First and foremost, please forgive any semblance of attitude this post may bear. I have been taken out of my sorts by a recent article I read. In short: it pissed me off. I will not link to this article nor merit its existence in any other way except to say it does exist and it has a following of gullible believers. The article stated that writer’s block doesn’t exist.
In short, it went on to explain the title with thoughtless examples and made it out that if you do in fact suffer from writer’s block you are either a) not really a writer, or b) just too lazy to accomplish things.
My rage aside, I am going to oppose such things and tell you all that writer’s block is a thing and we all suffer from it from time to time. Moreover, there isn’t just one type of block. There are many facets and creative hindrances of writer’s block. I will cover some of them here.
What is Writer’s Block?
First, allow me to define writer’s block. This is when a writer (be it an aspiring author, published writer, poet, song writer.. anyone that puts words on paper) suffers a period of time when the words do not flow. The time period can be anywhere from hours to years. It is chronic, it is contagious and it is not always easily dispersed.
For most, it is just a temporary set back that comes from our minds being too jumbled. Like a busy highway at rush hour. So many cars full of information are trying to get out that no one goes anywhere. A writer’s words are the same way. They get jumbled, slowed down, wreck, try to reverse and do 12-point turns trying to avoid the carnage on the roadway ahead. It isn’t fun, but it is real.
The most notable type of writer’s block is what I call “Standard Block.” This is when a writer is actively writing according to their timeline, day in and day out and then one day they sit down, open their computer and just freeze. The words were there… are there.. somewhere. The writer has no idea the attack is coming. The preparation was the same as yesterday, the motions were there, she even brewed a fresh pot of coffee because she is going to finish this chapter tonight if it kills her! Then, *POOF* nothing happens.
So how do you combat this type of blockage? You take a break. Step away and turn the computer off. Put the pencils down, turn the coffee pot off and go watch a movie, talk a bath, go for a walk. Get out of the mode of having to write. The words are in there and they will come out eventually.
The more you force it, the more frustrated you will become and the one or two sentences that do make it out will just be shit, confusing and make you even more blocked up as you have something else to worry about. Breathe. Relax. Get out of the habit of writing for a while. Try again in a few hours. Without pressure. If it is still there, try one of the other methods below.
The second type of block is what I call “Writer’s Jumble.” The jumble usually comes from too many ideas going on at once. It’s not so much a loss of focus, but more that too many things are trying to get out.
Picture a room with only one door, a small door, where even smaller men have to duck and turn sideways to enter. In the room are 10,000 people eating dinner for some fancy banquet. Now imagine that a fire starts on the stage and bursts out of control quickly. Everyone must leave and the only way out is through that tiny door. It isn’t going to be easy.
The Jumble block is the same. You have 10,000 good ideas all about different things, trying to get out a tiny door all at once. Truth is, the only things that will get out are small, worthless nuggets and broken, bruised and battered half-ideas. Writer’s Jumble is one of the worst because you know the words are in there. If you concentrate hard enough you can even feel them screaming to get out, but the moment you try to write them down you are flooded with small snippets of a thousand other projects and stories.
How do you escape? Well, the easiest way is by free-writing. I will discuss this in greater detail towards the end. Another way is to ensure you are in a distraction-free area. Turn off the TV, the Radio or Youtube. Shut down Facebook and your email client. Turn off your phone and sit there.
Eventually, the rush will end and words will begin to come once again. This can take some time though. I suggest that you go lay down away from any distractions, close your eyes and think about the current project. Talk out loud to yourself.
When something comes into your mind that isn’t about your current writing project, say it out loud and tell it to leave. It sounds crazy, but it works. I do this often.
If I am writing about my gore-horror novel and I get an escapee from another project I will say something like: “Yes, I know the car needs to be red for Martha’s trip to court. I am not dealing with Martha or her car right now, so that idea can leave.”
Eventually, the only ideas coming through are about the current project and then you can get up and start writing again. They will begin to come more and more freely and before you know it, you’re writing with clarity and speed again. I still believe free writing is a much better (and quicker) process, more on that later.
Another type of writer’s block is called “Blah Blah Block.” Basically, you are just fed up with the current project.
While it is true you can sit there and make yourself write another 2000 words, you…don’t want to. You feel that anything you say is just more blah blah blah. Anything you write you could really care less about and the more you force it the worse it becomes.
