Is Your Writer’s Block Just An Excuse?

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by Larry Brooks on September 12, 2009

Today’s guest blogger runs a great site for writers looking to accomplish the same thing that Storyfix offers, which is solid learning about the craft.  Check her out at  www.writeitsideways.com.

A guest post by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

 Everything’s going just fine.

Your writing is taking off. You’re gaining confidence as your productivity level soars.

Then one day, something disturbs your scheduled writing time. Your mother-in-law decides to visit. Your dog dies. Your pen breaks. Whatever.

Suddenly, you can’t write.

You acknowledge the problem instantly. It’s a term everyone has heard — a state every writer has found at one point or another.

That state of stagnation. Procrastination. Self-loathing.

“Ah. Must be writer’s block,” you say, as you smack yourself in the head. So you quickly resign yourself to weeks, or even months, of this malaise.

Have you truly been struck with the dreaded ‘writer’s block,’ or are you just full of poor excuses?

Ask yourself if any of the following statements sound familiar:

Excuse: ‘Nothing I write sounds good.’

Everything you type on the vast whiteness of that page just looks wrong. No sooner do you get to the end of a sentence, than you’re already backspacing at breakneck speed. The words don’t mesh. They don’t evoke. They don’t sing.

So what?

The point is not to pump out perfect prose in the first draft, but to construct the bare bones that can later be shaped into something far more comely.

So it doesn’t sound great. Oh well. You’ll get over it. You can come back later and revise, no matter how appalling those words sound at the moment.

Just remember, there are probably many passages in your manuscript that are infinitely worse than the one you’re struggling with, and you don’t even know it yet.

Now, isn’t that comforting?

Excuse: ‘Sitting at my computer seems like wasted time.’

The clock is ticking, and the usual speed and accuracy with which you normally write has drastically diminished. You’ve gone from hare to tortoise.

Should you force yourself to sit in front of a blank screen for two hours and have nothing to show for it but a couple of pitiful paragraphs?

Not at all.

Try breaking up your writing time into more manageable chunks. Don’t say, “I will write for an hour, even if it kills me.” Instead, say, “I will write as much as I can for 15 minutes.”

Do this a few times a day, and you’ll soon find 15 minutes isn’t enough. You can slowly build back up to longer, more productive sessions.

Excuse: ‘I’ve run out of ideas.’

You lie awake at night, desperately trying to think of something interesting to write about. Perhaps you think about it all day as well — in the shower, at work, while you balance your checkbook. But no matter how much time you spend thinking, you can’t seem to come up with a suitable storyline.

The problem is not that you have no ideas, but that you’re trying too hard.

Great stories don’t always arise from this kind of forced process. More often than not, they come from the world around you.

Stop and have a look. What’s happening? What are people saying? What’s the most interesting thing you saw on the street today? What were the top news stories in the paper this morning?

The world is full of ideas. Relax and let your brain make its own brilliant connections.

Excuse: ‘I’m too busy to be creative.’

Life has definitely gotten in the way of your writing.

You’ve got a big work project due this month. There’s a screaming baby in the next room. You caught a nasty case of the flu. At the moment, survival takes precedence over creativity.

Does that mean you’re destined for an indefinite period of creative-slump?

It doesn’t have to.

First, give yourself a break. You’re tired. Being exhausted is not conducive to good writing.

Second, go do something about it. Creativity can easily be refuelled by going for a brisk walk, listening to soothing music or picking up a great book. Plan these activities around your own schedule rather than trying to set aside extra time you don’t have.

Whatever you do, don’t let the feeling fester.

Excuse: ‘No one cares, anyway.’

This is the most insidious of the writer’s block excuses.

When the ink stops flowing, you start thinking it doesn’t matter whether you continue to write or not. You convince yourself no one cares. Worse, maybe you convince yourself even you don’t care anymore.

Stop it.

You know it’s not true.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter to your boss or your friends, or even your family. But it matters to you. It’s your dream — probably one you’ve had for a good portion of your lifetime.

So quit lying to yourself and refuse to give up.

Does Writer’s Block Really Exist?

Some say writer’s block is a complete fabrication — that it doesn’t even exist.

In truth, it’s not a disease. It isn’t an immovable obstacle doomed to crush us under its weight. But it does exist.

