Writing Tips Wednesday – Writer’s Block? Seriously?

Every Wednesday I’ll be sharing some hints and tips about how to improve your writing. These are basic things I have learned over the years, from writers websites, published authors and constructive feedback from friends, family and online pals.

There is an argument that fiction writing cannot be taught because it comes from talent alone, it is in your nature to be creative. Whilst there is some truth in that, even the most creative person needs to learn how to use their ability and make the best of their craft.

This week: Writer’s Block.

This might sound harsh but I just don’t get what the big deal is with writer’s block. You say you’re a writer so write. You sit with your pen and paper or at your PC and just put your fingers to work. For those without fingers I know there are other ways of getting that frenzy of creativity out of your brain and into reality.

I read or hear about folk whining on about writer’s block like it’s an actual disability, as if they’re in pain, oh the agony of it, oh how I wish I could break through this invisible wall and get on with writing. Seriously? Just start writing. Who cares if it’s jibberish? Just do it! It’s not always possible to churn out 2,000 words of perfection every day but amongst the muck and grime there may be a few gems, and those are well worth the effort.

That’s my gut reaction to writer’s block. I have a feeling some writer’s enjoy making a song and dance out of their supposed writer’s block so they can enjoy the sympathy without actual taking any risk or experiencing the symptoms. Some may say it’s not as easy as that. Okay. Fine. Let’s see what the fuss is about, shall we dear blog reader? Be prepared for stuff in quotes!

What is Writer’s Block?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some “blocked” writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers. It can manifest as the affected writer viewing their work as inferior or unsuitable, when in fact it could be the opposite.

Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writer%27s_block

The article goes on to offer various reasons for writer’s block like physical disabilities or mental issues such as depression. Okay, so I sympathise with folks who suffer with some ailments, but isn’t it strange how sometimes you read or hear people talk so passionately about writer’s block? Some spend a lot of time and energy talking (or even writing!) about how they can’t get their creative buzz on! Um. Okay. So you can’t write but hey…aren’t you writing about not being able to write?!

What does our friend Science have to say about this?

Usually when writing an article like this I like to Google my chosen topic and peek at what others have said. I found an interesting article on WritingWorld.com where neuropsychologist Elkhonon Goldberg discusses the problems that happen inside your noodle that prevent a writer from writing. Goldberg talks about Executive Functions:

Those higher-level thought processes that enable us to plan, sequence, prioritize, organize, initiate, inhibit, pace, self-monitor, and sustain behaviors — despite distractions — in pursuit of our defined goals. Executive functions allow us to make adjustments and refine strategies along the way, so that if the roof caves in while you’re writing Chapter Four, you can take a break and return to the project after arranging for roofers.

Okay, still with me? Good. That makes sense. Right?

No? I’m with you dear blog reader!

Let’s stick with it and see how our brains work.

Our mental ability to think beyond the moment, to remember the past or muse about the future, is a function of the frontal lobes. A central feature of consciousness is the ability to control the fourth dimension, time. Humans can effortlessly move their internal mental set from the present moment to a past remembrance and just as easily project themselves into a future event.

The process of storytelling — envisioning a present or a past and working to create continuity to some imagined story future — requires the same mental set shifting.

Ref: The New Cognitive Neurosciences, Robert T. Knight and Marcia Grabowecky

Oh goody, now I know how my noggin does stuff! But it doesn’t really explain why a writer gets that invisible wall slammed in their face does it?

“Executive Dysfunction” is the term used when these processes are interrupted.  describes executive dysfunction as an inability to inhibit present behavior in deference to demands of the future, i.e. you want to write a novel, but you spend all your writing time checking email.

Ref: Neuropsychologist Russell Barkley

Hmm. It sounds like a theory to me rather than actual science. So if we accept that writer’s block is all about mis-firing synapses, what can you do to combat this evil pest that’s burrowing its way into our subconscious? There are plenty of websites out there that offer the Holy Grail of writer’s block, from quaffing strange potions you MUST drink at midnight as you dance naked under a full moon, to writing whilst standing on your head!

What some writers say about the big bad block.

Writer’s block happens when you try to do everything at once.

Writer’s block happens when your plot bends in a way you didn’t intend or like.

Writer’s block happens because of bad health, lack of sleep, poor hygiene and bad diet.

Writer’s block happens due to fear of failure or fear of success.

Writer’s block happens when life gets in the way.

Writer’s block happens due to fear of showing our vulnerabilities.

Writer’s block happens because we don’t know what to do next.

