Writers block — I have it.

At first I wasn’t too worried. I finished a novel earlier this year, and created a screenplay from a short story, and then last month wrote two short stories in record time.

So what is this about writers block then?

Well, I haven’t been able to start anything new, except for the short stories, and they are both finished and off to markets. And that’s scary, not having anything to write. no new projects. No new characters living in my head with which to have conversations.

The creative well has dried up.

So yeah, while at the beginning of the year, through the summer and up until September 30, I was pretty much okay with it. Something would come. It always did.

I finally broke down and admitted what was going on. See, the thing is, I don’t believe in writers block. The fear that comes with writing is mostly of our own making, and I’ve gotten very good at not letting that fear stop me. But this is different. I want to write. I feel the itchy restlessness that I get when a project is welling up and ready to go. But I sit at the computer and nothing comes out. I tried to get started on something new that I have the merest glimmering of a concept for, and got a bit sick to my stomach at the words that I got down.

I turned to my colleagues, writers who have been there, done that, experienced the same thing. Here’s what they came up with:

  • Create a particular character type and give that character a problem. It doesn’t matter what the problem is or who the character is, or even whether this becomes a short story or a novel.
  • Exercise. Physical activity.
  • If your brain doesn’t want to write, say “fine.” And then embargo the computer for two weeks and don’t write a word. (This is opposite from below; depends upon your personality.)
  • Get a checkup — sometimes malaise can have a physical cause.
  • Read nonfiction.
  • Force yourself to write — don’t allow yourself to get up from the chair until you’ve gotten down 200 words. (this is actually a good one for me. I’m very good at distracting myself.)

I’ve done some form of all of these and have not had a breakthrough — yet. But in a way, it’s comforting that other writers go through this, that sometimes the well does run dry, that writers block is not malingering, no matter how much I tended to think that way (and boy is that a case of eating crow), and that eventually I will get unstuck. In the meantime, I will take a deep breath and stay calm.

I know the next story is coming. It’s just taking a little longer to break the surface.

How do you break through writers block?




A Lockwood · November 4, 2011 at 11:46 am

I’m dealing with more of an editing block. I have something I really want to write and that’s going well, but I also need to do a bit of editing that just doesn’t want to happen.

But I’ve been away from exercise for a few weeks to rest an injury, and I’ve only just started getting back this week… and this week some of the block is starting to lift. So I guess number two on your list really is true. Exercise is helping me daydream about the book I’m editing again, and that’s what’s keeping me working on it.

Patrice Sarath · November 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm

ooh, yeah, editing block sucks. Glad that your injury is getting better and you can exercise again. Running and bike riding, also rollerblading, are my favorite exercise for writing work. Endorphins — nature’s happy pills.

One other thing that works for editing block is to tackle the little things first. The typos and such that you know you need to take care of. That always helps me ease into the work so that I’m capable of taking on the big issues.

A3 · November 4, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I read somewhere about a writer that solved their writer’s block by not allowing themselves to *consume* words – no newspaper, magazines, or other people’s stories – until they got out of writer’s block. (Sounds like hell to me; not sure how long I could go without reading. But maybe that’s the point.)

I also keep a list of story ideas as they come to me (I’d forget ’em if I didn’t write them down), so I can look through that to see what calls the loudest when I’m looking for my next project. Current project is a murder mystery (with alien detectives because I can’t have a story without aliens) that has been set up in my head for over a decade. I’m hoping my alien detectives can solve it because I still don’t have a clue. 😉

Good luck unblocking! You’ll get there!

Patrice Sarath · November 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I don’t know how I would be able to do that — I’d have to completely isolate myself from the world. Basically I read for a living; that’s practically a description of my day job.

Keeping a list of story ideas is a good one and is how I managed to write those two short stories so quickly. But those were my last two!

The alien whodunnit sounds like so much fun! Good luck and let me know about your progress.

Castiron · November 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I seem to have broken writer’s block via the Artist’s Way morning pages exercises (though as my last attempt contributed to the writer’s block in the first place, I’m not sure whether they’re really a factor). Increased physical exercise may have helped too; I notice that my ability to produce something at the keyboard went up when I started doing extra walking.

There’s always hitting “random article” twice on Wikipedia and seeing if you can put the two topics together ;-).

Patrice Sarath · November 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I remember you telling me about the Artist’s Way morning pages, and I completely forgot to give it a try.

What may have worked a tiny bit is that we went out of town this weekend and I didn’t bring the laptop. And then last night I got some words down that I feel confident about being able to add on to.

Sandy · November 8, 2011 at 9:01 am

From what I’ve read, there are several types of writers block, and different causes for each. So, what might help for one type of block will not work for another.

Late fall is a difficult time to get excited about a writing project–the natural light is waning, you may be getting less vitamin D, holiday obligations loom. My suggestion is do something different or go somewhere new to get a different perspective on life and maybe an idea for a story.

Patrice Sarath · November 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm

hi Sandy,
Even though I love this cooler weather, I think you might right about the change of seasons, etc. We went out of town this past weekend, and I didn’t bring the laptop. As a result, when we got back, I sat down and began a new project. It’s as if I was never away.

How is Colorado? Are you enjoying the change from Texas?

A3 · November 8, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I hope the new project is up and rolling for you now and the writer’s block is in your rear view mirror.

If not, I was listening to a recent Mur Lafferty “I Should Be Writing” podcast while making dinner tonight, and she had two suggestions: 1. If you’re stuck on one work, then work on a different one (I do that all the time, but it sounds like it won’t help you right now), and 2. If you’re stuck all together, go out in public and people watch and find someone to make up a story about.

The late fall issue is a real one for me, too (I hate the winter time change – getting home from work in the dark stinks) – makes me wonder *why* they picked November for NaNoWriMo.

Patrice Sarath · November 9, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I’ve been reading a couple of other people commenting that November is a bad month of NaNo for the reasons you mention. I love this weather so it’s not quite a problem for me, but I can see where it would be if you are at all susceptible to SAD.

And considering that I had writers block all summer, and only just got out of it now, I don’t think it’s quite a problem, although ask me again in January.

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