Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Ailment

You know it. You all get it. And I've been infected and it sucks.

Writer's block.


I don't get it very often, but when I do, it's invariably when I've got a deadline to meet (The end of the WoTF quarter, I'm looking at you).

Come and share your favorite remedies with me! =)


Anonymous said...

Whenever I find myself just really stuck on a project, I'll break down and fall back on my own personal brain candy. Fan-fiction. I know it's horrible and copyrighted, but I find it such a relief to be able to send characters that I know and love on television into adventures of my own creation. The best part is, you never have to do anything with them. I have folders and folders sitting on my laptop of stories, finished and unfinished, with characters that aren't mine. It's so nice to be able to concentrate on only plot instead of balancing plot, characterization, and themes in my original work.

I've found that once I've let my little plot bunny out to play in someone else's yard for a bit, whether it's a day or an hour or a week, I'm in much better shape to work on my original material. I especially love doing that when I'm between projects, as it really does keep myself from getting too bogged down in my own work, which tends to be a little heavy sometimes.


Suzanne Nam said...

take whatever you're writing, print it up and start typing again in a new document (or the last few pages if it's a long piece). hopefully by the time you reach the end of what you've already written you'll be able to keep writing.

or write discreet pieces of a larger out of order. just pick whatever you can write at the time.

i think writer's block isn't usually a full on, whole body block, rather difficulty with a particular part (often the beginning or end).i use both of these suggestions to give me some distance from the part that's causing me problems and put the bigger work in perspective. then i can usually go back to whatever is causing me problems and write it.

Antony B said...

Doodling. I find doodling and drawing keeps the creative part of my brain ticking over, while also giving it a break from thinking about my current novel.

An alternative solution that I've found works very well is to have a copy of a favourite book to hand. Ideally by an author whose style is close to your own. Whenever I'm struggling I like to read the first chapter of Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard. It reminds me how perfectly simple good writing can be and inspires me to reach for the same level of perfection (for a given value of perfection - tastes differ of course).

Kim said...

Usually, I find that just writing anything, even garbage, helps. It seems to jump start my brain.

However, I recently grappled with a HUGE case of writer's block. I took a break from what I was working on and learned to knit instead. After a month, my batteries were recharged (and I ended up with two birthday gifts for my mom =)). So sometimes, the only cure is to walk away for a bit.

Heidi the Hick said...

Try skipping ahead in the story. You can fill in the hole later.

Or, get out a notebook and pen and write a big long description of a character or setting. Get down every ridiculous detail. You never have to use any of it, but, sometimes you'll stumble across something that makes a difference. You might suddenly understand why a character acts like he does, what he's self conscious about, whatever. Then you're off!

I also recommend a good brisk walk. Or barn work, although not everybody has that joy!

Kaleb said...

My WIP is plotted out to almost every detail across an outline, so I'm not really stuck in what to write. However, my writer's block comes about from a burnout of steam. Sometimes I just don't feel like writing.

The trick to curing this is to go to youtube and search for Stephenie Meyer Book Signing and watch all the screaming fans for her books for about 30 minutes. A Year In The Life of JK Rowling is another video that works well. Somehow, seeing other authors who are super successful jump-starts the engine and gets things moving again :)

Sheri said...

Blow something up. Though not for real, in your book. It's a NaNoWriMo trick I learned. When the plot is stuck, you're stuck, open the file to where you left off and blow something up. Then watch your characters react to it. It's amazing what a little literary C4 will do for ya.

You don't have to leave it in the final product, but it is a good way to muscle past the blocks and write something.

Jessica said...

Take out a favorite book, nothing too heavy. Fill a bubble bath and pour yourself a glass of wine (just one!). Read a few chapters while luxuriating. When you get out of the tub, having finished off your glass of wine, you'll be relaxed and your brain will feel freer. The time spent not thinking about your project is invaluable, too. Now, read over the last few pages of your project. I find that this is the best unblocker.

Amie Stuart said...

I LIKE Suzanne's suggestion! I do something similiar--I print and read/line edit what I have to get back in the groove. Usually this is after being away from my WIP for too long.

I also think that sometimes a) life gets in the way so that part of our brain shuts down. I didn't write for three years after my mom died. And b) Sometimes we've spewed out all that our subconscious has had time to finish cooking. I"m a FIRM believer in relying on your subconscious (but not to the point you can make excuses for not writing) and I believe that stories NEED time to cook.

Take all that for whatever it's worth :) And relax...much like getting preggers, the more you stress about it, the harder it is.

Jodi Meadows said...

I don't believe in writers' block. There are slow days and there are good days and there are days when you're so bored or confused or unhappy about what you have to write that you don't feel like writing.

The only way to overcome it is to write anyway. If you get out of the habit of writing, it's easier not to start again. If you make yourself write a certain number of words every day no matter what, no matter how you feel about your story, then you will become accustomed to it. And you will be able to write no matter what, even if it's only a little.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Part of my specific problem is that this is a short story that really should be done as a novel. And it's the type of novel, that as a writer, I realize I won't be ready to write for something like another five years.

