I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pondering Writer's Block


writer’s block (noun) : a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.


My name is Heidi and I am paralyzed by the fear of deadlines. I didn't realize it (or I was in denial) until a few weeks back when I had a startling revelation while commenting on another blog post. Apparently, it terrifies me that my favorite authors’ books are often available for pre-order on Amazon when I know for a fact they are still being written.  Deep down, I know once I actually publish something, I will be subject to these kinds of deadlines. This has, I think, led to an extended period of writer’s block.

Writer’s block happens for a variety of reasons, from physical problems to mental blocks to simply trying to do too many things at once. Whatever the cause, it can be incredibly frustrating to know you have a story to tell, yet be unable to tell it.

I wish my fear of deadlines was my only problem. I know I regularly take on more projects than my physical limitations allow and I never seem to get enough sleep. In addition, during the cold, gray months of winter, I often feel like my creativity is hibernating.

So, with Spring scheduled to, well, spring next week, I’d like to share a few suggestions to beat the block.
  1. Treat writing like it’s your career and schedule yourself to work, preferably at the same time every day. Then, show up.
  2. Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself permission to write badly.
  3.   Remove as many distractions as possible. Disconnect your computer from the Internet if you have to.
  4. Set deadlines. If it helps, find a partner and set goals together. It doesn’t have to be another writer; I have a friend who is a painter and we just figured out we both struggle to make our art a priority. We recently agreed to pray for and encourage each other as we try to attain our goals.
  5. Consider your writing space; make sure your chair is comfortable and your desk is well-lit. If you are struggling at a desk, charge your laptop and go to a coffee shop or head outside to the patio.
  6. Try writing the old-fashioned way: on a notepad, with a pen or pencil.
  7. Watch your favorite movie and take notes. Find the lies the characters believe and the black moment. Rewrite the ending.
  8. Talk over your story with a non-writer friend. Put on your thickest skin and then give your friend permission to give you brutally honest feedback.
  9. Go for a walk or a run. There's nothing like some fresh air and exercise to get the creative juices flowing. I know a lot of writers who do their best thinking when they're sweating.
  10. Remind yourself why you write. Read my fellow Ponderer Melissa's recent post and ask yourself the WHY questions.
Above all else, remember that by its very definition, writer’s block is usually temporary. The sun will shine, and the words will come. But, if all else fails, call Writer's Block 9-1-1 or download this free e-book on breaking through 20 Creative Blocks.

Your turn:  What do you think causes writer's block? What do you do when you are blocked?

21 comments:

  1. Those are great suggestions, especially number 2. Many times writers expect perfection the first round. It's called a rough draft for a reason.

    For me, writer's block usually happens when I don't know my characters well enough. By digging deeper into their backstories, I find their true motivations for doing what they're doing, and that helps get the writing going again.

    When I'm stumped, housework helps me work through plot issues. I remember cleaning my basement and getting a revelation that completely changed my WIP at the time and for the better.

    So, do you still feel paralyzed by writer's block? Have you been able to move forward with your story?

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  2. Heidi, wonderful post. :) I find that sometimes I have writer's block because I am not sure where my story should go next. Plotting it out ahead of time helps me a lot.

    I also find that my mind whirs when I'm in the shower. Character's and scenes come to mind when the water flows over me. :)

    I've heard that just writing something helps with writer's block. I definitely agree with your thought about giving yourself permission to write badly. I call it my "ugly copy." :)

    I hope your writing comes together as you move forward with it! :)

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  3. I think not being sure where the story should go (not doing enough detailed advance plotting)is a big factor. Another is being too busy, juggling too many balls in the air at once and some of them falling and hitting our head. As always, I enjoy your humor.

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  4. Like everyone else said, writer's block usually occurs for me when I don't know what that scene is supposed to do. Instead of using the round peg into a square hole mentality, I put it down and let my brain work it out. I often wake up the next morning with a whole new thought! And believe me its much better!
    Thanks for your wonderful insight.

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  5. Loved these suggestions! I usually find the "block" comes when I'm exhausted by and burned out with writing. Sometimes I just have to take a mini-break from writing. Then I come back to it refreshed, and my words can flow again.

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  6. Great post, Heidi! Like Jennie, most of my revelations come when I first wake up. Sometimes I even dream about the problem and I can hear Susie or Rachel asking, "Why?". lol

    I came back from DT fired up and ready to write my fast draft...only to have life interrupt. Did you know if you're put to sleep even for only a few minutes, your brain takes several days to wake up? :)

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  7. These are such great ideas, Heidi! (Oh, and thanks for the shout out too!) I think my biggest form of fear-turned-writers-block is that what I've written just isn't good enough...and so I avoid it...but once I dig in, I absolutely love revising. So, I know it's a silly fear. I usually just force myself to get over it (usually after some pop, sugar and a good talking to from my mom or someone!)...and prayer!!

    One thing that really helps me blot out distractions is a program on my computer that allows me to shut off the internet for however long I need. It's called Freedom and only costs like $10. Basically, when you want to lock yourself out of the internet, you click on the program, then enter how long you want to be blocked. (I know, I could probably just turn off my router or something, but I'm always worried about messing something up. This program makes it easy for me.)

    I've also found that I simply have to schedule writing time. I can't assume it'll happen sometime in the week.

