Blockage (of the Writing Variety)

blank screen

It’s happened to all of us. That dirty two-word phrase that makes us cringe in terror and run for the hills. Writer’s block. We’ve all stared at the image above, with our fingers poised hopefully on the keys – praying to God, Allah, Zeus, Odin, and whomever else we think might help – waiting, just waiting, for inspiration to strike. Our minds blank. Our stomach feels queasy. Our forehead sweats. We panic. Have we failed as a writer? Has inspiration disappeared permanently from our poor, overworked brains? Will we ever write again?

Believe it or not, there are some people who claim writer’s block doesn’t exist. They think it’s something we’ve made up in order to excuse ourselves for our massive tendency toward procrastination. Or that we just need to work harder. Obviously, those people have never experienced the blockage, the brain fart, the blank slate. And good for them. I’m glad. I wouldn’t wish this malady on anyone.

For the rest of us mere mortals, writer’s block is a very real. Annoying on better days, and utterly debilitating on the bad days. It struck me yesterday afternoon, and has yet to release its grip.

So what to do when it strikes you? Before you throw your computer out the window and give up on your dream, try these few bits of advice that (normally) work for me/other writers.

First and foremost, RELAX. Getting wound up over something that happens to everyone isn’t going to help. You’re not a failed writer. And you will write again. The pessimism running through your head isn’t helping; instead it’s causing you to concentrate more on the blockage and less on the story you’re trying to write. Take a deep breath. Meditate (if you’re into that). Get a massage (if you can afford that).

Drink some caffeine. I know, this seems obvious, as you’ve probably been guzzling coffee and various other forms of our favorite drug since you rolled out of bed.  I’m just saying you might need more. If your brain is already screaming at you and you’re finding it hard to concentrate on something for more than a few seconds, you might want to stop drinking caffeine. You’ve obviously had too much. There’s a fine line you have to walk with the gloriousness that is caffeine.

Read. Anything. A book, a short story, status updates, news stories, a blog. Anything. You can find inspiration in the most random places. Not to mention that this takes your mind off of what you’re working on for a few minutes. In relation to this, you can read what you’ve written. You  might remember something you were going to elaborate on or think of a new character or plot line.

Speaking of taking your mind off it, go do something else. Take a walk, play with your kids, get the blood flowing with some exercise, go to the park and people watch (make sure you take something to write with on that last one). Don’t feel bad about taking time away from your computer. It could end up paying off in the end. And even if it doesn’t spark something in your brain, at least you didn’t spend the whole day living a sedentary life.

Write something else. This is something I’ve recently taken up. I used to insist on concentrating on one thing at a time, not wanting to confuse myself or risk not going back to my original project. I’ve since let go of this fear, and I now write short stories while working on my book. Blogging, working on a short story, or even writing a stream of consciousness kind of thing can help. It keeps you in writing mode, but allows your brain to wonder somewhere else for a minute.

Research. Hopefully, you’ve already done a good deal of this before you start writing, but there’s always room for more. Reading something you haven’t gotten to yet (or rereading something) can help you invent new ways to mess with your characters or more detailed ways to describe their house. (Architecture books always help with building descriptions, FYI.)

Edit. Personally, I don’t like to edit what I’m working on until I’m done with it, but I will edit things I’ve already finished. Like the last point, this keeps you in creative mode and allows you to feel accomplished. Plus, since I hate editing, this is a nice way to ensure that it actually gets done and you don’t have to rush it when it comes time to submit to publishers, agents, contests, etc.

Talk about your work. This one is my favorite. Not only because I could talk most people under the table (including politicians), but also because this method seems to work the best for me. I don’t recommend talking about something you haven’t started. To me, it kind of kills the idea at inception.  It ends up being more like I’m telling the story, and at that point, it’s out of me and I lose the urge to revisit it. However, I do find that talking about what I’m in the middle of helps. Sometimes I don’t even have to have another person in the room; I just talk to myself. (Which probably makes me a little crazy, but aren’t we all? Just a little bit?) The questions people ask me about my story can help spark an idea. Plus, you can bounce ideas off of people before you settle on them. Or get ideas from the person you’re talking to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of a conversation, stopped and stared into space as an idea creeps in, then ran to my computer to write it down. It’s probably a little creepy for the person that has to watch me go from normality to a slack-jawed, glazed-eyes zombie, but oh well.

If any of the above methods don’t work for you, don’t panic. The inspiration will return. You might dream your way out of it later tonight (I love it when my subconscious fixes the problem for me), or your neighbor might do something so ridiculous that you just have to include it. It will happen.

How do you cope with writer’s block?


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