“My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline.”
When did you last get held up by a chronic case of writer’s block?
For me, it was last week. I finished the two books I’ve planned to launch this summer. I now have to sit down and write the next book in the series.
And instead of writing, I spend my days “networking”.
So what’s a Writer’s Block?
I’m talking about that terrible pause between staring at a blank screen or a white page, and beginning to fill it up with words. For some people, that pause can last for an hour, or a week, and for others it lasts a lifetime.
How many people do we hear telling us that they have a great idea for a novel, but haven’t yet got around to putting pen to paper? Or that they are scared to write in case what comes out of their pen isn’t very good?
To kill that block, we need to understand where it comes from.
Why Does it Happen and What can We Do?
The following 5 reasons cause my personal blockage. I’ll start with the easiest ones to overcome.
When I first set out writing, I used to sit and wait for the muse to hit. I’d watch people, films, or my own life with interest, wondering what event or snippet of conversation would spark off that beautiful rollercoaster of creativity in me, and prompt me to sit down and pour out magnificent words.
Watching the 10th re-run of the “Seven Samurai”, I’d find myself wondering if Kurosawa’s inspired genius would ever touch me. I still kept wondering about that while watching the 15th rerun of his “High and Low”.
The problem I see with writing is that folks often perceive it as an artistic craft, like painting or creating music.
My solution: in my experience, good writing comes from a much more menial and downtrodden place. It’s a product of:
Without those three seemingly boring things, no writing will happen and the stumped author will find himself drifting through the years without ever having penned that fantastic idea and turned it in to a book.
The time will pass, just like it passes for everyone else, and nothing will get produced.
Or – even worse for you – someone else will execute the idea.
Here’s what I believe: when you get inspired with an idea, I guarantee you that someone, somewhere in the word, gets equally inspired with the same idea. Success becomes a race to execute, and the person who can manage his writer’s block wins.
You may be blessed with a serene setting in which to do your writing. A quiet room with Alps stretching out into the distance outside your window. An invigorating smell of coffee coming from the kitchen operated by soft-spoken servants. An efficient, calm assistant handling your email.
As for me, I work 12-hour days in a multi-national corporation. I have a wife and 3 kids. I don’t have a room where I don’t trip over plush Mickey-Mice and where Dora the Exlorer’s lovely voice doesn’t reach deep into my brain. My window faces a lively street where my neighbors blow their Vuvuzelas and party through the nights.
Whoever said Switzerland was quiet?
My solution: I kill that noise with more noise of my own. I bought some bad-boy earphones. I come out to the living room to write, or I go to the city center café’s. I write in the midst of chaos that my kids create, as they attach playing dough to my keyboard and little pink heart stickers to my forehead.
I used to bemoan the turmoil, but these days I welcome the noise. I feed on it. It helps smash the writer’s block right out of my way.
10 years ago, I envisioned an epic story of an Aztec warrior shaman leading the fight against the Spanish invasion. So I spent my time planning my epic.
My research led to more research, which, in turn, led to more research. I visited a Mexican town after a town. I spoke to a person after a person. I’ve read most of the primary sources, and a fair number of secondary interpretations.
And when the time came to produce, I got stuck.
Stuck big time. I spent the next few months playing video games in a massive case of writer’s block.
I could hear the word “epic” no more. I couldn’t write a single sellable word.
I’ve completed an epic piece of research, and the scale of my intended story had terrified me out of my mind. I wasn’t writing. Instead, I was planning to go epic.
My solution: I whipped out my old story blueprint. Then I split it into five smaller, independent parts.
I wrote the first “Dance” of my “Five Dances with Death” in fix months, writing between work and family. The block evaporated.
Did my years of epic research help me write fast? You bet. But allowing myself not to be epic made all the difference.
This is the most difficult one of all. It comes from falling victim to your health, social pressures, relationships, and anything else.
I’ve gone through this block every time I’ve moved countries (and I did that a lot), after my divorce, and even after promotions at work.
This is the sort of writer’s block that can’t be resolved with a simple “keep writing” piece of advice. It establishes a stronghold deep in our hearts and grows with our attempts to fight it.
It feeds on our very despair with it.
My solution: give it time. Relax and let it go. Spend your emotional energy re-kindling the romance in your family. Go silly with the kids. Finally go to those wonderful giant rocks in the sea around Phuket.
Every time I’ve been besieged by this sort of block, a moment came when I casually opened my laptop, and the writing just started working again.
This hasn’t been much of an issue for me on a grand scale (whether this is a good thing I’ll not judge), but I’ve experienced it in small ways here and there.
The problem usually manifests itself in being unable to face the page after receiving a glowing review. I’m a hopeless perfectionist, and the thought of under-delivering fills my stomach with butterflies, paralyzes my fingers, makes my eyeballs go off the page and onto some mindless internet forum.
My solution:I convince myself that the success was accidental, and begin forming words one after the other on paper again.
A great thing to remember here is that not many people on this Earth look at their own work and sigh in satisfaction. We can’t judge our own writing, so we just have to write enough to ensure we have stuff that’s worth someone else taking a look at, to judge it on our behalf.
To close, here are 5 Tips that, at least for me, kill the writer’s block:
- Have a Story Symbol on your desk. In my case, it’s a silver-coated statuette of an Aztec warrior. Every time I place it on the desk, a magical thing happens: I feel compelled to tell the story.
When I write my “paranormal” chapters, I add a black obsidian mirror. Its smoky surface, and the mysterious flair it gives to reflections, fascinate me.
- Partake. I write my scary passages after midnight, alone in the room, with my back to the door. This makes my skin crawl, and I fight the desire to look behind my shoulder and check if someone indeed stares at me from there.
When I write about my characters drinking, I drink. When they socialize, I go to a café to write. When they’re angry, I whip myself up into frenzy over something.
The writer’s block stands no chance.
- Do your kids proud. I don’t know about you, but I have surprisingly supportive pre-teens. I don’t let them read my stories, but they do get excited when folks react well to my writing.
Put against being a cool dad, the writer’s block dissolves.
- Make your writing time valuable. I hear folks lose all productivity when an empty day stretches out before them, just like an empty page.
Because I have so little time to write, I have little time for the writer’s block.
- Outline. It sounds unromantic, but I want to know what to write next.
A writer’s block doesn’t survive next to an exciting blueprint of a novel; and if at any time I get stuck writing the middle, I can get all stirred up writing the finale, or a prologue. It doesn’t matter what I write – I have the plan.
How about you? What issues and solutions have you found?