Is there really such a thing? Maybe it depends on how you define it. Sometimes I think writer’s block might actually be Writer’s Fatigue. As a writer, especially if you’re pursuing it professionally, the experts say you should write every day. But it’s not always easy to be creative day after day, and there are those days when you simply don’t have the energy.
Besides writing, I have a background in art, and staring at a blank piece of paper, whether it’s for drawing or writing, can be intimidating. I imagine it’s the same for any artist and any medium: that lump of clay, that piece of wood, that canvas, stone or metal waiting to emerge into something beautiful can create a ten-cup-of-coffee anxiety in any artist.
When the words won’t come, panic can set in, causing a snowball effect—inability to write, panic, increased inability to write, increased panic, and so on. The result? Creativity trapped inside a frozen brain.
Writer’s Block Defined
Wikipedia has this definition for writer’s block: “Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.”
Apparently, writer’s block can have serious consequences. The Wikipedia article goes on to say that researchers have studied and written about the problem, and that famous authors such as F. Scott Fiztgerald experienced writer’s block.
At least you know you’re not alone when the dreaded disease strikes.
How to Melt Brain Freeze
A writing teacher once told our class, if you have writer’s block, get anything down on paper. Anything. Even if it’s a shopping list, just start writing. What you write doesn’t always have to be brilliant!
I know when I can’t get started, part of my problem is I edit as I go, searching for the perfect word, the perfect phrase or sentence. This method of writing can really stop the entire process. I usually have to force myself to Just. Keep. Writing.
As ironic as it seems, often the key to overcoming writer’s block is to write—make a journal entry; free associate on paper, write whatever pops into your mind; do a character sketch; describe something on your desk, out in your yard, your pet; copy an excerpt from a favorite book and edit it.
There are many ways to beat writer’s block, including some very unique ones!
Authors Weigh In
I asked a few Santa Cruz writers their definition of writer’s block, and how they deal with it. Here’s what they had to say:
Diane Landy: In one of my earliest childhood memories, I'm standing outdoors in a crowded, unfamiliar place, investigating a colorful trinket. I tug on my mother's skirt and look up, alarmed to see a stranger's face. Writer's block is like that. That unsettled feeling of being lost and not knowing what direction to turn to get home. When astray for too long, I get cranky, then set my story down for a nap. Eventually, if I'm lucky, it will find its way home.
Lori Kearney: After all the laundry, dishes, dusting, & filing is done and I can no longer distract my creatively mute self, I eventually turn to the only true remedy for me - my faithful muses: Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Rickie Lee, Tuck & Patti, Melissa Etheridge. Only works if I am all alone, can turn the stereo up high, and belt out the tunes that will help me find my way back. Seems I need to find my voice to find my voice - in my suddenly sparkling clean home.
Laura Elliot: I guess I'd have to define writers block as doubt. When we doubt ourselves we block ourselves. Writing is a matter of trust.... Trusting in your story...trusting in the next word or paragraph, trusting yourself to write "the end." (Note: Laura will be reading Thursday evening 9/20/12 in Seaside. Info here.)
Cyndie Weber: Writers Block is the critical beast that lurks in our minds and keeps us from moving forward. The beast of despair can rear its ugly head at any moment and stop you dead in your tracks, putting a halt to the cleverest tale.
I used to push and fight the beast. I'd sit for hours trying to rework and add anything, just to fend off the beast. But alas, the fighting only kept feeding this creature.
The new me, is no longer at war. I have taken a new approach of peace and let the music calm the beast within. Someone once told me there is still music between the notes. So, when I'm in a place where I can't seem to find the next sentence or even word, I give myself the SPACE to be the music between the notes.
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And these comments from my critique partners:
Chrissie Lamos-Pollock: For me it's fear of the blank page. No joke- I smack my keyboard. The random letters on my page release my creativity, and I'm good to go.
(Now that’s unique! LC)
Jen Funk Weber: I journal as the character (or one of the characters) I'm writing about. I state the problem I'm having, even if it's "I don't know what to write," thought that's rarely the case, and I let the character take it from there. I do this in a different color or font, right in the manuscript, so it can be deleted later.
Linda Stanek: Once I didn't allow myself to write anything for a full week. You know that forbidden fruit thing--I totally wanted to write. Once the week was up, my mind had been working overtime to come up with what I needed to write to get past the sticky part in my novel, and away I went.
How do you define writer’s block, and what do you do to overcome it? Tell us in the comments!