Identifying and understanding the cause of any given instance of Writer’s Block is the key to unlocking the impasse.
In Writer’s Block – Part A we established that there are multiple reasons for Writer’s Block, many of which are unique to individual people and situations. We also identified that Writer’s Block is an obstruction, or state of being obstructed, resistance to understanding, learning etc, set up by existing habits of thought and action.
The next step in the ‘Battle of the Block’ as I like to call it, is to get personal and consider our own particular obstructions. Writing Exercise ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? is designed to assist you with this challenge.
Once you have identified and explored your own experience, it will be clear which existing thought patterns lead you into the dark tunnel that produces no words.
Among the most commonly stated reasons for Writer’s Block are the concepts of having no ideas, having too many ideas or information… and feeling overwhelmed, perfectionism and fear. However, as I dissect and expand these one by one, it will become evident that each one is a complex system of possible pitfalls.
‘I have no idea what to write’, ‘I can never find ideas’, ‘But, what am I going to write about?’ are all comments that pass the lips of writers… especially new writers trying to find their way; but also at times from seasoned writers who have finished a project they’re passionate about and have a sense that nothing will ever grab them with the same force.
In reality, ideas are all around us and we pick them up if we’re attuned to them. When we tell ourselves there are no ideas, we block a myriad of possibilities.
There are many exercises to help you get and expand ideas. Watch my Writing Exercises page on this website for new posts of some of the ideas exercises I have developed for my courses over the years.
Too Many Ideas…
The floodgates can open and swamp writers with ideas. You might say, ‘Lucky them!’ if you’re someone with the No Ideas problem, but having too many ideas can be just as debilitating. In this case, writers can drown in possibilities to the extent that they can’t focus on any individual idea, so the abundance blocks their creative passage.
Listing the ideas is a good way to start solving this problem, because it creates many advantages ~
- Once you put the ideas on paper, they are less dominant in your mind and clarity begins.
- Being able to see the ideas laid out allows you to assess how they stack up against each other and which ones have most promise.
- You may notice there are some overlapping ideas, which can be fused together.
- You are able to gauge your reaction to each idea and identify where your passion lies.
Once you have decided which ideas you are likely to pursue over time, set up a folder on your computer for each one. Choose the one you will develop first and make it your Work in Progress.
The remainder of the ideas will be waiting for you when you’re ready to work with them. In the meantime, these folders will give you a place to file bits ’n’ pieces that come up in relation to the ideas within them. You can set up more folders as new ideas present themselves.
By taking this approach, your extra ideas are not clogging your mind, are organised and ready for future exploration and are not cutting across your current work in progress.
Not Enough Information…
If you are stuck in your writing as a result of lack of information on a subject, research is the first step. Your local library and the internet are obvious places to begin your search. Explore related existing literature to gain knowledge of facts and to gauge your interest level.
If multiple books and articles exist, think about a new approach and a different angle that may add to the topic and grab readers’ attention. Don’t be tempted to put too much work into pursuing an idea that has been fully exhausted – there are enough ideas out there for everyone.
Avoid getting stuck on an idea just because you think it’s a good one. There has to be a drawcard to hold readers’ attention… and some ideas, while good ones, don’t have enough substance to carry the story or article to a satisfactory conclusion.
Too Much Information…
Like a flood of ideas, too much available information on the subject of your current work can cause a blockage of major proportions.
A student of many years has given permission for me to use her situation as an example. Anne (not her real name) writes almost continually. She records things she hears, takes notes, writes about her experiences, keeps a journal, turns life’s events into poems… Writing is a major part of her life, coming in closely behind her family and friends, her love for them and their collective life experiences.
A fellow-traveller on an overseas tour asked Anne to write about an horrendous experience from his life. She gladly committed to the task with great gusto, as she approaches anything that may benefit another person. In this case, she saw an opportunity for healing for the man who owned this particular story and also for many others who had survived similar experiences.
But alas… the subject was huge and the more research Anne did, the bigger the story grew and the more overwhelmed she became. The more diligent she was, the greater the hole she buried herself in… She was engulfed by the world stage and, not only was she lost but so was the individual story she was to write.
Anne struggled for months, unable to find her way out of the overload and into the project. For the first time since I’d met her, she wasn’t able to settle to write anything. She still attended workshops, but either didn’t bring along any of her writing or brought work that had already been processed in earlier workshops. She was stuck… stalled… paralysed… and unable to get a handle on how to move forward.
I don’t remember how long Anne stayed in that tunnel, but I think she would tell you the months turned into at least a couple of years. Then we began one-to-one mentoring sessions to develop a plan that might help her rise above the impasse.
Anne turned up to these sessions with a full arch file of notes, tales, quotes, facts, themes, and ideas that had come from her research. There was also a folder of communications and notes on contacts she’d had with the man whose story was buried amongst the words she’d managed to get on paper before the obstruction took hold. Then there were other folders and books she was reading… and this from that… and that from this… one corroborating the other or enhancing it… ‘And I can’t leave this out’, she’d say, pulling more information from a notebook.
It soon became clear that Anne had set herself an impossible task. There was a need for her to pull back and rein in only the information that was pertinent to telling her new friend’s story. The remainder of the information was related, but not necessary to tell the story she’d been requested to write.
‘You have to decide which story you’re going to write’, I told her, ‘your friend’s story in the context of history, or document the historic world view story and its impact’. Anne agreed, but felt the pressure of doing her best to satisfy her friend’s wishes. She didn’t think my first suggestion was enough to fulfil her commitment and the second didn’t primarily focus on her friend’s story.
As a result, Anne chose to step away from what was really causing her blockage. She set aside the overwhelming project, even though she wasn’t yet ready to compromise with it or completely let it go.
