Monday, June 18, 2007

Writer's Block - Now What?

Writer’s block.

Those words can strike fear into the heart of any writer. Yet, all of us will face it – sooner or later – and must find our own method(s) of dealing with it.

Where does writer’s block come from? What causes it?

Writer’s block has a couple of primary causes. Fear. Exhaustion. Fear. Stress. Did I mention fear?

The fear that we will never produce anything of worth can be paralyzing. It can cause our creativity to evaporate faster than a Popsicle in hell. When we start entertaining that fear, we lose sight of our ideas. We begin to second-guess ourselves at every turn and start back peddling. Our creative juices dry up. In short, we have nothing but a bare Popsicle stick.

The fear of success or failure can be equally paralyzing.

Many writers will begin a story with great enthusiasm, only to have it sputter to a standstill. Some fear success because, ultimately, they worry that they’re not good enough, and if they are published everyone will know they are frauds. Others fear success because they fear having their work read by friends and family. That sort of fear is often related to the worry that their writing will reveal things about them they’d rather keep hidden.

The fear of failure is a little more straightforward. No one likes failing. No one likes the sensation of feeling like a loser, idiot, moron or of being substandard.

For many, failure can be humiliating, especially to those whose families have high expectations of them. Often, these people think it’s easier to quit before they really invest too much into their work. After all, if they don’t produce anything they don’t have to run that risk.

Exhaustion, both physical and emotional, can bring your work to a screeching halt. Our bodies can handle being pushed to the limit – but not constantly.

If you’ve pushed yourself to the point of utter exhaustion, your body will eventually push back. You might start picking up every virus known to man. You might feel as though you’re teetering on the brink of a mental breakdown. At this point, it’s likely that you’ll barely remember your own name, let alone the plot of your novel. If you refuse to be sensible and rest, your body will force you to do it. By becoming ill, it forces you to rest. In the process of fighting emotional exhaustion, it will shut down your creativity, so your brain can get much-needed rest, too.

Stress has the same type of effect as exhaustion. Often, the two are inextricably linked. In today’s world, our lives are busier than ever. We find ourselves caring for loved ones who are ill, worrying about finances, getting our kids to their various activities on time or trying to deal with any other number of stressful situations.

In short, our lives are so full it’s a wonder we can carve out time to write, and, when we do, writer’s block results. It either manifests by causing us to go completely brain dead the moment we see the blinking cursor, or it prevents us from slowing our thoughts enough to focus on our story. We worry that there is something important that we’ve forgotten to do or fret about the list of things we have to accomplish the next day. This constant swirl of thoughts paralyzes the brain.

So now we know what causes it, how do we make it go away? What are good strategies to use against it? Here are some ideas in no particular order.

Try a change of venue. If you normally write in your office on a laptop computer, bring a notebook and pen into the living room, or outside under a tree and try writing longhand.
Talk it out. Discuss your story with other writer friends – or even friends who don’t write. Sometimes, just the simple act of conversation will spark an idea that gets you moving again.
Take a self-imposed writing break. Sometimes, a week of just watching music videos and talk show TV can be enough to jumpstart
your brain.
Try freewriting. About anything. Seriously. Anything at all.
Vampires, musicals, the president, your mother, dust bunnies.
Anything that gets your imagination going.
Write from someone else’s perspective (someone in your story whose
POV you don’t/haven’t used.) Look at the issues facing your characters from his or her perspective.
Write a scene in your protagonist’s POV that won’t be used in the
story. It could be an incident that took place in the protagonist’s childhood, a trip to the DMV or a phone call from a solicitor. How does your character handle this? What does he or she think about it? This exploration could easily break the block and spark new ideas. The scene might even take on a life of it’s own and send your story into a new and exciting direction.
Take a walk. Do the dishes. Take a shower. Often, activities requiring no conscious thought tempt your muse to come out and play.
Write without judgment. Yes, it might suck. However, there also
might be moments of brilliance that you’d miss by obsessing about the current state of suckiness. Push through it until you get to the end. I believe it was Nora Roberts who said “You can fix a bad page of writing, but you can’t fix a blank one.”
Write five random words. Now take those words and work them into a
scene. Note: you don’t have to use words that involve your current work in progress, though you can if you like.
Work on a scene somewhere else in the story. You might be able to
figure out what you need to do to get from the scene where you’re stuck to the scene you just wrote.
Listen to music, or turn off the music.
Stop dinking around on the internet.
Stretch or exercise. Get the blood flowing. Often this is enough to get the thoughts flowing, too.
Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to throw out sections of text that aren’t working. You can always drop them into an “Idea” document or folder.
Quit beating yourself up. Creativity can’t be bludgeoned out of a person (literally or figuratively.) Lowering your self-esteem will only make the problem worse.
Relax. Meditate. Get a massage. Thinking clearly is next to impossible while stressed.
Write about your writer’s block. Vent your spleen on paper. You might be surprised by what you have to say.
Multitask. Work on more than one project at a time. Often, bouncing back and forth between two novels keeps the creativity high and the ideas coming.

Not all of these ideas will work for everyone. Experiment. Try different things. The most important thing is not to give up.

It’s okay to take a break, but if you’ve got stories inside you, they need to get out. Sometimes, an extended break from writing is needed, especially when dealing with an exceptionally difficult situation, death of loved one, divorce, etc. That’s okay, too.

Like the moon, our creativity waxes and wanes. All writers need to find their own cycle and work with it. Trust your instincts and write your truth.

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