So trying to compress it all out into short story form is a bit trying, but when you have a very persistent friend named Spencer, who insists that the story get finished... well, you try to finish the story.

Wilfred the Author said...

Try taking a hike.

Last year, I stumbled onto a solution called exercise. Actually a method of exercise that helped me finish my novel and lose some weight.

I have my iPod filled with hard driving, mindless music with a steady beat-the kind the aerobic instructors use. Oh, I use music without many words to focus on.

Just before you walk, I read the last chapter or section of my project. Finally, I put on my headphones and take off.

As I walk, I keep a brisk pace letting the music set my cadence and I focus my gaze on the road or path. I start retracing that last chapter and before I know it, my plot is moving forward and my characters will come alive. My mind fills with dialogue.

Remember, this isn't a nature hike or social outing; this is a business trip. Concentrate on the task at hand and before you know it, you’ll have covered several miles while accomplishing considerable work on your writing. Depending on your pace, you’ll have burned several hundred calories and the blood flow to your brain will have increased, stimulating your mental alertness and making you more productive when you return to your keyboard. You’ll also receive some health benefits by lowering your LDL (bad cholesterol) and raising your HDL (good cholesterol).

Kristine Overbrook said...

I reread what I've written up to this point. Get into the story, feel the characters, and just write.

I rewrote the same scene six different ways. Different POV, participants, and once moved the location slightly. After a while I decided which to keep.

But it all depends on what is locking you up. Is it the story? Then what I do is above. But if it's because I just can't focus. I go for a walk, exercise or play with my dogs.

Eating a complex carb and protein snack with a large glass of water helps too.

Whatever you choose to do, let your mind wander back to your story. Gently don't force it. Stress blocks creative epiphanies. Very often what will happen next just hits you.

Rachel said...


Other people's stories always break me out of my funk.

Barbara said...

I seek out the most boring, mindless tasks I can find. I wash the dishes. I clean the bathroom. I do an extra 20 minutes on the treadmill. I do not listen to music or watch TV or anything while I am doing these things.

Usually, out of pure self defense, my brain kick-starts into action. Ideas pop. Sometimes wacky ideas. Usually new ideas or new twists on old ideas that help me find a new direction to take things in or a revelation about why what I was writing worked in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Pretend that the shorty story you're writing is the really the synopsis of the novel you're going to write in five years...the one you'll have to send to editors to sell the story. Pack each sentence with critical details. The right word can eliminate the need for a couple of sentences. This challenge may keep you going, and the end product will be useful on a couple of levels--short story for now; synopsis for when you finally get time to write the novel.

Nancy Fulda said...

Write junk.

No, I mean it. Give yourself permission to write the absolutely crappiest, most ill-conceived and poorly-written next few paragraphs that you possibly can. And then start writing them.

Somewhere along the way, a baby will show up along with the bathwater, and you'll suddenly realize where you want the story to go and how to get it there.

Mary Paddock said...


There's a trick to not holding what you're doing too close to the flame while you're doing it. I think we get so caught up in worrying about the end result that we sometimes freeze in mid-plot--like we're on stage. So we have to stop thinking of what we're doing as performing for anyone and remind ourselves that the page forgiving, changeable, and malleable. Nothing, absolutely nothing, you're writing right now is in stone. Rewrites aren't fun, but they're part of the process. Resign yourself to the fact that you'll have to do this regardless so you might as well just tell the story you see fit and trust yourself to do it well.

Also--when I find myself "lost" I back up to the last scene I was happy with and start over. This almost always works for me. Sometimes a block on what to do next is your subconscious trying to tell you that you've taken a wrong turn.

Hope something helps here.


Brandi said...

I guess it depends on why you get writer's block.

I get writer's block because I'm scared of something. At least, that's why I haven't written anything in the last couple of years--until this Easter.

I was kicked out of a writer's group because my fantasy took a sharp turn into horrorville, and the person who ran the group told me that I was a sadomasochist, who was obviously abused as a child, and who supported violence against women.

For the longest time I thought he was right. So I tried to write happy stories with mild conflict.
It didn't work. I didn't finish anything. I didn't want to write.

But this weekend something finally clicked in my head. I started rewriting the story that had gotten me in trouble with the critique group. And I made it scarier.

I still shy away from the horror elements, but I've been forcing myself to write them anyway. My story is all the better for it. And I'm much happier writing what I want to write instead of writing what people think I should write.


Anonymous said...

Take some section of the story (all of it? the last part?) and save as another file. After every single sentence make yourself write three more sentences, no more, no less. On to the next. Sounds funny but you tap into details you didn't know were there that may well drive the story forward.

Also, don't be afraid to write the novel even if you know your craft/understanding isn't at the level you want. It's all practice!

Anonymous said...

These are great suggestions. I have tried some of these - a trail walk, chores, reading, biking, writing something new.

What not to do: surf the internet, which is what I'm doing now and is a tremendous time-waster and leaves you right back where you started.


Aimless Writer said...

