There’s a lot of advice out there on how to overcome writer’s block. Purdue OWL has, of course, a resourceful article you can access by clicking here. And just about every blogger dedicated to writing has posted an idea or two on how to outsmart this road block of discouragement. Among some of the more traditional advice, I’ve found four particular ideas very helpful:
1. Take a break. Stop thinking about writing. Take a shower. Or do some yoga. Or go for a walk. Get rid of all the pressure you feel to write and wait, passively, for something to occur to you. It will happen. And when it does, it will be genius!
2. Free-write. Ramble away at an irrelevant subject, or a plethora of irrelevant subjects. It’s fun and it warms up your writing muscles.
3. Respond to a writing prompt of your choice.
4. Change your location. Take your laptop outside or set up in another room. Go to the basement, or the roof, or to the park, or sit lakeside.
But, like all advice, this caters to the majority and while helpful, doesn’t always solve the problem. For me, writer’s block happens when I just don’t know what to write next or when I’m not in the mood to write anything… which usually happens when I don’t know what to write next. To rectify this, I ask myself the initial question: Why is it important that I write what comes next now?
We think in linear terms. Look at the timeline. It’s just a straight line. But we know everything in nature is cyclical, so why isn’t it a circle? History repeats itself, or so they say… but how can it when we never revisit where we’ve been? Likewise, every year we repeat the seasons, the months, the phases of the moon. But we don’t think of the New Year as coming around the bend; we think of it as starting over. Back at the beginning of the line.
It is in this respect that I often feel I need to write from beginning to end. Obviously, I get stuck. And because I don’t know what comes next, I stop writing. But what about skipping ahead? Jotting down a conversation I want my characters to eventually have, or even writing the ending? One time I abandoned my story and wrote the introduction to its nonexistent prequel. The story will come together when I organize it, and I can do that at any time. Right now it’s more important that I write, write, write.
What if you don’t know what happens in the future, either? What if your mind is blank, blank, blank?
This happens, too, and when it does, I make something absurd up. Sometimes the absurdity gets rewritten into the story somehow, sometimes it gets discarded, and sometimes it gets pushed into another project. Regardless of the outcome, it serves its purpose as the tool that cuts through the unrelenting heavy chain that swings between my willing mind and my writing goal.
What about you? What cures have you found for writer’s block?
- Writer’s Block (writerswritedaily.wordpress.com)
- Writer’s Block? (monalisareflections.wordpress.com)
- Sarah Moon and the Writer’s Block Redemption (moonchild11.wordpress.com)
- An Alternate View of Writer’s Block (bardicblogger.wordpress.com)
- Writers Block (realityorfantasyy.wordpress.com)
- Overcoming the evils of writer’s block! (sunshinesbloginsanity.wordpress.com)
- Random Whimsy – Treating Writers Block (emilyandthelime.wordpress.com)
- Writer’s Block: Inspiration No More (thecreativescribbler.wordpress.com)
- Writing Tips Wednesday – Writer’s Block? Seriously? (davefarmersblog.wordpress.com)
- Trying to Unblock & Prevent Writer’s Block (marcia-richards.com)
I do not believe credit is as important as some writers seem to consider it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t receive credit for what we produce; we should value ourselves and our skills enough to know when to fight for the credit we deserve. But that does not mean we should be solely focused on recognition when there are many other benefits to collaboration.
Recently, I’ve joined an interesting partnership in the adventures of book writing. The genre is one that I’m not very familiar with (these days- but more on that later) so I was hesitant to dive in and relieved when my job was clearly stated as “editor.” Sure, I’m creative, but when it comes to this particular type of story, I’d know I’d fall short. On the other hand, I know I can edit and revise any kind of writing with confidence.
But this was not to be. I am not just expected to edit and revise the draft- I am also someone with whom to brainstorm ideas. After we established this relationship, I could not help but feel inadequate. He has tons of great, original ideas and all I can usually say is, “Yup, that sounds good to me,” or “Makes sense, yes.” Finally, he asked if I was still interested in the project.
“Of course I am!” I insist. “But my brain is uncharacteristically blank.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “It’s helpful just to have someone to bounce ideas off of.”
