Friday, June 11, 2010

Writer's Block analysis

Have you ever had writer's block? Can you look back and analyze the cause and how you solved it?

For example, I've heard of people who have to write something before they're free to write something else.

I talked to one writer who complained of writer's block, and it turned out she'd just exited from a difficult divorce and couldn't think about much else. I suggested she write an essay (not for publication) about her divorce experience, just to get it down and out of the way. End of writer's block! Once she'd written about what preoccupied her, she had "mental room" to think about her fiction.

I think there was great freedom in the idea that she's writing this for herself, and not for publication-- she didn't have to make it interesting to others!



Abby Annis said...

What a great suggestion! I think this is exactly what I need. Thanks! :)

Leona said...

I usually work on another story or edit. Or research. Or... procrastinate :)

However, the working on another story allows me to get a lot of writing done and I have 3 stories near completion. That seems to be about the number I get finished at once. This will be second time in a row that has happened, not counting short stories.

What happens is the story I'm having trouble with tends to percolate in my brain and suddenly an idea will pop so hard that I feel the urge to look and see if a lightbulb has appeared over my head. I'm distracted easily. If I do something other than write to get over writer's block, it takes much, much, longer to accomplish.

Linda Maye Adams said...

This is what I call writer's block: I was trying to break into a Hollywood, and a well-meaning person told me I needed to write a script a week. So I did that, coming up with an idea and writing a script every week. Burned myself out so completely that I was dry for two years. I couldn't come up with a single idea; I couldn't write anything. The only solution was to wait until I felt like I could write again.

Otherwise, if I get stuck in a story, that's not writer's block. That's a problem that I haven't identified yet. It's likely I need to have to write more and finish the book to identify it. So I put PLACEHOLDER in and skip on ahead. With my first book, I ran into a writing problem that I couldn't identify, so I tried revising to find the problem. Never did because I never finished the book--every time I revised, I ran right into the same problem again. In hindsight, I still wouldn't have found the problem (it took three novels to identify it), but I should have skipped ahead to at least finish it.

green_knight said...

I've been stuck on my writing - usually because I tried to force the characters to do something that came from my logical (and rather shallow) brain rather than something that developed naturally - for me, outlines literally kill stories.

(Also, the Swamp Thing is difficult and moves like a pair of continental plates - small jerks with longuish periods of nothing.)

In the past, I've suffered from anxiety in relation to coding - and I *hate* people who mean 'I'm a bit stuck' and complain about 'writer's block' (and their counterparts who say 'oh, stuckness happens to everyone, there's no such thing as writer's block'); I hate them nearly as much as people whose horses get a bit quick and who talk about 'bolting'. (One happens mostly to inexperienced or inattentive riders and can be remedied quickly if you know how. The other involves a panicking horse. They are not even in the same ballpark.)

What I needed to do was remove myself from the stressful situation, give myself time off, and start on small, fun projects. I also needed to learn better problem-solving strategies. Eventually, I started to rediscover the sheer fun of coding.

Leona said...

@green knight I know what you mean. Usually, after things percolate, it turns out I was trying to force something on my characters or on the plot that wouldn't work and my brain was saying ABSOLUTELY NOT I WON'T HELP YOU DO IT! at me until it worked out a better way.


*huff huff. I'm okay now. I have a wonderful story line that I have 5 or six books planned on. Like a good writer, I wrote an outline and I got stuck. Once I had it all outlined, everything I wrote felt contrived. And. I. Was. Bored.

I rewrote so many times and hated all of it that I am starting over with an idea from our friend Jami Gold. I am not even going to LOOK at the ****** thing. I know what I want to happen. I know my character. I'm going to finish it and pretend I never wrote the outline. :D

MrsMusic said...

For me, what so many people fear as "writer's block" has always been part of the creative process, and the issue is not to get rid of it but to understand what happens during these times and how you can make best use of them.

When I first started working as a speech writer, I used to stare at the blank screen for two or three hours before writing the first word. The more routined I became, the less time it took me, but until now I have some minutes of what I prefer to call the "brooding phase" of writing with every new text.
(Surely it helps that as a copywriter you always write on deadline - so there is simply no time for real writer's blocks ;-))

Brooding phases are longer and more frequent when I write fiction; in fact, writing alternates with brooding until I am in a strangely unfocused state of mind which contradicts all ideas of being "focused" - but which is exactly the state of mind when I get my most and best writing done.

Of course there are times when I feel completely stuck (but only in fiction, never in copywriting - which might also relate with the deadlines). For me, in this situation it's decisive to find out the reason. Sometimes, it's just life which is in the way. Well, that happens, and it's okay for me. Life still is more important than writing, so I go on living and return to writing later (which usually is earlier than I would imagine then). Sometimes my batteries are empty and I have to refill them - which means, I spend a week reading like mad (when I am deep in my own writing, I can't read, it disturbs me too much). And sometimes there is some other story in my head which is pushing to get out. In this case, I quickly write that one down, often only as an outline, and then return to my major project.

I think the "writer's block" should rather be called "writer's bogey". If you understand what it really is, what the real reason is, you can tackle it - and you no longer have to fear it.

green_knight said...

Leona, any outline I write comes from a position where I don't know the characters or the world yet - so it will inevitably end up shallow and full of clichees, and if I take the time to know them, I might as well write things down!

MrsMusic: this is what I referred to above. If you're taking several hours to warmup and get into the right mood, you're miles away from the writer who panics at the mere thought of sitting down and having to produce words. I think it's unfair to trivialize other people's experience just because your own is relatively mild and relatively easily overcome; true writer's block may be a very rare thing, but I would not wish it on anyone.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Music helps me get over "the block". Listening to someone else's words for a while clears my head and lets me start over.

Glynis Peters said...

Your idea for your friend was good therapy for her emotional state, and writer's block.

I tend to make a pile of greetings cards, and write verses for them. One word will trigger off a new sentence for my wip. The cards get pushed into a drawer for another day.

If that fails I use Storyspinner, it is great fun.

Edittorrent said...

It's hard, I think, because it's like chronic fatigue syndrome-- no one really believes it's real! But there is really such a thing as CFS, and writer's block too.

I think for me, it's usually about not having enough quiet and meditation to "feel" a story. I need to "feel" a story to write it, alas. I wish I was more disciplined.

Edittorrent said...

Everyone's stories-- gave me a shiver. Boy, it's painful even vicariously. We all want to write so much!

Okay, I'll again pimp
It works for me, sometimes!

MrsMusic said...

@green_knight: I did not mean to trivialize other people's experiences; sorry if it sounded like that! I am quite aware that "warming up" is different to a real block, and I can assure you that I had longer periods where didn't/couldn't write.
Your comment made me wonder what I actually had tried to say without saying it.
I think it is this (and I'll try just this other time):
I am convinced that what makes the "block" so frightening is - the fear of the block itself. Which might be mingled with fear of what comes next, fear of putting to words what you have in mind, fear of never being able to write anything or anything meaningful again, ...
Therefore I think the best approach is to try to fear less, or at least not to make fear overcome you and your creativity. Therefore to accept it, embrace it as part of the process. Even if this part of the process might last for weeks. And it's not that there is nothing happening in times of "block", it's just something which we cannot (yet) put into words.
Does that sound better?
(Sorry, English is not my first language, so I might not be able to exactly put the finger on the right spot...)

Edittorrent said...

GK, I'm with you-- I need some prospect of surprise in writing.

Mrs Music, you sounded fluent to me! And I tutor ESL students, so I know fluency issues. And I love your (). I love parentheticals. I think it's because I read CS Lewis (Narnia) at a vulnerable age, and he always uses lots of parentheticals.