Sunday, January 3, 2010

Writer's block

There are great disagreements over whether writer's block exists or not. Before discussing whether there is or there is not such a thing as writer's block, a standard definition has to be given. The fact is, writer's block means different things to different people.

Is writer's block simply an inability to write?

Then it is important to figure out the reason behind that inability to write.

  • Fear?
  • Exhaustion?
  • Inability to concentrate?
  • Lack of self-confidence?
  • Stress?

These all require their own solutions. Some may be psychological, some may be medical, some may be situational. Many of these will also be affecting other areas of the writer's life.

Does writer's block mean the words won't come for a particular work?

If it is piece-related -- that is, the writer can work on one piece but not another -- then it is important to analyze the piece.

Many writers will tell you that if you absolutely cannot continue a certain work, it may be that you've gone the wrong way on it. Maybe you've taken a turn that just doesn't work, and your subconscious is telling you this. Maybe the piece is just wrong for you. Maybe it's simply an absence of passion for that particular work.

In any of these cases, the writer must decide if the piece must be completed (is it under deadline? is it something the writer really wants to write?).

If so, the writer can then go back in the piece, figure out what is wrong with it, and bring passion back to the writing.

If not, the writer may prefer to file this piece under 'maybe later' and work on something else.

Does writer's block mean the writer just can't bring themselves to sit down to work?

This may have nothing to do with the writing itself, but the writer's situation.

  • Perhaps a change in scenery is required - writing in a park, with a pen and paper, for instance.
  • Perhaps the writer has too much nervous energy, in which case a walk or a run before writing may be of use, and may help clear the mind as well.
  • Perhaps the writer's method of writing causes pain -- carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, back problems; all these can make the physical act of writing impossible. There are ways around these, though, such as better ergonomic work areas, vocal recording or software, or a different means of writing.

Does writer's block exist?

Of course it does. Is it all in the mind? For the most part, probably. Just because something is 'all in the mind', though, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. But it also doesn't mean there is no cure.

The important thing to do is to figure out what is causing the block. Then the writer can decide how best to overcome it. Unfortunately, this requires either the ability to self-analyze or analytical help from an outside source.

My methods

The best way I've come up with to fight a non-medical writer's block is to write.

If I absolutely cannot put one word after the other for any reason, I write around it. Maybe I'll outline, maybe I'll write character sketches, maybe I'll write a story around the problem.

I've written stories to fill out characters and learn more about them. I've written plot summaries and synopses to figure out a plot point. I've written stories from the past to see how the past will affect the story's present. I've written stories from the future, to see the long-term effects this story will have on the characters.

In non-fiction writing, I will outline, sometimes to the nth degree, until I have a theme or a flow developing and I know where I'm going.

For medical writer's blocks?

See your doctor. These can include physical problems, such as pain when typing/writing/sitting at a desk; or mental problems, such as depression. These things must all be addressed, and you'll feel better for it.

Happy writing, everyone!

3 comments:

Niki said...

Fear causes mine. I even agonise over what to post on my blog. It doesn't compare to all these beautifully written blogs I read :o)
I want to become a successful children's author and this silly feeling keeps getting in the way. Very frustrating :o)

Jay said...

Exhaustion is the biggest obstacle for me. Physical tiredness is mostly about having a full time job, being a father and husband, and trying to find the time to write and sleep. But this is most easily overcome.

It's mental exhaustion that's tricky. Sometimes you can easily overcome by stepping away for a few days. Sometimes you need longer.

BJ said...

Niki, I'm sorry I missed your comment!

Fear is a big one. It's difficult - yet necessary - to overcome. Sometimes a writers group can help - but make sure it's a friendly one. You want people who will be supportive, not overly critical.

As for skill, I couldn't write children's books. My mind doesn't work that way. I know you could easily write a better children's book than I can. We all have our skills and our talents, and comparing ourselves to each other is like comparing apples and oranges.

Are you on Twitter? I follow one or two children's authors there, and I think talking to them might be helpful. One is Tara Lazar, who blogs at http://taralazar.wordpress.com/ Her Twitter ID is @taralazar

Dang. She's the only one I can think of right now, but I'm sure she can help you find more.

Hope this helps.

Jay:

Nice to see you here. :) I find that mental exhaustion can sometimes be helped by doing something different, maybe even physical. I might take one of the dogs out for a walk or play sudoku for a while, or just get out and spend time with people.

Mental health is very important. Not only can it affect your physical health, but it can affect your entire life. If you feel overstressed, or if the breaks just aren't helping, tell your doctor. That's not something you want to ignore.

I think the most important advice, though is: make time to laugh. It gives your heart and lungs good exercise and increases the serotonin that keeps your brain working smoothly.

(see how necessary that last adverb was? ;) )

Take care!