I am delighted to share with you a guest post written by Heather Craik, a fellow participant in the Wordcount Blogathon 2012. She has some suggestions for dealing with something anyone who writes has encountered - writer's block.
I’m not a unique little snowflake in a blizzard. I run a business with many facets, I write, I even have the obligatory half finished novel sitting in notebooks and on my hard drive. Like every other creative writer in existence - I get writers block.
Photo by Ravages, via Creative Commons.
Writing’s Most Famous Problem
Since we all get it I don’t want to belabour the issue - we’ve all felt the blood pooling and dripping from our foreheads as we stare at a blank page. I’m sure you have experienced that gnawing in the pit of your stomach when you think about deadlines, the need to ‘escape’ and not do that writing thing - even if all you’re doing instead is organizing your files or cleaning the cupboards.
Some people say it’s not real, and it’s all in our heads. Some of those people have even done studies backing up those points, and still others are writers that have somehow conquered that particular dragon. They’re probably right.
My view is that even if it’s a construct we make up in our own minds it’s real to us, and as such we need a way of dealing with it.
After all - and I won’t belabour this either - we’ve all felt the holy grail of writing. Flow. The euphoria of picking up your pen and knowing that you can’t get the words out fast enough. And it doesn’t matter because it's all so... clear.
More of that? Bliss.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
Assume for the moment that each block is caused by stress.
Stress at not knowing what to write next, or not feeling what you have is good enough. Deadlines creeping up and not having enough time. Characters doing the opposite of what you want them to do and mocking you all the way. Pressure, from yourself or from others or both.
The act of writing itself isn’t particularly hard. Wait, don’t throw the rotten fruit yet, hear out the theory!
The reason it isn’t hard is that when we know what we want to write, we’ve been doing it for years (you know that’s true), and we know the story better than we know what we’ll be doing with our own lives later it’s a simple matter of communicating all that to the outside world. Sure, you have style and all those other considerations too, but in its elemental form you’re telling a story using words and you already have the story.
And boy, do we care about our stories.
We care about them so much that we worry other people won’t ‘get’ it if we don’t tell it right. And attach a bunch of other baggage to the act of telling.
What if we removed the baggage?
Willing to bet it’d be much easier, and certainly preliminary results (entirely anecdotal) support this.
Here’s how I do it when I’m struggling;
- Grab a piece of scrap paper and write down everything that’s stressing me out. The whole lot, related to writing or not.
- Make a single action for each ‘stressor’ that can be resolved and isn’t just emotional. Something that would take the edge off and remove it from the equation (thus removing the emotional energy I expend on it).
- For each action that I can deal with in under 15 minutes I just do it. If I’m having a really bad day and I’ve not done the exercise in a while it’ll take an hour or so.
- The remaining stressor tasks get put into my calendar to be dealt with later and removed from active memory.
- THEN I look at the direct writing stress, ask a bunch of whys, and fix the problem so I can continue.
Problems in that last step are usually to do with confidence (a dancing montage usually helps with this. I kid you not), deadlines (complete the most important, easy bit so it ‘feels’ more done), or not knowing where to go next (this is almost always solved by a death, an attack, or some form of prophecy).
Over time you’ll figure out the best actions for each of your writing stress sources - I don’t for a second believe everyone is with me on the dance montage thing - the important part is to figure out what the source is. Once you have that done the battle is 90% won and you have the option of deciding whether its worth your time.
Next Steps - Your Challenge
In the spirit of fixing things right now - take a look at your current blocked project (you know you have one). What is the cause?
Figure that out, batter it out into a comment, and then see if you can ‘solve’ it and get started again. I’ll be around to help with that step too. Let’s get this thing done!
Heather is the founder of Writer, Compose Yourself! and has been flirting with the idea of blogging for years now. She’s half way through her first novel, setting up a writing resource (for the good of all), and has fingers in many cakes.