Behind the Story: Writer’s Block

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!
This week’s topic:
Writer’s Block

I’m going to surprise a few people with my opinion, but…

I don’t believe writer’s block exists.

I don’t believe there’s any mystical force that takes hold of your brain and prevents you from churning out words.

I don’t believe in muses or creative juices running dry.

Instead, I believe there can be things you’re not doing as a writer that inhibit your ability to create.  But I think this inability to create is self-inflicted and can also be self-cured.  Below are reasons I’ve identified for why writers find themselves unable to write:

1. Exhaustion or Poor Health

Even if you’re just sitting at a desk, writing takes energy.  Your brain has to be rested and fully-charged in order to take part in the creative process.  If you’re not taking care of yourself, then your ability to create can be affected.

Are you getting enough sleep?  Are you drinking enough water?  (Your brain is 80% water and dehydration can cause headaches and sluggishness.)  Are you exercising and getting fresh air?

I understand that sometimes taking care of yourself can fall to the back-burner when you have a full-time job or deadlines to meet, but taking care of your health is important.  I’m not perfect in this area either.  I definitely stay up too late, much too often.  But I’ve also noticed that I do my best writing when I’m rested and healthy.

2. Lack of Brainstorming, Planning, Outlining

I don’t know why writers think they can always sit down at a computer and words will magically flow out of them.  That the story and the characters will mystically take control.

Of course, I’ve been writing and had a scene surprise me, or a character behave differently from what I’ve planned.  But you can’t rely on your subconscious brain to tell the whole story.  The story is coming out of your brain.  Therefore, if your brain has neglected to think about where the story is going to go next, then of course you’re going to get stuck.

Sometimes you have to sit down and think about what’s coming next in your novel.  When I get stuck, I make lists.  I make lists of conflicts or bad things that could happen.  I make lists of things my character still needs to learn before the end of the book.  I make lists of what I know still needs to happen before the climax.  Always, before I’m even done with my list, I get unstuck and know what I want to write next.

Brainstorming, people.  It’s awesome.  I make my middle schoolers do it.  You should, too.

3. Lack of Research/Too Much Research

I kept research separate from brainstorming because I think it’s an entirely different beast.  I’ve seen writers get burned on both ends by this one.

Research can help get your creative juices flowing, whether it can inspire a setting or give you ideas of conflicts your protagonist might encounter.  If you aren’t doing any sort of research, then you’re limiting yourself.  You’re limiting your writing to your own experiences.  There are countless times where a little research has gotten me unstuck creatively.

However, at the same time, some people end up doing a whole lot of research and very little writing.  You have to limit yourself in your research.  I like to come up with a set list of questions that I need to answer, and if I catch myself straying too far in my research, I can easily get myself back on track as well as know when I’m done looking stuff up.  I also try to not research when I’m in the middle of a writing session because it will interrupt my groove.  I’ve taken to leaving comments/notes to myself in my story of things I need to look up when I’m done, rather than pause to search the internet.

4. Laziness and Lack of Self-Motivation

“I don’t feel like writing today.  I’m not in a creative mood.”  Sound like a writer you know?

I love writing.  If I could do it full-time, I’d be the happiest girl in the world.  However, are there days that I don’t feel like writing?  Of course.  Are there days where I’d rather watch a Downton Abbey marathon or curl up with a book I’ve been dying to read?  Yes.  Writing is still hard work, and sometimes I just want to relax.

However, I make my butt get in the chair, even when I don’t want to, and I write.  Usually the first twenty minutes are rough.  But after I’ve gotten down a couple hundred words, I will usually make it to a full hour and maybe even a thousand words.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write more often than just “when the mood strikes you.”  And there’s seriously no better feeling as a writer than to sit down thinking “you’re not in the mood” and then to crank out a scene that you LOVE.

If you struggle with motivation, there are several things you can do.  You can set up a reward system for yourself.  I love buying myself a bouquet of flowers for my desk when I’ve met my word count goal for the week.  You can set up a calendar and give yourself a sticker for every day that you sit down to write.  You can allow yourself a favorite warm beverage or piece of candy… but only if you’re writing.

Some people work better by limiting something until they are done or rewarding themselves with activities.  For example, I’m not allowed to go to this website until I have this many words.  Or I can’t watch this TV episode until I finish this scene.

I also find that setting up a schedule to write at the same time each day, and then recording in my planner how much I accomplished is helpful.  I like routine and I like keeping track of my progress.  I’ll record my word counts for the day as well as time spent brainstorming or researching.  I’ve also recently started recording time spent blogging, in part to make sure I’m balanced in how much time I’m spending on writing vs. blogging.

I hope this post helped you in offering strategies for being successful as a writer, especially if you find yourself struggling in any of the above “blockages.”

What are your opinions on writer’s block?  Do you disagree with me?  Did you find any of my tips or self-cures helpful?

Let me know what other writing topics you would like to see on Behind the Story!

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2 comments on “Behind the Story: Writer’s Block

  1. fakesteph says:

    I'm being a lazy writer right now. I wouldn't say that I'm blocked, just that I'm busy and working on my draft has been deprioritized (also rewriting is way less fun than drafting). But I need to CHOOSE to prioritize it again. I like the idea about scheduling writing time into your planner. I'm going to try that.

  2. Caroline says:

    Delia said that writer's block and getting stuck are two different kettles of fish. Writer's block is like when someone who has written a good bit before goes years without being able to come up with ideas or get anything real down on the page. I'm not sure how I view that opinion, but that's what I remind myself when I feel stuck.Another reason I think writer's block (or whatever) pops is might be because you're over-thinking something. At the moment I'm trying to write some of the "fun scenes" to give myself a break – but I'm over thinking the relationship between the two characters and I'm not letting it grow organically in the story… if that makes sense. Also, for me, I need to go back and reread the good parts and get that hold of the characters that I had before.I love all of your insights and totally admire your dedication. I know you work hard at school (both as teacher and student) and I just really admire how fantastic your work ethic is.

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