Think; what's the worst possible thing that could happen to this character right now? How can I make them fall on their face?
Torture the little beasts. Even if you don't like it later sometimes things like this might spark and idea.
Alternate idea: Give yourself permission to write bad. Hurl some trashy junk onto the paper, get it out of your system and move on.
Some of my best work came when I gave myself to write badly.
It takes the ego out of the equation.

Caryn said...

A few things that help: Warming up by writing something else first--usually a journal entry that can then morph into my book. Closing my eyes and just writing. Opening up a new document and starting a scene on there; it makes everything I write seem less permanent somehow. Taking a break and reading or watching a movie, just to enjoy someone else's stories for a while. Good luck with your block!

jsbangs said...

I use a technique similar to Nancy Fulda. I give myself permission to suck long and hard on my first draft, and when I sit down to write, I force myself to write something. There are days when it's a torment just to get out 100 truly craptacular words, but that's more than zero. I find that if I'm forcing myself forward, I soon get past whatever was blocking me in the first place. What I wrote during that period might wind up being thrown away in revision, but at least I didn't let it stop me.

Tricia said...

Write the ending. It's kind of like a road map. You have a starting point and a destination. Then it's up to you to plot (he he he) the route.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Your point that you're taking a story meant for a novel and converting it into a short story might be the problem. I'm a firm believer that novels and short stories are very different beasts.

Trying to make your idea for a novel fit is probably forcing you to do things that wouldn't happen if you were writing this as a novel... and perhaps these are things you subconsciously know aren't right for the story.

I think the solution to writer's block is one of two extremes. Either step away from the story and go read (as was suggested earlier) or just force yourself to write, even if it's dreck. I personally prefer the latter option. Doesn't always work, but at least you can edit crap. You can't edit a blank page.

no blogger account yet said...

Whenever I get stuck on my WIP, I go back and edit something (three finished works that need another going through or two other barely started projects). I think I use different sections of brain for writing and editing (adjacent, but different).

good luck with fixing your block!


A.C. Steinmetz said...

if your plan isn't working once you started...i find it is because you are holding onto your plan...it is hard to let what you had in mind...let your plan go...let the story write itself.

Just_Me said...

I'm suffering a disturbing reversal of writers block, I have a new story demanding attention when I have several already on progress and I'm supposed to be furiously editing something for an August deadline (self-imposed and more's the pity).

Can I borrow a bit of your writers block just to keep new ideas at bay until the ones I have are polished and pretty?

Mark said...

I'm definitely with the write through it crowd. It doesn't matter how rough the work is - that's what re-writes are for. Even if you can only manage a few hundred words a day, you'll soon find yourself getting over the hump and back in the swing of things.

Amie Stuart said...

Just me....I've had the same problem. IF you can, write out whatevers in your head. That usually works for me .

Scott said...

I'm with Heidi The Hick. Skip ahead. It works.

Like this one time I couldn't get all that into this particular chapter, and so I felt stuck. Finally, I just wrote a quick summary of the chapter and moved on to the next one. I knew it would be crap, so I didn't bother with spelling, punctuation, or even capitalization. For some reason I felt like I had to have something there before I could move on because, despite what my desk looks like and the random thoughts that come into my head, I tend to be somewhat orderly in my work. So I scribbled it down (if you can scribble on a computer) and moved on. And the strategy worked. I went back to that chapter when I felt like writing it.

Right now I'm not exactly blocking, but I'm hesitating. I have a chapter to write that will be intense and unpleasant, and I'm a mellow and pleasant guy. But the chapter's important. I'm dreading the chapter and finding reasons to work on other stuff that really does need to be worked on. But I have to do the chapter before I get blocked by my anxiety. If I get blocked, though, I'll summarize it and move on, and come back later.

Ryan Field said...

I always think it's best to just stop, put everything aside, and take a break. Do something different that isn't related to what you're writing...something you can lose yourself in. Writer's block is a form of stress, coming from somewhere in your subconscious. And if you take the time to relax and stop worrying about writer's block, it will all start to flow again. And at the most peculiar time, too.

Chris Marshall said...

-Brainstorming on paper
-Sitting down and just starting
-Talking it through with a friend
-Sleep, allows my brain to relax and open up to ideas

Whenever I can't figure out how to solve a plot problem, the minute I describe it out loud, the solution comes easily. I tend to overthink these things and have to remember the answer is usually right in front of me.

Nicholas Borelli said...

Watch a couple of episodes of Project Runway. The most creative reality show on television. If that doesn't inspire one to create (write), I don't know what will. The people have too little money, too little time and no room to think about it. They just do it. Emulate them.

Mark said...

I find going to back the original premise really helps me focus on where I'm going next. I'm a big fan of trying to write through the pain, so to speak. It's so easy to get distracted from the task at hand when you re-read earlier work, or start on something different.

Force yourself to write a few hundred words a time on your story - they don't have to be great and you can sort them out in the re-draft - but at least you're still make headway towards to end.

My Semblance of Sanity said...

I grab a blank piece of paper and develop a character I have never met before - in a scenario I never dreamed I would write about...

I use that to side-track me for a while - file it away in the "someday" file and go back to work...

usually works for me...

good luck
WB stinks!!

Anonymous said...

where ya been, Jenny?