improved?), action-oriented (what can you do to improve it?), and focused on the writing, not the writer (don't make it personal!)
Promise to make time to listen to the Critic and review your work. Keep your promise!
If the Critic starts interfering with your work again, remind him/her of the deal. Once s/he realises you're not going to start mailing any old rubbish off to editors, and you are taking time to review and rewrite, s/he usually relaxes enough to get on with the job.
Writers get stuck when they forget their real audience. They get sidetracked into thinking how the book will look to editors, book reviewers, the 'literary world', posterity, etc. And it introduces a false note into their writing. Who is your ideal reader? What does s/he look like? How does s/he feel as she listens to you? What do you want to say to him/her next?3. Sit down
Kingsley Amis said 'the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair'. Sometimes we get distracted by so many 'important' things that we don't give enough importance to writing. If this is happening to you, set aside a regular time to sit at your desk. Even if you 'can't write', stay sitting at the desk. Eventually a thought will come to you, or you may even start writing as a distraction, to relieve the boredom of just sitting there.4. Stand up
Or you may have the opposite problem - you have been sitting at the desk too long, banging your head on the proverbial brick wall. Your body feels tense, heavy, fidgety. Give yourself a break. Get up, make a cup of tea, wash the dishes, walk the dog or nip out for a pint of milk. Whatever you do, make sure it's something that engages your senses and reconnects you with your body. And whenever you catch yourself thinking about your writing - STOP!
I remember this happening to me a few months ago - gradually it dawned on me that I had been sitting hunched over the keyboard for too long. I heaved a sigh of relief as I got up from the desk and wandered down the corridor to the kitchen. I started chopping vegetables and heating some oil in the pan, taking care to focus on the textures, smells and sounds of cooking. As I fried up the food in the pan, trying to get the right balance, I suddenly realised where I had been going wrong with my writing - and found myself running back along the corridor to my desk...5. Imagine you're having a drink with a friend...
You're in a bar, on your second drink. You're telling your friend about the book - what inspired you, what you've written so far, and which part you're stuck on. What do you say? How do you make it clear? Is there a simple analogy you can use?
Now write down what you just said.6. Forget about being a writer
Stop worrying about what kind of writer you are, whether you are cut out to be a writer, or whether you are a 'real' writer or a 'good' writer. When you are thinking about 'being a writer' you are not thinking about your writing. We all want fame and money, but that comes afterwards (or not), and has nothing to do with the actual writing. Focus on writing - the next word and the next - and it becomes its own reward. Anything else is a bonus.7. Leave the house without a notebook
Writing can be a paradoxical experience. Sit at your desk, try to write and the inspiration dries up. Carry a notebook around and it stays empty. Or you can be out and about, with no pen to hand - and that's when an idea pops into your head. Don't worry about forgetting it - if it's good enough, you'll remember.8. Get trigger happy
Why do students take lucky gonks into exams? Why do sports players have lucky shirt numbers and pre-match rituals? Why do some writers work in the same place, on the same paper, the same make of computer, with the same pen or drinking the same drink? Are they all mad?
Or have they just noticed that these little triggers make them feel a bit better, sharper, more focused? Because our minds work by association - reproduce the trigger and the feeling comes back. What are the triggers that work best for you? A particular pen? A favourite kind of paper? A different font on your laptop? A special place to write? Music? Coffee? Deadlines? 9. Talk to other writers
Friends and family may be sympathetic but they don't really know what it's like. Meet up with your writer friends to swap stories and remedies for writer's block - or even just to have a good moan. Sometimes it makes all the difference to know you're not the only person who has experienced writer's block. The more writers I talk to, the more I realise that the occasional block is a normal occupational hazard. If you don't know many writers, look around for a good writing class or group in your area. 10. Have some fun!
When was the last time you really enjoyed a piece of writing? What was it like? How did it feel? What were you doing differently on that occasion? Why not do that again?
With all the information I've been reading, one thing seems very clear. In order to get through a block, it seems persistence and occasionally a change in routine is the key. Change the place where you write, change the tools you write with, the time of day you write. Persist, sit down for ten minutes and write whatever it is you think of. Write crap and stop reaching for that elusive perfect piece. Get into the mindset of maybe not necessarily writing the best thing you can think of, but anything
you can think of. You're blocked, after all, and this action might be what you need to get the words flowing again. I've also found a couple of exercises to assist with this. Give them a try, posting the results here if you want. Have they helped you? Or are they useless exercises? I'd be interested to know.
Get out your favorite writing instruments (fountain pen and quadrille pad, PowerBook, wax tablet and stylus, whatever). Start putting down words and Don't Stop. Not for a second. Even if all you are writing is "I can't write, I can't think, I hate this," Just Keep Writing. Do not lift your pen from the paper (or whatever modality you've chosen). Do it for at least 15 minutes. Then go back and read it. We're pretty sure, you'll find a phrase or even a whole sentence on which to build.
When you are unable to even think of an idea to write about, instead of staring at a black page, do things which may spark new ideas. Go to the park, the mall, or another public place and people watch. Take a notebook and write down your observations as well as anything else that comes to mind. When you see a person or family that interests you, imagine what their "story" is. Who are they? Why are they there? What kind of past do they have? You might trigger a character or story idea.
Concentrate on a single sense, and write a scene. Don't worry about making a story around it. For instance, have a character walk into a stranger's house and smell an air freshener her mother once used. What does this do to the character? How does she react? What other smells does she encounter? Describe the scene with an emphasis on your chosen sense without excluding any other that naturally enter into it. Remember, this is an exercise to get your creativity flowing. If it evolves into a complete story, go with it, but don't think it must.