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Friday, March 12, 2010

Writer's Block

"A psychological condition in which a writer, esp. a professional writer, is unable to produce material, usually of a literary or creative kind."

A quick search the internet will find many reasons and opinions for writer’s block and ten times as many suggestions on how to overcome it. I'm not going to go into all of them--but simply pass on what works for me.

I think the main reason I have bouts of writer’s block, is because what I imagine in my head is so much grander then how it comes out on paper. My internal editor is working over time, constantly telling me that a phrase or scene is “not good enough” until my creative juices slow down and become mired in thick sludge.

"If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." (Margaret Atwood)

Some cures that work for me:

* Establish a routine.

I write best in the morning, before the world has a chance to pull me away from my desk with appointments and family commitments.

* Allow yourself to write badly.

My internal editor is always working overtime, but I’ve tried free writing, poetry, taking my characters out to lunch—all as ways to circumvent the blank page.

* Change your routine.

Okay, I know this is opposite of the first suggestion but it really works for me. If I do something physical instead of sitting at my desk and worrying about that blank page, my thoughts tend to “unblock.” Also, I am a “plotter” who uses a storyboard and an outline for each book. If I’m stuck, often diving in and writing anything by the “seat of my pants” gets me started again.

"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence." (Octavia Butler)

What tricks of the trade do you use to overcome writer’s block? Or are you one of the few that isn't challenged by its existence?


Nancy said...

Oddly enough, I clean, go for a walk, or even take a shower. No, I don't wash that man right out of my head. I might just wash in the right word or phrase.

Thanks for posting this. Its good to know its a "Universal" disease and not just limited to new writers.

Kathryn Albright said...

Thanks for posting Obe. Yep--I think it may even get to be a larger beast with each new book. However, the more I write, the more I seem to be able to "handle" the beast. Practice and persistence seem to help me.

Mary Sullivan said...

"what I imagine in my head is so much grander then how it comes out on paper"

Kathryn, you are so right about this. The writing never turns out to be quite as lovely as I think it should be.

In the end, we can only hope that our readers enjoy our books, close them with satisfaction and think, "What a great story."

Good ideas for getting over writer's block. I take very long walks and think about my characters and what needs to happen to them to facilitate the greatest growth. Sigh. It doesn't always work, but the exercise is good for me!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kathryn! Nice post. Often my writer's block comes from not knowing where to go in the story from where I am - either my original idea isn't working, or my characters have hijacked the story in unexpected directions. Since I am blessed to have a good circle of writing friends, I can sometimes overcome it by a brainstorming session. The conversation itself is always refreshing and motivating, and usually there are some great ideas that are generated. Thanks again for posting - I always enjoy your insights.

bobbi :o)

Sally said...

Taking the characters 'out to lunch' is a good metaphor. Taking my characters in a completely different direction, just to put words to the page, offers a point of view I often would not have thought of otherwise.

In all honesty even these detours can require a kick start to get moving.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Mary! Nice to see you here and congratulations on your June release with Super Romance! Looks like its right up my alley being a western (contemporary.) Long walks don't seem to help me much, however mindless activity like washing dishes, mowing the grass, or weeding the flower bed does seem to help. Don't know why...

Kathryn Albright said...

Bobbi!--You're so right about not knowing which way to go with a story. That does give me trouble sometimes. Also, I get blocked because I'm trying to write in one character's point of view, but the scene really works better in a different character's POV. Thanks for commenting.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Sally. I agree--getting to know your characters better, delving into their history (the one you didn't realize was even there!)can unearth a bunch of ideas to pursue further. BTW-- love the description of yourself on your blogger profile. Thanks for stopping by!

http://kriskennedy.net said...

I agree with the notion that perfection is the main component of 'writer's block.' At least for me it is. :-) Your strategies are really sound. Thanks for the reminders!

As I am currently rewriting a scene for the 23rd time, repositioning it in the manuscript, which of course has that cascading effect on every subsequent scene, I know well the danger of trying to make something perfect before moving on. Because then, of course, you may *never* move on.

One thing I do when I'm stuck is Dr. Wicked's Write or Die. It forces you to write like a fiend, and often blows me out of my stuck-ness.


Cynthia Owens said...

Great post, Kathryn! Since I'm a "pantser," not a plotter, I often suffer from short bouts of writer's block. My trick is to take a break and do something completely difgerent, like cleaning the house or baking, and just let my characters simmer in my mind.

Another trick is that, when I stop writing for the day, I almost always leave my manuscript in mid-scene. That way I'm usually pretty sure I'll be able to come back to it fresh and get at least some writing done.