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
It’s difficult to write about deep painful emotions, even in our characters, unless we’ve experienced them. And, even then, it’s not an easy task.
Strong emotions can be overwhelming. Sometimes we numb ourselves or run away in order to avoid our feelings. I used to do that until I realized on some level that the emotions would fester inside me until I actually did the work of processing my feelings and healing myself. The advantage of doing this when you’re a writer is that you can use what you learn about your emotions to deepen your characters. I wrote about this earlier in “Draw on personal pain to write believable characters.”
But I want to delve deeper into this subject today because I’m working on a scene in my novel where I’m trying to understand the complicated grief my antagonist has about his sister’s death and how it motivates him to do bad things.
Grief is one of the most complicated emotions because it can have shades of guilt, shame, anger, and other feelings mixed in. Read more
Developing our curiosity can serve to make us not only more interesting people but also better writers and more creative artists.
Being curious has helped me dig deeper in my writing, develop an authentic voice, and create more well-rounded characters. It has also improved my relationships and, overall, made me a happier person.
When I was younger, if someone started talking about a subject I wasn’t interested in (history, westerns, reptiles), I’d listen but my attention would wander after a while. Over the years, I learned to look at these exchanges from a different perspective.
I started asking myself, “What can I learn from this person about this subject that I didn’t know before?” Then I’d listen and ask questions. Suddenly, everything became much more interesting, including me! These types of interactions can also be mining grounds for future story ideas and character traits.
Artists need to be curious about their world, but with the stress and busyness of our daily lives, how do we maintain our child-like sense of wonder and curiosity?
Here are a few exercises that have helped me:
- Have an open mind.
Practice looking at things, people, and situations with a clear, open mind. When you find yourself judging someone, let go of the judgment. Instead, ask questions. Read more
I’ve dabbled in poetry off and on since my late teens. I’ll go through spurts of massive writing stints followed by some lean months, depending on what’s going on in my life. Over the years, writing and reading poetry has improved my mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Writing poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, or even a blog post makes me happier, calmer, more peaceful, and less stressed. When I’m writing, everything is right with my world. If I go too long without writing, I can tell because I get grumpy! When I feel the grumps coming on, it’s my sign to start writing-—even writing a blog post will get me smiling again.
Research is just starting to reveal what poets and writers have known for centuries.
From the NPR article, Can Poetry Keep You Young? “The early evidence suggests that the arts have positive cognitive, social, and emotional impact on older adults.”
When I’m in the flow of my writing—whether it’s poetry, fiction, or nonfiction—it’s like being infused in a certain healing frequency….like a cat purring on my lap. (Fun fact: Did you know that cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz? Researchers have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing. Scientific American)
In the NPR article, one poetry workshop participant said, “Poetry helped me begin to focus how I felt about losing my son. When you lose, you also remember what you had before the loss. And so poetry allows you to begin to look at a relationship, at what was of value to you.”
Roadwork has been going on in front of my house for over eight weeks—horrendous dust and dust storms, constant machine noise, speeders that don’t slow down for road conditions, dirt embedded inside and outside my car, and layers of dust covering my house and property. I can’t sit out on my beautiful deck without inhaling copious amounts of dust (not good for someone with asthma). And, their big trucks wake me every morning by 7:30. Maybe the upside is I might finally become a morning person?
I’ll be happy when it’s over and I’ll appreciate the new services. I’m not complaining… well, maybe a little…but I’m writing about this because I was horrified to realize this morning that I’ve become used to all this noise and commotion.
As I’m typing, my house is shaking. Vibrating. The sound of a jackhammer like an angry bird beating its wings against my windows. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat. Read more
Recently, I was notified that my poem “Butterfly House” was awarded Honorable Mention in the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition. The poem is in my newly released book of poetry, “The Dragon & The Dragonfly” and was one of those poems that came quickly.
I’d decided to celebrate my late husband’s birthday by going to the Butterfly Museum at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. I’d never heard of the museum until the week before when a friend mentioned it. I decided it would be the perfect adventure for the day to honor his transition into his “new” life and to honor my struggle to find my own new life. I say struggle because I wasn’t there yet, but I knew this is what I wanted—to find my way forward.
It was a truly magical experience. At one point, I just stood with my arms outstretched and waited for a butterfly to land on me. Several came and went, but one—a big orange and black monarch—stayed for a while on my hair. Just call me butterfly whisperer. Read more
My stomach burns like I just chugged a dregs-of-the-coffee-pot cup of joe that is now eating a hole through my intestines to the center of the earth. Or maybe there’s a mouse on uppers doing a nervous, jittery tango in there. Or maybe both.
Why do I feel this way? Because I’m about to push the “publish” button on my first book of poetry, The Dragon & The Dragonfly.
I’ve been writing poetry off and on for 35 years, published my work in journals, and won numerous awards, so it’s not like I’m a newbie fresh out of school. But the thought of sharing my very personal poetry was making me doubt my decision to create this book, this permanent record of my words, this revealing of my soul.
I think this is a natural feeling shared by most writers and artists. And something that new artists can be especially concerned about—what if Uncle John or Grandma Ellen reads my words?
So how do you get over this fear of exposing too much of yourself? I don’t think you ever do. Any time we put something new out into the world, there’s a certain vulnerability in that but also a sense of freedom. Read more