Writer’s block. Real or imaginary?
I’ve heard different definitions of writer’s block over the years, but I think my favorite is from writer and teacher Victoria Nelson in her book On Writer’s Block. Writer’s block is often our subconscious mind’s way of letting us know something isn’t right, Nelson says.
I’ve definitely experienced this kind of writer’s block. Years ago, I was working on my memoir and I got to a point where I just couldn’t write anymore. I was totally blocked. So I stopped and thought about Nelson’s words and discussed my problem with a fellow writer. I finally realized that my memoir was focused on the wrong person! It took me two attempts to fix it but when I finally got it right, the story just flowed from me. Poof! My writer’s block was gone.
But not all writer’s blocks are created equal. A writer can experience what I call minor writer’s block. Nothing major is wrong, but when you sit down to write you feel resistance to putting words on paper. This mostly happens to me when I’m working on a project that feels scary or outside my wheelhouse—when I am stretching my comfort zone.
How do you conquer this kind of writer’s block? I’ve tried different things over the years, including: Read more
What if your creativity came from a place greater than you—a source of inspiration that never let you down?
Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that art was born out of a divine conduit—or genius. People weren’t geniuses but tapped a divine spirit to create their art.
In Plato’s time, the concept of creativity didn’t exist. Instead, Greeks saw art as a form of discovery through a muse that mediated inspiration from the Gods—a benevolent guiding spirit linked to the divine.
The idea of a muse may be why some artists think they can’t create until they’re inspired.
Don’t wait for your muse to appear. Call it out.
Something magical happens when we put an intention out into the world to create. Dorothea Brande knew this when she said, “Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.” Read more
Actually that is a lie. There’s plenty of crying in writing. You know those days. You want to bang your head against the wall, throw yourself on the floor, and kick and scream like a toddler having a supermarket meltdown.
We love the moments when everything flows and every sentence feels pristine with jewel-like words and images. Everything is clicking into place. But we have plenty of days when that’s not going to happen.
The sentences on the page aren’t matching up with the vision in your mind. That’s usually a sign of overthinking, trying too hard, or getting too analytical instead of staying in your wild mind. (To learn more about how you can practice writing with a wild mind, read Natalie Goldberg’s book, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.)
Have a little cry if you want and then try these tips:
Put yourself in your story. Regain your connection with your plot by inhabiting scenes as you write them. Visualize yourself in a scene as you write it. Taste, touch, and smell the action. Now reveal the sensory images as you write the scene. Read more
It happens to all of us.
You’re working on your manuscript and you get stuck. The writing feels clunky. Something isn’t working. This is when you must duck and cover.
“Duck and cover” is the term author Pam Lewis coined to describe her process of jumpstarting her writing when she’s become stuck.
“I open a blank page on my computer and ask myself, ‘What’s going on in the scene?’ I close my eyes and watch the characters and hear them.”
In her current manuscript, Lewis said she used the technique to figure out what a character was doing in a particular scene. But she realized the technique helped her see what mattered to the character and the character’s emotional state. With her eyes closed, Lewis saw that the character’s hands were trembling, she was sweaty, and didn’t smell good.
Duck and cover can be a way of accessing the sensory details of your scenes.
Lewis is the author of A Young Wife, Perfect Family, and Speak Softly, She Can Hear.
Watch the scenes of your novel as though they were a movie, Lewis says. Start by writing the action or what the character is thinking or feeling. Sometimes Lewis writes random dialogue to get the sentences flowing again. “It almost always offers something useful, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m writing about at the moment.”
“Even more important than what the characters say sometimes is what they do and their facial gestures,” Lewis says.
For more ideas to break through writing resistance, read Four tips to defeat your writing funk.
Fight the blank page!
In previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to pre-plan for National Novel Writing Month, where writers strive to produce a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. While some writers create an outline, nail down character sketches, devise a story question, and outline their novel’s setting, others like to dive in on day 1 and just start typing.
Regardless of where you’re at, the blank page can be a terrible thing.
You may be saying, “How can I not have a blank page? It starts out that way — blank.” True. But just don’t let it stop you.
Don’t let the blank page stay blank for more than a second. Type something. Anything.
- The date
- A random sentence
- A description or a few words of the setting where your novel begins or your first scene takes place.
- A list of your characters’ names
- A working title for your novel
- A logline if you’ve created one.
By the way, this mental trick can be a great way to start any writing project. A letter, an essay, a marketing piece, a work assignment, or a blog post. Write something that you already know will be in the piece, even if it’s just a paragraph or a random idea about the project. If you don’t know the beginning, start in the middle or the end. You’ll come back later and fill in the gaps, because every piece of writing begins as a draft.
Don’t let the blank page deter you from your NaNoWriMo or any other writing goal.
Sometimes my brain circuitry feels like it’s got a short in it. It went on vacation and left me home. Or it’s buzzing and I just can’t settle down. Or, I’m just stumped about what direction I should go with a story or poem.
Has this ever happened to you? If so, consider trying a few of these strategies.
1. Change tools. If you’re tapping out your sentences on your computer, pick up a pen or pencil and write by hand in a notebook. For that matter, some people enjoy typing on an actual typewriter. Read more