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

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