Dealing with writer’s block

One time I was very frustrated. I was watching Finding Nemo and couldn’t remember what a sea horse was called. I tried horse fish, ocean horse, and other such variations but none of them sounded right in my head. In the end I had to pause the film and ask my sister what those curious creatures were called. It was very frustrating.

Now. Let’s try that over a period of three weeks and you have my particular variation of writer’s block. I have several drafts of blog posts all over the place, ranging from a few sentences and bullet points to paragraphs that just stop halfway through my point. I’ll have an idea, go with it and then it just fizzles to nothing. Or, even worse, I know exactly what my point is but just can’t find the words to adequately express it. It explains why the opening sentence of this post sounds like it was written by a toddler.

I feel like I need to scoop out my brain, spread it on a pan and do something like this*:

I think I know why it’s happening. I’ve had a few distractions lately that are making me want to curl up in bed and ignore people. That isn’t exactly conducive to concentration. Thankfully I’m not a freelance writer, so this writer’s block isn’t going to cost me a day job. But it isn’t exactly making life easier for my editors. And I really enjoy writing. Not being able to do it to my usual standard is kinda troubling.

So. Tips please? Do you get writer’s block? How do you deal with it? I would really appreciate your answers!

*This process is called “panning for gold”. I know this because I googled “what gold miners do”. I couldn’t remember :-(

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14 thoughts on “Dealing with writer’s block

  1. China Blue says:

    Hi, I have the same problem. The best advice I can give you is to write, even if it’s crap. Write your ideas down, even if they’re half-baked; you might find something else hits you and completes the circuit – I speak as someone who’s also cultivating a fine graveyard of blogs that never were.

    Write about your distraction, the people you want to avoid. About being in bed avoiding them. Anything.

    I’ve been wanting to write short stories and had loads circling in my head but thought they had to be complete before I put them on the page – doesn’t work like that. Just dump your brains on the page and feel the weight lift. It sounds mad, but when in doubt, just write, and stop editing yourself before you’ve even started!

    Hope that helps :-)

    • Alexandra Sheppard says:

      I do the same! I think I can’t start something if I only have a vague outline of the idea in my head.

      I’ll get scribbling then! Thanks for your tip, really helpful x

  2. Dan Worth says:

    Yes, the only cure for WB is too write more. just anything, everything, just start without any idea of what it is for or about or that it will ever be published.

    Another good tip is to read something completly different to what you usually read. So a travel book or a biography if they are alien to you, or something like that, get’s your mind thinking of new ideas that you can’t see beyond – like vampires?!

  3. Luke says:

    My coping mechanisms are as follows:

    1. Get up, go get something to eat. Most times, my writer’s block turns out to be hunger.

    2. Normally I have one sentence I’ve planned out that’s going to be really great, maybe a few paragraphs down, but I get frustrated writing all the pre-amble to that great sentence and it fucks up my whole writing…thing. In which case, write the fun bits first and then fill in the blanks.

    3. I find that working up momentum is really hard. The first paragraph always takes the longest to write. I find that it helps to just write what you basically means, even if you don’t think the words are right, but just splurge *something* that’s kind of in the right ballpark, and keep forging ahead. By the time you’re at the end of the piece, you’ll be able to jump right back to the start and motor through it, rewriting everything that sucked.

    4. Don’t take writing too seriously. I mean, c’mon it’s just words, and people read enough every day that even if the wording isn’t perfect, they’ll almost certainly know exactly what you mean anyway. Sometimes beer helps me with this particular stumbling block. (Though alcoholism is probably a step too far)

    • Alexandra Sheppard says:

      Wow! Thanks Luke! Plenty of awesome tips there, and I totally know what you mean about taking writing too seriously. Maybe I should just relax a bit?

  4. diane says:

    In contrast to everyone else (I always was awkward) I would say… write less. There’s only so much good-quality writing a person can do, and limiting time at the computer can help the brain restore itself (or something). Sometimes I have a few days or even a week where I don’t write anything, and I’m always itching to get back to it afterwards. Or I have times when I’m busy with other stuff, and I’m desperate to write and fit it in in tiny increments.

    Julia “Artists Way” Cameron recommends writing every day — but only 3 pages, 5 days a week, never more. The limit makes people productive and keeps them enthusiastic.

    Of course sometimes WB is actually anxiety about not being good enough, in which case, DO write something, anything, even if it’s rubbish. But then have a rest :)

    Also, have you read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott? It’s brilliant.

  5. Jo and the Novelist says:

    I had writers block for three months, which was extremely frustrating, especially knowing that I was roughly 25 000 words from the end of my novel. And then one day, BAM! 2 weeks, and 25k done. And now? Well, I’m back to nothing again. Talk about random.

    It’s peaks and troughs this writers lark. The cause of my breakthrough was due to sitting in a quiet room with literally nothing else to do. No phone, no computer, no one to talk to.
    I wasn’t forcing myself to write, but I definitely forced myself to think for a while. And once all the usual, non-creative ‘what shall I have for dinner, can I really justify buying *more* shoes from Primark, should I watch a whole season of The Sopranos over the weekend’ thoughts were out of the way, general life musing/writery type things suddenly sprang mind. Pretty soon I was scribbling ideas down on paper.

    I love the ‘panning for gold’ thing! It’s kind of a ‘panning for ideas’ – only with less physical movement, and no gold at the end.

    By the way: I don’t frequently lock myself in an underground bunker or anything for isolation purposes… Sometimes, these are merely the circumstances presented by my job…

  6. Alexandra Sheppard says:

    Thanks for such helpful advice!

    As I mentioned in the post, I don’t write for a living so getting over the writer’s block isn’t incredibly urgent. But writing has always been something that I’ve been good at, and not being able to do it well feels horrible. Sucking at the only thing you’re good at is no fun.

    • Jo and the Novelist says:

      That’s pretty much my issue! I am fundamentally hopeless at everything else – including my day job, which I only do to *fund* the writing bit. It’s so frustrating when it goes completely tits up, and then you feel like there’s nothing else. Except shoes from Primark, and a full season of The Sopranos.

      What I’m trying to say is – I feel your pain! I hope you work through it soon :) x x

  7. larainbow says:

    ^ I actually love these comments. This blog post is made of wonderful.

    This is nonsense in comparison to the useful advice above, but I always find writing a diary/journal helps. That way, I can splurge out what I want to say in ridiculous, often overly melodramatic and frankly mental ways, and then that clears out my brain to make room for vocalising my thoughts in a slightly more coherent manner. :)

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