Because it’s NOT writer’s block, that’s why.

This week has been one where I spent a lot of time thinking about my WIP and where the story and characters are going. A walk-on/walk-off character has more potential and is important than I suspected, I’m about to write a major magical battle and really need to pin down the old “how magic works” stuff, and I’ve been struggling a bit with some of my protag’s reactions to events (really, how do you react when someone shoots your best friend in front of you?).

…as a side-note: guns and magic. Does it get any better?

Anyway, I’ve spent more time “thinking” than “writing” this week. (I don’t know why those words are in quotes. Don’t judge me.) And everywhere I looked in the blogosphere, someone was posting about “How to overcome Writer’s Block”. Is this the universe’s way of telling me something? Or just a coincidence? Should I be reading these blogs and making notes?

No.

Because it’s NOT writer’s block, that’s why.

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Back before my boys were born, I had a paying job as a travel agent. Now, being a travel agent is not easy. Sure, you get to sit on a chair typing stuff into a computer and talking on the phone for most of the day. But it’s a very competitive, commission-based industry where the largest barrier to success is often yourself.

I was good at my job. I loved talking to people, recommending holiday destinations, finding the best deals/packages, and making suggestions. I had an incredibly loyal client base, heaps of contacts in the industry, and all the Keys to Success.

But sometimes… sometimes I’d have a bad day. Or a bad week. Or, on occasion, a bad month. I’d work for hours finding a good deal, but the client would book it on the internet. (Aaargh! Curse you, interwebz!) Or I just couldn’t find the right flight/hotel/deal. Or I struggled to build rapport with people. Or my mind was elsewhere.

And not once — not once! — did I jump up and down and scream, “It’s not my fault! I’ve just got trave agent’s block!”

Instead, I did something useful.

I figured out where I was going wrong, and I fixed it.

#

Writer’s Block is just a fancy, self-absorbed way for writers to say: “I’m not writing. Something’s wrong and I don’t know what it is.”

So here’s my tips for overcoming the mythical beast Writer’s Block in 3 easy steps:

1. Identify the problem.

  • Is it a lack of skill or knowledge of the craft? Are you not sure how to write what you want to write?
  • Have you lost sight of where your story is going? Or what your character’s goals are?
  • Is your mind/focus elsewhere?

2. Identify the solution.

  • There’s heaps of information online about just about every facet of writing. Figure out what’s giving you trouble (eg. structure, plot, realistic characters, dialogue, conflict, POV (point of view), etc.) and do some web searches. Buy some books.
  • It’s time to step back and do some planning or outlining.
  • Work out what it is you’re focusing on, and whether it’s more or less important than your writing. A cluttered desk, new hobby, or the new season of Glee probably qualifies as “less important”. A new baby, impending marriage or sick relative probably qualifies as “more important”.

3. Use solution (b) to overcome problem (a).

  • Read. Research. Make notes. Practice. Then go back to your WIP feeling more equipped.
  • If you haven’t written an outline, write one. Interview your characters. Make notes. Design the history of the world. Whatever you need to get you back on track.
  • If your focus is consistently on something in the “more important” category, give yourself permission to either take a break from your writing or significantly reduce your writing output without penalty. If your focus is on something in the “less important” category, you need to sit down and consider your priorities. If you want to write, write. If not, don’t. Realise this is a conscious choice you’re making, not the byproduct of a mythical malady.

Thoughts? Comments?

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Because it’s NOT writer’s block, that’s why.

