Sunday, July 5, 2009

Do you have Writer's Block?

Recently on a writers’ forum I belong to, someone posted the question: Is there such a thing as ‘writer’s block and do you ever have it’? What writer has not stared at a blinking cursor, willing the words to appear on the screen and they just don’t come? What causes the logjam and how do you break through it? First, you have to understand why it’s happening.

One block to writing productively is not being 'in the moment'. IOW, distractions. I have this 'thing' where I have trouble writing if my husband is at home. The children are easy to chase away or threaten into silence. The spouse, not so much. His woodworking shop is right under our bedroom where my desk is. Try writing when the power saw is going on and off at random. Argh! At that point I might as well pack up and take the laptop to the library. Tough to get into 'the zone' when I'm constantly being yanked out of it.

Not being in the right emotional frame of mind to begin with is another biggie. When I can, if I'm in some intense emotional state, I skip to a scene where that applies and use the mood in my favor. If I'm feeling blue, I write the scene where all hope seems lost, a lover has been jilted, or someone has just died (with Gregorian chants playing on the CD). If I'm mad at someone or feeling vengeful, battle scenes are cathartic.

But the biggest 'block', for me at least, is often self-doubt. Another rejection letter can kick it in or a critique that knocks the wind from my sails just when I was in need of a boost. Suddenly, I ask myself why I even bother. I tell myself I'll never succeed, I can't finish this, my writing is crap. But then I realize that by not writing, by giving in, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's easier not to write - to fail - than to chisel away and forge ahead, to hope, to dream, to invest the time and take the risk. Give into it, and the pressure's gone. But so's the possibility of achieving that dream.

So, do any of you have writer's block and why?

Until later,



Anita Davison said...

I must say we are in tune here, Gemi. When I'm sad or emotional I write my tear-jerker scenes too. Those seem to flow best late at night. Nor can I work when my husband is in the house, cos I just know he's asking himself why I'm not doing something he considers more productive - like the washing!

Anonymous said...

Emotional turmoil in my romantic life is the biggest block I face. When my life reads like the jacket flap of the newest best selling drama, my brain turns to mush and I'm done! Sometimes I have to force myself to start writing again (and 98% of the time it's great stuff--go figure!)

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I'm with you, Julie. The best writing comes from living life fully, with all its ups and downs.

Anne Gilbert said...

I have "writer's blocks", too. More, recently, because there's been a lot of "family stuff" going on, and I've been expected to take care of some of it. It's mostly distraction, but also, because I'm getting toward the end of one of my "masterpieces", and don't exactly know how to end it, other than "and they lived happily ever after"(which is pretty much implied, anyway)
Anne G

Anonymous said...

OK – I’m at the other end of the spectrum.

This past weekend I was watching my fave Sunday news show, and one of the commentators was comparing politicians to athletes, saying that the successful ones needed three things: talent, drive, and focus. But that talented ones who lacked drive and focus were going to go NOWHERE.

I pretty much acknowledge that my writing talent is minimal. But brother, when I get stuck on something, that’s when I rely on my drive and focus – the two things that I do well, since I lack in talent!!

So when I’m stuck, I don’t write. I outline the scene to the fullest, including internal/external conflicts, secondary storylines, the characters’ physical placement/proximity, dialogue tags, etc. So that even though I haven’t “written” a word, I’ve pushed myself to do the little things that “write” my scene.

Cause as for me, I just can’t rely on my “talent”!

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Anne - nice to see you! Thanks for stopping in.

Dawna, research often helps unclog my brain in the way outlining helps you move forward. Sometimes finding just the right picture of a specific castle or tidbit of detail will inspire me. So long as I don't get distracted by all that interesting description of weaponry or armor and forget my writing altogether...

Ironista said...

A guy downstairs with a power saw is pushing the boundaries, definitely! At least I don't have to contend with that.

I think you have to understand what a complex process writing is, and work constantly on strategies, tactics and techniques to help you deal with it. You also find yourself revising your notions of how long it takes to produce something good.

Sometimes you can fully enter the space of a particular scene, sometimes you just can't. Sometimes you are processing things internally, and you are simply not ready to write a particular scene. I think it's important to be able to say, ok I can't work on this area, but what can I do today? Make some progress on something.

The self-doubt thing is always there in the background. I suspect even successful writers still suffer from it to some extent. I think one of the hardest things with long-form fiction is sustaining belief and interest in the project over the length of time it takes to execute.

But I tend to say to myself - ok, you can't go back now, you're hooked, you can sit there feeling sorry for yourself because your writing is crap and you will never succeed - or you can do something positive, however small, to move things forward.