And so on. You get the idea.

Personally I have never once had any of those problems! Yay! 10 points for me.

But Dave, you can’t bash people for having a few problems, we know you, there must be a bunch of handy solutions, right?

Okay, you got me. There is stuff you can do to combat writer’s block.

13 14 tips on How to kick writer’s block in the unmentionables!

#1 Deadlines:

Set yourself a deadline. It doesn’t matter what it is – 50 words, 100, 10,000, whatever works for you. If the thought of knocking out 10,000 words scares the pants off you, try 10 words. That’s not even a shopping list! Writing in a group or with a partner is a good way to keep to deadlines, that way you have someone encouraging you to keep going or stop and call it a day.

#2 Writing Exercises & Prompts:

Sunday Picture Press is a perfect example of using a visual aid to give your creative juices a shove in the right direction. The internet has oodles of writing prompts & writing challenges. If you’re stuck for inspiration Google “writing prompt” or “story prompt” or “writing exercise” and see what happens. You can find inspiration in the must unlikely of places!

#3 Writing Place:

Look at where you do your writing. Your surroundings are very important. Is your chair comfy? Is your desk in the right place? Is there enough natural light or too much? Is your keyboard old and pointless or do you need one of those gel pad thingies to rest your wrists on? What about your screen? Is it at the right height for your eyes? Is it too bright or too dull? Is there too much noise? Maybe you need a nice desk plant to help you relax – might sound silly but you never know until you try. Are you stretching to reach the mouse or keyboard? Try this link for good desk posture: http://www.homeworking.com/library/posture.htm

#4 Free Writing:

Set yourself a time limit, say 10 minutes, and just write whatever comes into your head. Don’t quit if it looks silly. It might be filled with spelling mistakes and look like complete junk but hey, you’re writing! Try covering your screen with something so you can’t see the words!

#5 Change of Scene:

If you’re stuck just get up and leave. Look at something else. Go for a walk. Go shopping. Do something to distract yourself. Think about bunnies. Think about anything other than writing. Breathe and relax.

#6 Congratulate Yourself!

When you’ve written something you are particularly proud of, allow a smile to spread over your face! Go look in the mirror and say: “Coolio! I just wrote something! Big mirror high-five for me!” Share your joy with someone. Enjoy the little things.

#7 Don’t beat yourself up!

If it’s not working out like you planned don’t worry about it. Writer’s aren’t perfect word machines cranking out line after perfect line of beautiful award-winning prose. This post has taken an hour to write, and I actually dumped about 1/2 of it because it was total junk. I’m hoping what remains isn’t! At one point I had myself a big sigh and left my PC, got a drink and came back to it refreshed. Don’t concentrate on the bad junk, it will happen so accept it, but when that high hits you and things flow – that’s when you should feel good about yourself. Don’t worry – be happy!

#8 Accept the crap!

Does it really matter if you write total crap-o-la? Nope. Not one bit. Write it down, every last horrible cringe worthy sentence and every bad clichéd chunk of dialogue. Sooner or later you will spot a gem or two glistening through the muck and drivel at the bottom of the murky river bed of words. That’s the good stuff right there, cherish those gems and accept that in order to find them you sometimes have to trudge through the sludge!

#9 Write the ending!

So you have a great idea for a story? Don’t quite know where to start or have started but run out of steam? Don’t give up. Write the ending and then have fun working out how the story gets there!

#10 Keep a list:

When I write a scene or chapter I watch the words flow across the screen but below them I have a short list of words, prompts to point me in the right direction. I had an idea of how the scene or chapter or story might go so I make a list first, for example: Cherry coke, smoke, genie, nightclub, superstar, angels, kites, shadows, grim reaper, lights, music, dancing. So you can see how my brain flowed through a quick list of things I had in mind for a story. Okay, that’s quite a random list of things I admit! But having those in your eye line can help keep you on track.

#11 Schedule your writing time:

Similar to my first point, keep a time-table of when you are going to write. Set aside time to write, doesn’t matter if it’s 10 minutes or an entire day. That is your writing time, not fussing the dog time or taking out the garbage time or doing anything else other than writing time. You can think of it as a reward if you like – take out the garbage first, pick up the dog poo, wash the dishes – then relax with that warm glowing feeling that you’ve earned your writing time. If you live in a busy house let everyone else know you want some space and time to yourself. You might have kids running wild and screaming but there must be a window of opportunity in there somewhere to get a few words down.

#12 Let the Music play!