We concentrated on how she could get past that work in order to move forward with her other aspirations. This took a long time, but she eventually began to produce work again through our poetry workshops, free-writing exercises and gradually allowing herself to simply write one word at a time.
Anne is writing again and having work published. She has been successful enough in moving away from the mammoth task she’d set herself, to allow her creative juices to have wings. In time, she will look at that project with new eyes and successfully bring it to fruition in some form or she will let it rest in the knowledge that this was never a story for her to write.
More causes will be explored in my Next Blog ~ Writer’s Block – Part C to be posted soon.
In the meantime, try Writing Exercise #12 ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? if you haven’t done so already.
Share your thoughts in the Comments section…
How Do I Experience Writer’s Block?
This exercise relates directly to my Blogs ~ Writer’s Block – Part A (posted today) and Writer’s Block – Part B . To enhance the benefits of this exercise, read Writer’s Block – Part A before proceeding.
Writer’s Block appears to plague all writers at some stage of their writing life. It can strike anytime and without warning, and while it is an insidious phenomenon it is not insurmountable.
The best way to minimise its impact on your work is to be prepared for it with an appropriate strategy to halt it where possible and eradicate it when it can’t be avoided. You will find possible strategies in my Writer’s Block Blog Series, mentioned above.
In order to utilise this information to best advantage, it is a good idea to first explore how Writer’s Block touches you and your work. This exercise will take you on that journey.
Ask yourself the following questions and write as much detail as you can in answer to each one ~
- Are there times that I want to write, but don’t?
- If so, why does that happen?
- What is it that stops me from picking up a pen or bashing away on the computer keyboard?
- Do I have a writing-friendly space for your writing? (See Blog ~ Writing-Friendly Spaces)
- Is/are the reason/reasons to do with the mechanics of what I am writing – the storyline, the point-of-view, my writing style, the characters, or similar?
- Do I have a time problem? Too many other commitments taking my attention?
- Is my writing pause caused by my response to another person’s attitude to my writing?
- Does my own attitude get in the way? Or my fears?
These questions are designed to get you thinking about Writer’s Block, whether or not it lurks between you and your computer, and how and why it manifests. Add more questions yourself if they come to you, and keep exploring until you feel you’ve fully clarified your relationship with Writer’s Block.
This is not about finding excuses for when you’re not producing work, but rather to put the mystery of Writer’s Block into perspective and identify what really happens so it can be dealt with productively.
Visit Writer’s Block – Part B to continue this exploration.
Writer’s Block is a big subject and, much to the chagrin of many people, there is no single simple answer to how to overcome the demon that has brought your writing to a halt. This doesn’t mean it is insurmountable, or even that the negativity which surrounds it can’t be turned into a positive outcome.
Writer’s Block – two words that are easy to understand in and of themselves, but the phenomena that lie beneath are not always easy to identify. With this in mind, it is imperative that we pause to consider what Writer’s Block actually is and what causes it, before going too far into the question of how to overcome it.
If you type Writer’s Block into Google, you’ll find 5,600,000 results headlined by the definition, The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing. Wikipedia tells us it is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which the author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences creative slowdown. These are similar definitions obtained from two of the most often consulted resources available. In both cases, there are obstructions to the writer’s ability to produce work; obstacles writers must overcome if they are to be productive.
When I ask writers what Writer’s Block means to them, there are comments like ~
- ‘When I don’t know what to write.’
- ‘When I can’t get going…’
- ‘When I want to write, but can’t get started.’
- ‘When I have started, but stopped and can’t get back to it’
- ‘When I get distracted.’
- ‘When I find other things to do instead of writing.’
These certainly describe ways Writer’s Block can manifest and fit with the above definitions. However, there is a need to delve deeper if we want to overcome whatever it is that causes a creative slowdown or a total stop in our work.
A writer is anyone who writes, has written, or has a strong urge to write – whether or not they have been published. Some may not agree with this broad statement because of a belief that a person isn’t a writer until they have published a work of significance. However, that would mean anyone who writes for enjoyment, and not publication, is not a writer. In my mind, this person is a writer in the same way as someone who plays golf for pleasure is a golfer, regardless of whether they play at competition level… or like the home gardener, who grows plants for the sheer feeling of satisfaction that comes from their connection with the earth and flora.
A block is an obstruction or obstacle, as outlined above… but if you go a step further and look up the word ‘blockage’, you’ll find it means ~ an act or instance of obstruction, or state of being obstructed, resistance to understanding, learning etc, set up by existing habits of thought and action.
Therefore, Writer’s Block is anything that obstructs a writer’s ability to write… be it physical, emotional or mental… long-term or short-term… real or imagined.
Opinions differ as to how blocked a writer has to be before they are considered to have Writer’s Block. Do they have to be totally paralysed? Or, is struggling to get back to their work for a few days enough to say they are stuck in the Writer’s Block tunnel?
Writer’s Block is personal – it can be different things to different people, and also different things to any particular person at different times. It can strike any writer at any time, and it seems to be inevitable that it will strike every writer at some stage of their writing life.
Having established this, it becomes clear that, not only is there no single simple fix that can be employed to unlock the impasse, but that there is not even a standard list of actions to eradicate the problem. The concept of Writer’s Block becomes as overwhelming as the question of how to move through it.
Problem-solving techniques demand that we identify and know the cause of a problem before we can find a solution, and Writer’s Block is a classic example of this.
What causes Writer’s Block? This is a simple enough question and the most common answers would range from having no idea, to having too many ideas and feeling overwhelmed, to perfectionism and fear. But there are multiple reasons that Writer’s Block occurs, many of which are unique to individual people and situations.
Causes will be explored in my Next Blog ~ Writer’s Block – Part B to be posted soon.
In the meantime, try Exercise #12 ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block?
Share your thoughts in the Comments section…