  1. While on one hand I approve of your no-nonsense approach, I also hate to give up on the “magical” excuse than only writers can use. 🙂

    • True… But writers can also get away with saying we’re “working” whenever we’re reading, taking long baths, thinking, and going for long, rambling walks in the woods. So it’s not all bad. 🙂

  2. Oh, Writer’s Block. Such a wonderful excuse…until you read a blog that makes you say, “Dangit! Someone would out me sooner or later.” Just kidding!
    I subscribed to the thought a few months ago that Writer’s Block is just a term I use, personally, to say, “I don’t feel like writing.” Now, there are days when I feel like my mind is pushing against a brick wall with no way of breaking through to the other side. Specifically when I’m starting a new novel, such as now. In fact, I’ve decided to make an outline. Outlines usually aren’t my thing, but it’s helping me wrap my mind around what I want to happen in my novel other than the ‘important scenes’ I know will be in there.
    Anyway, before this goes on and on, I just wanted to say, you aren’t alone. I’ve been where you have in my WIP this past week, and you have some great, helpful tips here. 🙂

  3. “Travel agent’s block,” that kind of puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? 🙂

    In addition to all the good suggestions above, I also advise always having two projects going at once, as described here:
    http://maasmith7.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/two-is-better-than-one/

    Right now I’m working on my third novel, my WIP, but I’m also planning to turn some of my mystery stories into a second book. If I’m stuck on one, I work on the other.

  4. Here! Here!

    (Or is that “hear”? I never did really know.)

    I came to much the same conclusion long ago. And now, when someone talks about writer’s block, I rarely fail to mention that, in fact, writer’s block is an artificial construct in our own minds.

    There may be legitimate reasons why we, as writers, are having trouble writing. But it’s not “writer’s block”. There is some meaningful root cause that can be identified and addressed. I wrote about my own journey of self-discovery into defeating writer’s block here.

    • Thanks for sending me looking for information on whether it’s “here, here” or “hear, hear”…

      Apparently the phrase originally comes from the British parliament, and is short for “Hear him, Hear him”. So there you go.

      And thanks for the link. I’ll go have a read of your thoughts. 🙂

  5. I must be suffering from “bookkeeper’s block.” I’m bored with my clients’ bills; I’d rather go home and write.
    I’ll put off getting started forever, but once I have pen in hand, or I’m sitting at the keyboard, somehow I find something to write. Of course I may throw it all out the next day. I just have to get past the “I don’t wanna” stage and go BICHOK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, the cure for lazy writers.

    • BICHOK!

      That’s awesome. I love it. It sounds gutteral, vaguely offensive, and is the perfect sound for goading oneself into action. I am adding this to my repertoire of wordiness. 🙂

  6. So very true!!!

    Most of the time when I am not working on my novel it is because I have either hit a wall and am not sure how to get around it or I feel I am not doing justice to the story and need time to figure out how to go about it. I have never felt like I have had writer’s block. I have questioned my ability, wondered if I was the only person who would ever find the story fascinating or became bored with what I was working on but have never blamed a block for any of it.

    • Good on you! I think it’s all too easy to blame a mysterious force outside ourselves rather than look inside for the answers.

      Check out Stephen’s link on his comment for a great description of writer’s block from a short story writing persepctive, too.

  7. Great tips, Jo!

    I can’t ever recall saying to myself “I have writer’s block!” whenever I’ve come across a problem–typically I just smack my forehead or let it fall to the keyboard initially, lol–though I still think it’s okay to at least admit that you’re facing a block (obstacle)…so long as you don’t let this stop you from overcoming it. First step to fixing a problem is acknowledging that you have one!

  8. Very, very good suggestions – I love this! Identifying the problem is excellent advice – diagnose it to fix it – and yet often I skip to solution without exploring the origin of the issue. Very often for me, it is not knowing how to write what I want to say or not having the confidence to say it (both of which can be rectified by research), losing faith in my story, or losing focus. Thank you, great post!

    • Thanks, Hope. I’m glad you found it useful.

      I find that knowing the problem helps me work out which solution is going to be most effective. If the problem is “I’m not convinced I can do this justice”, then I can make the rational choice to just do my best anyway, not worry too much about the quality, and be comfortable that I can work on fixing it later. But if the problem is that I don’t know where the story’s going, that solution isn’t going to help. In that case, I need to go back and do some planning — in fact, continuing to write could make the “block” worse.

  9. Pingback: Don’t Tell Anyone, But Outlining is Secretly Awesome | The Happy Logophile

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