Some folk like to write in total silence. Isolated so their brains can cook up the good stuff. Others prefer a cacophony of sound and images all around them, opera or heavy metal or funky rap with big bass notes bleeding through the speakers. Whatever floats your boat. I’m somewhere in the middle. I tend to enjoy listening to music as I write, recently I’ve been working through the Pirates of the Caribbean sound tracks! Excellent music for adventurous epic story telling! Find your level, what works best for you.

#13 Last but not least – Enjoy writing!

I like going to the beach. I love the birds cawing in the air, the whoosh and hiss of waves rushing up the sand, the smell of coffee and hot doughnuts and ice cream lingering in the breeze. It’s my super fun happy place. I wouldn’t go to the beach to be miserable the same as I wouldn’t sit here and write this if I felt like crap and hated every second of it. Remind yourself why you write – because it feels good, right? At least I hope so!

#14 750words.com

Taken straight from Indigo’s suggestion, one that I forgot to add!

Recommended by Indigo Spider: One place I always love to recommend is 750words.com. It is based on the ‘morning pages’ from the book “The Artist’s Way.” Basically, it isn’t a blog site, it isn’t fancy in any way, it provides a blank screen for you to write, period. You write whatever you want, good or bad, stories or rants, whatever comes to mind, even if it is just ‘writewritewritewrite’ 750 times. It lets you know when you actually reached your count, it gives you nifty little badges for certain achievements, but most importantly it gives you a safe place to write, learn to write daily (or at least regularly) AND to lock your inner critic in a box so that you don’t have writers block.

And there it is!

Obviously there are plenty more where these came from but you get the idea. No, I didn’t stop because I had a sudden attack of Writer’s Block Syndrome! I stopped because my dinner is ready and I’m so hungry I could eat…well, a burger and fries!

Truth is that by the time I have finished writing my face hurts because I sit here at my desk with a gigantic smile on my face! I love it. I was born to write. Even when I’m a foul mood I still manage to write. I recently had a bout of headaches, real killers, possibly because I don’t wear my glasses enough, but I still wanted to write. If it’s an addiction then it’s the best darned addiction I’ve found yet!

If you tell yourself you have “writer’s block” the very phrase can be worse than the actual feeling. You may just have a bad day or not in the mood, but giving it a name is the same as telling your kids there really is a monster in their closet! You make it more real than it really is. Writer’s block – two words you don’t need in your writing life because they can become the focus of your writing life.

###

That’s all folks! If you’ve ever had problems like writer’s block do let me know how you’ve killed that nasty pest!

If you have any writing tips and advice and feel like sharing, pop me an email or rant in the box below!

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19 thoughts on “Writing Tips Wednesday – Writer’s Block? Seriously?

  1. The best words of advice is this line you wrote: “You make it more real than it really is.” When you give in to writers block, let the excuses become writers block, then you have writers block.

    One place I always love to recommend is 750words.com. It is based on the ‘morning pages’ from the book “The Artist’s Way.” Basically, it isn’t a blog site, it isn’t fancy in any way, it provides a blank screen for you to write, period. You write whatever you want, good or bad, stories or rants, whatever comes to mind, even if it is just ‘writewritewritewrite’ 750 times. It lets you know when you actually reached your count, it gives you nifty little badges for certain achievements, but most importantly it gives you a safe place to write, learn to write daily (or at least regularly) AND to lock your inner critic in a box so that you don’t have writers block.

    As usual, excellent tips! I always learn something new from you Dave 🙂

  2. I’m right behind you on this one, Dave. I may not be experienced nor professional enough yet, so that may be why I haven’t suffered writer’s block. But I personally don’t believe in it. Your advice is super. If anyone who thinks they have WB follows the advice, they’ll soon realise they don’t have it any more.
    I think that writer’s block is our subconscious telling us we’re producing crap. So, stop writing or thinking of that particular story and work on something else. Anything else. Because whatever is causing you not to write will never be written.
    Thanks for the post and straightforward words of wisdom.

    • Thanks Scribbla! Exactly! It’s nothing to fear, it’s just a couple of words and shouldn’t stop anyone from writing. I’m sure there’s a saying, something like: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The same goes for writer’s block.

  3. Brilliant post Dave 🙂 Your ideas are really helpful 🙂
    I always have problems writing my monthly column. The deadline is now rapidly approaching and for the life of me I can’t think what topic to cover! It’s not writers block as such because I have a list of about 50 topics to cover on my blog so I could dip into these. I think it’s more to do with the length of the article required and I then waffle.

