There isn’t a writer in the world who hasn’t had problems—at one time or another—finding the right word or idea.
Those who write columns for newspapers, corporations press releases or do other commercial writing cannot tell their bosses they are ‘blocked’. Produce your lines or get fired.
However, fiction writers have the “luxury” of being blocked.
For the sake of clarity, let’s define writers block as a prolonged period of not being able to produce any satisfactory writing.
Sometimes, writing is an impossible and daunting task: depression, personal tragedies, exhaustion from over-work, stress, family problems, losses (of all kinds), are all reasons for the block, although some people take refuge in writing exactly during those times. For those who don’t, remembering the struggles and problems is a good source of writing in the future.
Writers tend to lack confidence to start with—much easier than finding inspiration—so any slowness in producing the quality of work they desire, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I didn’t write well yesterday, hence I won’t write well today or tomorrow.” Panic follows.
What are some of the things to correct writers block? Let’s split them into two parts. One is avoidance of writing: you run from paper, pencil, computer. The second is freezing, what to do when you sit with pencil or keyboard in hand and stare at the blank page.
a) Examine what is going on in your life. If it’s a bad period, accept it and live the emotions. It is difficult to work on a comedy if your spouse just walked out on you. (Although Ephron wrote Heartburn under exactly those circumstances making it a great revenge novel.)
b) Take a break. Accept that this won’t be a productive period, and do some of the things that writing has made you postpone: a holiday, paint the house, the fence, whatever.
c) Exercise that allows thinking time: walking, running on a tread mill, biking.
d) Talk to others who have had the same problem.
e) Socialize with people that will stimulate ideas.
f) Go to a movie, play, museum to stimulate yourself.
g) Do something totally different from your normal.
h) Be flexible. This is not the time for rigid writing schedules or forced discipline. It’s a guaranteed set up for more failure.
1.) Make a list of things you might want to write, or things you don’t want to write about.
2.) Copy something you wrote before.
3.) Copy something your favorite writer wrote.
4.) Free write. Put your pen to paper or your hand to your keyboard and write anything, no matter how nonsensical. Example: James smiled but why because he wanted to but why should he and that’s stupid stupid stupid stupid…etc.
5.) Edit something you wrote earlier.
6.) Edit something another writer wrote.
7.) Write about your writers block.
8.) Talk with other writers who have suffered from writers block.
9.) Draw a scene, no matter how limited your drawing talent is. There is something in the act of drawing that works well with writing.
and, important to keep it in mind:
10.) Give yourself permission to write badly.
Know that it happened and happens to anyone. These excerpts are from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
“Writers block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you’ve written lately and see with absolutely clarity that it is total dog shit…We have all been there, and it feels like the end of the world. It’s a little like a chickadee being hit by an H-bomb.”
Here she makes a suggestion about what a writer can do: “When you don’t know what else to do, when you’re really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can’t just leave your work alone for a while and wait, you might try telling part of your history—part of a character’s history—in the form of a letter. The letter’s informality just might free you from the tyranny of perfectionism.”
Read this as she encourages our own voices: “All good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind were recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos of meaning. All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions.”
Remember why you write: “[…] sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, the feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: The milk is so rich and delicious and the cow is glad you did it.”
And this is the ultimate goal that we strive to reach, but like the perfect game of golf, it happens rarely. Just be glad when it does, and smile when the perfect shot arrives. It does.
If anyone had any other ideas, I would love to hear them.
Massimo Marino is a scientist envisioning science fiction. He spent years at CERN and The Lawrence Berkeley Lab followed by lead positions with Apple, Inc. and the World Economic Forum. He is also co-founder of “Squares on Blue”, a Big Data Analytics service company, and of BookGarage, a publishing service brokerage company.
Massimo currently lives in France and crosses the border with Switzerland multiple times daily, although he is no smuggler. #SFWApro
As a scientist writing science fiction, he went from smashing particles at accelerators at SLAC and CERN to smashing words on a computer screen. He is is now an author with Booktrope Publishing, LCC, and Active Member of SFWA – Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
He’s the author of multi-awarded Daimones Trilogy. The 1st volume, Daimones (The Daimones Trilogy Book 1) published by Booktrope is available since August 2015.
• 2013 Hall of Fame – Best in Science Fiction, Quality Reads UK Book Club