So how to get out of the blah-funk? This one is a bit easier. The words and the ability are there, you just don’t really care or have the motivation. The simplest solution is to go read a book. Not one of yours, but one you like.
Every writer has several books that they love and of those, most (if not all) are inspirational to the writing. It gets you eager, it gets you going, and makes you feel like you can do it, too. Go read one of your inspirational books.
For the curious minds out there, my favorite inspirational books are Stephen King’s The Long Walk, and Michael Connelly’s The Poet. There are others, but these two never fail me.
Yet another type of writer’s block is “Distraction Block.” It is by far the most common block out there and it is also the easiest to get rid of. There are pitfalls, of course. Distraction Block is when you want to write and can write and will write. But…the kids will be home soon, and dinner has to be made and the laundry needs doing and the dogs need to be walked and that new movie you and the wife wanted to watch is on in 20 minutes… Basically, real life is trying to get in the way. Since we all have lives outside of writing, it is going to happen a lot.
How, then, do you get rid of it? Very easily, actually. You go live your life. Simple as that. Whatever it is that has your attention, go get it done. If you have to cook dinner, then go cook dinner.
If the wife is waiting for you to make it over to the couch to watch that movie, then get over to the couch and bring snacks. When whatever it is that is on your mind besides writing is done and over with, you will get back to writing. It really is that simple.
There is a pitfall to this that you need to be aware of and watch out for: The distraction loop. You go cook dinner then watch the film then get the kids to bed then shower, then sleep then wake up, then get to work, the kids come home, you cook dinner… etc., etc. Don’t be put off by real life so much that you never write. Make the time for writing and get it done.
I Just Can’t Block
While there are literally hundreds of other types of writer’s block out there, they all can be generalized into these few categories. The last one I will cover is called “I Just Can’t Block.” In this instance you want to write, you have the desire, you have the will and the time and the ability… you just have nothing to write about. No matter how much you try there isn’t an idea worthy of your time.
When this happens there is only one way out Freewriting. Freewriting is -almost- a catch-all for all types of writer’s block. It is one of the only tried and true methods to free yourself from the woes of being blocked. It can give you ideas to write about, it can unbottle the traffic jam, it can even make you excited about writing that great idea that was growing boring.
The best part about it is how simple it is. The only caveat that I will place on it is that it must be done with pen and paper (or pencil) and never on a computer or tablet. Trust me. If you start free-writing on a computer, you will correct your mistakes, read and re-read and it will become pointless.
Grab a pen and a notebook. Get a good size notebook, a spiral notebook or a yellow legal pad. Something besides loose leaf (if possible. if not get loose-leaf and stack them on a clipboard, or staple them together). Once you have your materials get comfortable: your favorite chair, the couch, even the bed propped up on pillows. The next little while you won’t be moving much so go pee now. Get everything out of the way and allow yourself a few hours (you won’t need that much usually though).
Start writing after you are situated. About what? About nothing and everything. Write down whatever comes to your mind. It doesn’t need to make sense. Hell, it doesn’t even need to be legible. Don’t even look at the paper. Just write down words. when you get to the end of the page, rip it off, toss it to the floor and keep going! The ripping is not only satisfying, but it also helps remove all the words you just wrote from your mind. It is a cleanser, like the old push-bar and bell on a typewriter.
Now You Write
Write and write and write and write. Believe me that it doesn’t matter what the paper says. Here is one of my last free writing pages:
Penguins are funny shoes that dont have paper. sometimes the air is crips like a moutain top full of pringles. the slipper wont fit her so dont een try it just know that i love you and you’re so beautiful that i cry myself to dreams have a loong standing importance to swans that means they float in the air that can’t breathe…..
Well, you get the idea. You free your mind, you free your lessons and learning and simply put words on paper. Spelling doesn’t matter, grammar doesn’t matter, nothing at all matters except that you write words.
When It’s Over It’s Over
And when you are all out of words, stop. Never force free-writing. Go with the flow and when the flow stops, you stop. It usually takes a few minutes to start going, just keep at it. Write whatever comes to your mind in whatever order. Don’t try and make sense of it, just write it. Before too long you will be flying through the pages. Embrace it, don’t think about it. When you are all done, clean up and go back to your project. I will bet dollars to pesos, you will be able to write again a lot more easily and without that discouraging writer’s block.
tl;dr Writer’s block is real. It is a disease we can overcome with some patience, but it is real. Anyone who tells you it is not, you tell them I said to suck a fart out of my ass.