Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Block

This week I’m gonna talk about the big one: writer’s block. This is the general term that blankets everything from procrastination to an unproductive day. It’s kind of like the magic words. You say, “I’m blocked,” and everyone else goes, “Oooh, we feel for you.” You’re blocked; you can’t write. Sympathy in a box.

But writer’s block isn’t always an excuse. Often you want you write, you even know what you want to say, but the words won’t come.

The Block isn’t as complex as it seems. Honest. Part of the reason it’s such a pain is because there are different kinds, and no one solution fixes all. Think of it this way: if you know you’ve got allergies, not a head cold, you can get the right prescription. You may sneeze either way. But that doesn’t mean the same medicine will work both times.

So. Here’s the common symptoms/cures of The Block.


Do you…feel the need to write, but you don’t have the mental energy? You as the writer feel frustrated, or even guilty, over the fact that you can’t get anything down. You feel tired.

You’ve got…burnout. This is common after long stretches of intense writing or revising.

Fix it with…a few days, weeks, or even a few months of R&R. For a quick fix, read some books, listen to music, or take a day to people-watch. For the long run, relax and immerse yourself in the world. Anne Lamont calls this “recharging.” It’s natural and guiltless, so chill. Go read a book or something. Tell yourself it’s OK to take a break. The words will come back.


Are you...reluctant to get started? Do you gnaw over your ideas, telling yourself you need to do more research first?

You’re...procrastinating. Either you’re afraid to explore this particular story, or you’re too lazy to make yourself write. Tsk tsk.

Get writing…well, just get writing. Tell yourself to produce at least 500 words a day for starters, and keep pushing the envelope. Remember: Butt In Chair. This is the act of sitting down, every day, and saying “I am not getting up until I write this scene.” Get yourself writing, and do not let yourself stop. *cracks whip.* Now move!


Has your…story come to a standstill? The plot isn’t moving. You’re not sure where to go next, and the characters aren’t cooperating. Or maybe you’re struggling to write this interesting story but you aren’t making much progress.

You’re…blocked. No, I mean it – you’re actually blocked. Your plot is waffling, your characters smothering, and your muse just took a hike.

Try…brainstorming. Target the part of your writing that is giving you the most grief. You might need some inspiration, or you might need a change of setting. Try interviewing your characters. Throw a ticking bomb in the room and see what happens. Loosen up and toss some ideas around. If you’re following an outline, let it go for a bit. If you have no outline whatsoever, try writing one.


Those are the main types of writer’s block. But there are others. You may get blocked during the middle of your novel, or you may loose confidence after a harsh critique, and find you can’t write. You may force yourself to write “for the market,” while the whole time your real story is quietly smoldering.

If you’re blocked and you still don’t know why, sit back. Evaluate. How do you feel? What are you having trouble with? Is it a problem with your story, with your abilities, your schedule, or your emotions? Make sure to:

A) Take some time off and recharge, or

B) Brainstorm/work through the problem.


Get experimental and see what works.


-Creative A

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