It’s a state of mind.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll most likely discover your lack of writing power amounts to nothing more sinister than a series of excuses.

Put yourself back in the driver’s seat. Change your thinking patterns.

You’ll be back on the right course in no time.

Like this article? Check out more great writing advice from Suzannah Windsor Freeman at Write It Sideways. Subscribe by RSS, by email, or follow her on Twitter.

COMING NEXT WEEK ON STORYFIX — A 7-Part Series on The Art and Craft of Characterization

{ 8 comments }

poch September 13, 2009 at 7:46 am

‘Writer’s block’ is just like staying dirty.
It would only happen if we allow it.

Marie September 13, 2009 at 11:57 pm

As usual, great advice, clearly presented and exactly what I needed to hear! I am going to a writing class tonight and was wondering why I bothered to sign up. I have no ideas! At least, none at the moment. Nothing I write makes sense or is exciting. Your article is like a nice slap in the face for us neurotic folks who feel sorry for ourselves wannabees! Thanks! I had to laugh, ’cause I sound like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh! lol.

Suzannah-Write It Sideways September 14, 2009 at 12:34 am

Poch,
Agreed. There’s usually a perfectly good way to pull yourself out of a writing rut.

Marie,
Don’t feel too bad. I came home from work the other day and tried to write a post for my blog. I really could not think of anything to write, no matter how hard I thought.
So, I went to sleep instead. The next morning I got up at 6 am and wrote the whole post in an hour. It got some really good feedback, too. Sometimes we just need a short break to refuel.

Thanks

Dana September 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Suzannah,

I stumbled upon this article at a time when I’ve been full of excuses. Recently I joined a writing group and that helps. But nothing helps more than a swift kick in the butt.

Thanks!

janice September 15, 2009 at 2:19 am

I enjoyed what you said about exhaustion and illness. I’m recuperating at the moment. I’ve not written much recently, but that’s not a problem. I will when I’m ready. There are all kinds of writing and connection, and writing the odd comment is enough for now.

No matter what phase I’m going through in my life, I have never used the phrase writer’s block. I’m passionately interested in the way our language shapes our reality. To even think in terms of the phrase “I have writer’s block” makes it seem like an illness, something that happens to us, something we catch, instead of something we have control over.

“I’m not writing much at the moment.” has a more neutral emotional charge; it also elicits a lot of good questions. But what can you say in response to “I have writer’s block.” It’s more likely to provoke an “Oh, dear…” followed by a sigh or a sad silence.

If you can rename it, you can reframe it.

I always ask the folk I coach to step back and investigate the old stories they’re telling themselves.

I always ask if elements of a writing life have become a ‘should’ instead of a ‘want’.

If you ask good what questions, you can focus on developing solutions. Questions like…

~What does a ‘good’ writing day look like, feel like?
~What’s really stopping me from writing?
~What inspires me?
~What do I need more of?
~What do I need less of?
~What am I saying no to?
~What am I saying yes to?

Life has its ebbs and flows; so does our creativity and responsiveness to life. Everything is fuel for writers. Everything we see, smell, taste, hear and experience is a necessary part of what we do. If we’re not writing, it’s the perfect chance to catch up on some intense reading, to observe, do other things, refresh ourselves and hone our editing skills on anything we are still producing. Fields need to lie fallow sometimes to support a variety of crops and an improved yield. The soul has its seasons.

Many of us don’t have – can’t have – regular hours available for uninterrupted writing, but we can always be writers and live with the kind of engaged presence, appreciation and mindset it requires.

Nice guest post. Thanks to both of you.

Suzannah-Write It Sideways September 15, 2009 at 4:52 am

Dana,
Thanks for your comment. A writing group is certainly one way to keep yourself on track, especially if your fellow writers can give you that ‘kick’ you mention :)

Janice,
I think you’re right about the way we label our productivity. Telling yourself you have writer’s block is not going to be helpful.

I can identify with what you say about many of us not having uninterrupted writing time. I go through periods where I have that luxury, and others where I have to squeeze in half an hour. I suppose the key is to keep writing something, anything, to maintain the habit.

Thanks!

Trina September 18, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Suzannah…I needed that. Thank you! I’m going to drop by your site. I love your candor.

Suzannah-Write It Sideways September 20, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Thanks Trina! Glad you found this helpful.

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