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  8. Brainstorming with someone else -- best way to beat writer's block, ever! Works for me every time.

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  9. Lisa~

    Confession: I clean house to AVOID writing. I think to myself that I can't possibly concentrate with dishes in the sink or whatever other mess I can use to justify NOT writing. It's pretty sad.

    I am still afraid of the deadline thing, but I am praying and asking God to quiet that fear. At this time I am so buried in other projects (namely finishing my last 2 classes for my AA and figuring out where to go from here, etc.) that I haven't had (made?) time to actually write. I have been researching...I have a couple of books in the car and I read them and make notes whenever I have to wait on someone or something.

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  10. Jeanne~

    Like you, I can think clearly in the shower or a bubble bath. It's as if the water blocks out all the other stuff that usually distracts me. And I think you are right; writing ANYTHING helps. One blog I read suggested writing (with actual pen/pencil on paper) the following lines, as many times as needed to "break" the block:

    •I am still a writer
    •I still have the ability to write
    •I will write again

    I think this does 2 things--it gets you writing something, and it reminds your brain that you ARE a writer. I can still remember my 9th grade English teacher (who made us free-write for ten full minutes a day, everyday) telling us that if we got stuck and couldn't think of anything else, to simply write our last word over and over.

    She told us that to write, we needed to write. Something. Anything. Good advice, even almost 30 years later!

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  11. Dee~

    You nailed it. Too little planning, too many other things going on. and I've definitely been hit on the head by falling balls! For instance, in addition to writing and commenting on my blog, I have 3 papers (750-1000 words), 3 "CheckPoints" (200-350 words), and a 1500-1700 word final paper due by Sunday night at midnight AND I'm throwing a joint birthday party for my two teenage sons (complete with cooking lunch and decorating two birthday cakes) on Sunday afternoon. All I REALLY want to do is sleep!!

    Needless to say, I'm a little dizzy...

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  12. Jennie!

    That's exactly it: square peg in a round hole! It NEVER works to try and force it. When I was teaching cosmetology apprentices, I told them they needed to get a full 8 hours of sleep every night while they were learning something new. That's how the brain sorts it all out. So, it makes sense that setting our writing aside and getting a good night's sleep would help us sort out our story. Thanks for the GREAT idea!!

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  13. Lindsay~

    I think it definitely helps some people to take a mini-break from writing, especially if they are burned out. Some people (ME) run the risk of a mini-break turning into a major-break, lol. So those people (ME) would need to make sure to have a set time to return to their writing. I love the idea of coming back to my writing feeling refreshed! =)

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  14. Pat~

    I'm so sorry! But just think: when your brain wakes up, you won't need your glasses to write!

    Life interrupting is my pet peeve when it comes to my writing. There always seems to be something! Sometimes I wish I had a ton of money so I could check myself into a nice hotel while I write. Someone else to make my bed and bring me my meals, and no distractions...wouldn't that be heavenly?!

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  15. Melissa!

    Thank you for the suggestions. I will definitely be looking into it, for me AND for my boys. (They often spend more time on Facebook than on their Spanish homework!) The Freedom program sounds like something that would be incredibly beneficial.

    Also, thank you for writing that post I mentioned. It was nice to know that I'm not the only one who absolutely can NOT write. As soon as I get through this weekend, I am going to sit down and ask myself the WHY questions! =)

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  16. Beth~

    I completely agree! There is nothing that gets me more fired up than a good brainstorming session! I think it even helps me when I brainstorm another writer's story. Anything to get those creative juices flowing!!

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  17. My writer's block is named Watson. :-) How do you guys write with kids???? Seriously! I have a hard enough time with this crazy 40 lb puppy!

    Great post, Heidi. My biggest problem with getting the writing done is probably that I tend to think that I need a big chunk of time to do it. So with work, housework, the dog, and life, it can be too easy (though very frustrating) to push writing way down the list.

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  18. Wow, Jenness, you NAMED your writer's block!! Does it help? Because if it does, I'm so naming mine!!

    Obviously, I DON'T write with kids, lol. In all seriousness, I am hoping to be better. By the end of next week I will be done with school (for now) and things will settle down a bit. I'm like you; I think I need a block of time, even though Lisa always reminds us we only need 15 minutes.

    I also feel like I need a clean and organized space to write. It that's the case, I will NEVER write!! Actually, my hubby and sons are helping me dig out of our hovel.) Honestly, sometimes I feel like I'm one newspaper from a guest appearance on Hoarders. But I am optimistic that before long I will be sitting at my computer knocking out word counts so I have something awesome to bring to ACFW in September. =)

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  19. I really enjoyed this post, cuz it's true.

    Like LJ I agree with #2 No ones first rough draft is good. It's all that "writing is re-writing" stuff again.

    It does help to have a partner to keep you accountable and to encourage. I'm still looking for mine.

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  20. Great suggestions, all. Thanks!! Numbers: 1,2,9 + 10 are the ones that work best for me, and the ones I most often call upon.

    I also have a non-writer friend who is embarking on a new business. We've prayed for these dreams of ours for years, and kick some butt, too. Wouldn't want to be without her love and support!

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  21. Haha, Heidi! No, that's the name of my new dog, because he takes way more time than I thought he would. But naming writer's block...there's a thought. It would be something German, I think.

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