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…