It’s been a while since I blogged. I don’t like to go this long between entries, but life happens. Actually, the past few days I’ve been in a dither about what to blog about. I have a jim-dandy idea for a future entry, but it just doesn’t seem to be ripe enough to pick yet. Writers will understand that analogy.

Yesterday I asked my Facebook friends for ideas. LaRae suggested old movies, fiction, old music, my grandkids. That rather surprised me because I really doubt most of you would be interested in that sort of thing, other than my occasional brief outbursts on those topics on Facebook. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll give it a try. Other suggestions included what an editor does (maybe eventually), John Wooden, and e-books (no, Tami, no!)

Yvette Schneider, another Facebook friend, thought the answer was obvious. Since I was having a hard time knowing what to blog about, she suggested writer’s block. That certainly seems appropriate, so let’s take a brief look. First, let me say that those of you who are going to exit my blog now because writer’s block isn’t a problem for you are very blessed. Most authors, at some point in their writing lives, do suffer from writer’s block. I sure do—and I hate it. Sometimes it manifests itself as simple procrastination (“Gee, the lawn needs mowing, I’ll write later” or “Say, I wonder if the dentist can get me in for that root canal today”). Sometimes it’s pure laziness. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it might be ADD. But whatever the reason, the main thing to consider is that life for a writer is way too short to waste time on writer’s block. At present I have more than fifty potential writing projects on my writing “bucket list.” Certainly not all will see the light of day before I die, but one thing is sure: the more time I allow writer’s block to paralyze me, the fewer of these stellar life-changing potential Pulitzer Prize winners will find their way into print.

Clearly, every writer who experiences writer’s block must devise a strategy to overcome it. You really must. We really must. The several times I’ve made myself sit down, shut up, stop doubting myself, and tap the keys on my keyboard, I’ve come up with some very nice material. It’s getting started that’s a killer when one is suffering from writer’s block. Many writers get past their block by simply staying seated at their keyboard no matter what. As I was channel surfing this past weekend, Book TV was interviewing the author of the biography of children’s author, Dr. Seuss. I can only paraphrase what I heard, but it was something to the effect that Ted Geisel (Dr. Suess’s real name) sat in his chair writing for eight hours a day, block or no block. Or as one quote from Ron Carlson observes: “The secret is not leaving the room.”

I won’t tell you how to devise your particular strategy to overcome writer’s block. I’m sure it’s very much an individual matter. What works for me may or may not work for you. But I will share what has worked for others—and for me—in hopes that something here may help you on your way back to productivity. So here’s some advice from some of the masters of the craft:

* “When I feel difficulty coming on, I switch to another book I’m writing. When I get back to the problem, my unconscious has solved it.” Isaac Asimov

* “When I have trouble writing, I step outside my studio into the garden and pull weeds until my mind clears—I find weeding to be the best therapy there is for writer’s block.” Irving Stone [Nick adds: I do not pull weeds, but I find a nice long walk or even a drive will sometimes do the same for me]

* “I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out.” Roy Blount, Jr.

* “I believe that the so-called ‘writing block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance … one should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing … I can imagine a person beginning to feel he’s not able to write up to that standard he imagines the world has set for him. But to me that’s surrealistic. The only standard I can rationally have is the standard I’m meeting right now … You should be more willing to forgive yourself. It doesn’t make any difference if you are good or bad today. The assessment of the product is something that happens after you’ve done it.” William Stafford

For me, in addition to walking or driving, sometimes reading a writer I love helps. After all, as writer Hart Crane observed, “One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment.” Sometimes by reading the words of others, our own internal word processer is given a jumpstart. On some occasions, I’ll even attempt to overcome writer’s block by opening up a favorite novel and typing a few paragraphs verbatim. That seems to get me in the flow of writing—and that, it seems to me, is the basic problem with writer’s block: it’s a stoppage of the flow.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have bouts of writer’s block? How do you deal with it? Can you recount a time when you made yourself break through only to be astonished at how good the results were?

6 replies
  1. Kathy Nickerson says:

    Actually, working on a blog entry usually gets things flowing for me. I have two short columns due at the same times every week, so the need to discipline my art is ever-present. Those noon deadlines are great block-busters.

  2. Lynn Dean says:

    Writer’s block, for me, is usually a matter of life getting in the way of writing or or having painted myself into a plot corner. I can’t think creatively if I’ve got pressing duties hanging over my head.

    What has worked in the past is to go ahead and take care of the pressing duties, BUT not before distilling the writing problem du jour down to a simple question I can mull over as I work. I can do chores and interview a troublesome character. I can run errands and also make a mental list of five “other” things that could happen next.

    Usually by the time the chore is done, I have new ideas to get excited about.

    The other thing I find helpful is being a member of a critique group. This provides a subtle deadline–fifteen pages a week, a polished chapter each month–something so “do-able” there’s really no excuse. My crit partners are understanding when life really does get in the way, but I hate to let them down and miss the opportunity for great feedback.

  3. Michael K. Reynolds says:

    Nick…it’s always good to hear from you. For our benefit, I hope your victory in this area amounts to many more BLOG entries.

    Writer’s Block has not been a significant struggle for me, but I am challenged with Time Block. I work best when I can carve out significant blocks of time to be able to tune out the world’s distractions and get into the writing zone.

    In the reality of my busy life and with kids and a wife who deserve my attention this can be challenging. So, I’m learning how to get in the zone much quicker in order to be productive with smaller chunks of available writing time. It’s a work in progress.

  4. Rebecca LuElla Miller says:

    One thing that moves me past my fear (yes, that’s my primary stumbling block) is reading or re-reading a writing instruction book. Or talking to a writing partner about writing in general or my WIP in particular. Just contemplating aspects of writing is motivation for me.


  5. Nicole says:

    I read. Novel after novel if necessary. I wait for the Holy Spirit to push me. If I wait too long (or am disobedient), fear keeps me away. Writing the daily blog post doesn’t really compare to the novel writing. When I think I’m ready, I have to go back over the WIP and get back into the immersion. And the discipline.

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