So now, I feel like a wall or worse, like the janitor in the show, House. Then I start to think about it. Without the janitor, House could never come up with a diagnosis. So in a way, I am a muse. A wall-like muse that can return bouncy ideas.
Somewhere in the middle of this rollercoaster ride of self-worth and deprecation, I realize that I can, in fact, come up with the occasional “good idea.” And so now I’ve tackled the challenge of the whole project- not just the revision process which, unfortunately, won’t start for at least a few weeks. And I’ve learned the uselessness of labels when it comes to collaborative efforts. In the end, the story is born from the collective consciousness of two or more people. If you insist on taking credit for a specific part of the final product, be prepared to step back and give credit to everyone else for their individual ideas (after a while, as you can imagine, it gets difficult to keep track anyway.)
In for a penny, in for a pound: I’ve realized that both of us just want to create this story. We are not limiting ourselves to specific responsibilities and instead are using all of our resources to make something great happen. In the end, it should be about:
* What we learned about the creative process
* What we learned about the writing process
* What we learned from each other
* What we were able to create
The journey to get to the final product matters just about as much as the story itself. There are a lot of opportunities out there for collaborative writing, but I think some people shy away from them in an effort to focus only on making a name for themselves. There is so much to learn from others- ignoring such opportunities would be a grave mistake for the open-minded student of writing.
Who do you write for?
Ideally, we probably all want to answer this with “my readers.” But who are they? And what if they don’t exist yet? How do we know who they are and what they want?
So, many of us end up writing for the critics. We attend the writing seminars, read the books on writing, try to learn from our favorite authors, and desperately try to avoid the mistakes that we learn make critics pounce.
But now the question is, what makes a critic?
I’m a critic. I judge the people and things in my life. Even the animals. For example, my husband and I constantly ridicule one of our dogs for an odd habit she embraces. Light and shadow fascinate her. She can spot reflections of light that the human eye would miss. And she’s always on point, always watching.
Because of this, her favorite pastimes are watching us do the dishes, read magazines, or mess around with our phones. The light that reflects from the stainless steel pots, the shiny paper, and the lit screen never fail to put on a show. She watches meticulously and dances around to maintain the best view. If the light reflects color in any way, she gets more excited and tries to catch it.
We complain that our dog is “special.” We sigh and scold her, often just to get her to leave us alone. But many times, if we’re not preoccupied with something else, we are greatly entertained by her. We sometimes watch her do this little light dance for a long time before we realize that we should be moving on with our lives.
So here we are, mocking our dog’s fascination with light while we sit fascinated with her. Critics can often be like this: pinpointing the flaws of another’s work while being entertained by it nonetheless. At the end of the day, they have compiled a list of complaints but often they’ve enjoyed themselves.
Will they always tell you this? Sometimes, but not always. The candid critics will give you both kinds of feedback; the sordid critics will give you the rundown on everything you did wrong.
So don’t let negative feedback discourage you, but don’t ignore it, either. All criticism can be constructive if you interpret it correctly. Just remember that the critics are your readers, too, and they often see more than they report back to you.
Don’t write solely for them, though. Write for yourself, your spouse, your dogs… whomever you wish. Once you complete your project and send it off for critical review, it won’t matter if you’ve tried to please the critics. The outcome is likely to be the same.
William Noble, in his book, Noble’s Book of Writing Blunders, discusses some methods to avoid when writing. The very first chapter is entitled, “Don’t Write for Your Eight-Grade Teacher.” He makes a valid point. We are taught the rules of writing, but not because we should follow all of them all the time. We’re taught them so that we can understand when it’s appropriate to abide by them and when it’s just as acceptable to break them.
In the same sense, if we write solely for the critics, we’re likely to stifle that creative spark that defines our writing.
© Alexis Jenny, 2011.
- 8 Tips for Dealing Calmly With Criticism, Something I Find Very Challenging (psychologytoday.com)
- 8 Tips for Dealing Calmly with Criticism. (happiness-project.com)
- Book Review: Noble’s Book of Writing Blunders (worddreams.wordpress.com)