    Do you have any tips for grabbing and then holding peoples attention? Perhaps that is another W W post?

    I personally have the attention span of a gnatt, so I am not a good judge 🙂

    PiP

  4. I struggle to function optimally in chaos. I understand that everything is seldom in order but when it is more messy than it has to be – on the inside or out – I tend to feel a bit paralyzed. So whenever I’ve felt a lack of creativity I’ve checked my mental state, my physical state, my spiritual state (all three of which my home is often an outward reflection of) and then I try to settle those things that ‘smother’ me and then breath and relax.

    I have to keep a balance though between always trying to sort something out first as a prerequisite or I’ll never have time to write; something I’m increasingly enjoying and missing when I haven’t done it.

    These are some awesome tips! A handy article to keep close by; a little check list if you will, just for in case 🙂

    Oh, and don’t try to imitate others. Be yourself. Find what is unique and personal to you that you can bring to the table. Don’t compare. That way you (could possibly) never feel like your writing is good enough. Learn and grow as you go (do what you do, do well) – yes! – but also stay true to yourself.

    I like the idea of making a writing “date” with yourself. Put it in your diary if you have to and say no to other things – you’re already booked 🙂

    • I like that mental check list, mental state, physical state and spiritual state, that makes a lot of sense to me. Without those working in harmony the creativity can be muted somewhat. Always a good tip – breath and relax!

      Imitating others is possibly something everyone has done or thought of doing with their writing, especially until they find their own unique authors voice and their own style.

    • Thanks Joss! I was a bit concerned all the quotes would be a bit heavy going, but I like to keep things light hearted and easy going, even if it’s a serious subject. As I’ve gotten into the swing of it, the WTW posts are becoming more enjoyable to write, so I hope that comes across in the reading.

  5. I enjoy your writing and appreciate the tips! Like Piglet, I occasionally rely on a list of topics that I think would be great to write about to remind me if ideas I’ve had. I’ve never written short stories or dialogue — I prefer going on rants about things I either love or hate and find the world an endless source of things that fit into either of these categories. I always have my camera with me and sometimes an idea for a blog entry is sparked by an image, so I’ll photograph it as a sort of mnemonic for future writing. I’ll sometimes get the embryo of an idea and write it down for future developement, compiling these ideas into a central list. Due to my weird schedule, I spend about five days a week dealing with exhaustion but I find that when in that state ideas flow freely into my head (although my ability to actually write is almost nonexistent). Looking forward to next week’s tips!

    • Thanks HoaiPhai! Taking photos is a great way to be inspired or reminded about a topic. I tend to snap away during the day, I can get through around 30 photos, mostly junk but some nice ones avoid the bin. Sometimes when you have a busy work schedule keeping a list of topics and ideas makes very good sense, that way when you are inspired to write (and have the energy!) you don’t waste time thinking – just go to the list.

      I love rants! Both reading and writing them. That reminds me, I haven’t had a good rant about something for a while now, not since my big BT scream a couple of months ago.

  6. I had just experience my first writer’s block when I’m doing the latest of Indigo Spider prompts. I was almost on the verge of giving up! But I hold on to it. Though, I decided to let it go (meaning stop writing) for some considerable amount of time, I still keep at it in my heart that I have to write, it just that I’m having some difficulty. So I looked at people around me, circumstances, or anything that could help bring up a story. And indeed, a way has been made, when there was none, and a story was born! So I think, as long as you stick with what you are doing, the writer’s block or whatever it is would soon get tired on holding at you. 😀

  7. And oh, I didn’t stop there! I made sure to know what’s the reason why I had difficulty writing at that time. And I did learn some very important aspects of myself! And I think, it helps. You know, uncovering the whys, instead of just patching up solutions. Well, for me, it works. 🙂 And I’m not expecting any writer’s block in the future.

    As they say, “What happen once will never happen again.” 😀

    • Very good method to beat the block. Even if you’re not technically writing you were still thinking about it, and working out how that barrier came along in the first place. If you find the solution it’s unlikely to bother you again because you know how to breach that barrier. I’m glad you kept going, I just read your piece about the guy performing the ritual by the tree, excellent stuff, and I loved the twist!

  8. Pingback: Writing Tips Wednesday – Hook & Hold « Dave Farmer

  9. Pingback: How I Beat Writer’s Block « Bunny Ears & Bat Wings

  10. Pingback: Defeating Writer’s Block « Alexis J.

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