Writer's Block

You know you need to write, but you keep putting it off. You sit down before the keyboard, and you can’t think of anything worthwhile to write. You try to write something–anything, and it just doesn’t seem good enough. What to do?

These are typical signs of writers block. It can happen to any writer at any time–especially when you least expect it or are under the gun to meet a deadline. That last statement may provide a hint. Stress may be a major component of developing a writer’s block. The more the stress levels, the greater the block; the more the block, the greater the guilt; the more the guilt, the greater the stress, and now we’re into a dog chasing his tail scenario.

Let’s take a look at this subject from a:

•Generic point of view

•Fiction problems

•Nonfiction problems

•Some helpful tips

Generically speaking, there are several aspects that hold for all styles of writing. I’ve already mentioned stress, which is easy to understand–the greater the stress levels, the greater the blockage. Another problem is burn-out. If we have been working too hard for too long at too many things, a sudden case of writers block is nature’s way of saying, “Chill out, Baby.” Take break or even a short vacation from writing. You should be aware that it’s sometimes difficult to climb back into the saddle, so watch for that.

Another common problem among some writers is perfectionism. I used to watch one of my daughters agonize for hours over a 3-page school assignment. She would sit in front of her computer, staring at the screen and typing nothing. Why? She was attempting to write the paper in her head, trying to say and arrange everything just so before committing it into the computer. I finally would urge her to write anything, think about it, and then go into edit or rewrite mode. That seems like such an obvious thing to do, but you need to understand how obsessive perfectionists can be. They fear making any “mistakes.” If what you write doesn’t seem perfect, you need to lighten up. I was famous for saying, “It’s good enough for government work,” as a joking way of keeping a workable perspective when I labored in the Army’s bureaucracy, especially if I was under a deadline.

Now, lets look at some specific challenges to fiction writing:

Remember there are two major types of writers: outliners and seat-of-their-pants. Outliners have the advantage of a framework or road map to follow. If they fall into a block situation, it’s easier for them to pick back up where they left off. If that doesn’t seem to work, allow your muse to come into play. The blockage may have been a way for your subconscious mind of telling you to rethink your outline and its direction. Seat-of-their-pants writers can become lost in a maze of too many possibilities and fear of committing to a specific direction. Try outlining a direction and see if that helps. Maybe try comparing two or several short outlines and select one that seems interesting and feasible.

In other words, whichever style of writer you are, experiment with the other approach a little. See if that spices you up a little.

Nonfiction writing problems often come from perfectionism. Some scientists I have known had a difficult time coming to closure with a problem or issue. They would research a topic to death, looking for that perfect solution just over the next hill. There comes a time when you just have to say, “Enough!” It’s time to get on with the writing part, whether it’s a plan, a report, a thesis, or whatever. Again, outlining seems to be a good way to overcome a block. I used to free flow ideas and topics germane to my subject and its intended audience. Then I would rearrange them in some sort of logical order. I would then try to determine their completeness and add or take away that which was appropriate to the process. Once the outline was developed, it was just a matter of filling in the white spaces in between the topics. This approach tends to pull one through a project in a workable manner, lending less probability to developing writers block.

Tips for Overcoming Writers Block

Create a special space for your writing activities: my home office serves this function, and I usually can recover and remain free from blockages here. The other place I have is on the floor of my bookstore, which doesn’t work very well for the following reason.

Eliminate distractions: Ringing phones, constantly checking emails, and customers interruptions (in my case) easily can destroy a whole day of writing opportunities. I get so frazzled, I find myself playing solitaire in deference to writing.

Adjust your perspective about writing: Don’t let writing be your only reason for living. It’s only one activity of many that add meaning and spice to your life. The world won’t stop turning if you take a break occasionally.

Set goals free of guilt and remorse: Setting word-count goals are helpful for keeping on track as long as they are reasonable and flexible. Try to keep the guilt factor down. If you don’t meet your goal for the day, so what? At least you made some progress. In addition to setting goals, try to schedule down time and relaxing activities so that burn out doesn’t happen.

Chat with other writers: I’ve mentioned before that writing is a lonely career track. Try to join with other writers, both on line and in person, in a regular manner. We understand one another and are always ready to lend support.

Now, get back to your writing!


This is a cross-posting from Bob Spear‘s Book Trends blog.

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