Writer’s block . . . What are you afraid of?

Sometimes people ask me about writer’s block and how I deal with it. Writer’s block is the bogeyman living inside the closet of every writer’s mind. It’s scary to think about, and many writers allow it to cripple their motivation, ideas, and words. Early in my writing career, during the writing of my first novel, writer’s block moved in uninvited, and I didn’t write a word for almost a year. When I finally broke through, I promised myself I would never allow writer’s block to strangle me  again and would find a way that consistently worked to defeat it.

My answer to how I deal with writer’s block often surprises people: I deal with it by refusing to allow it to hide out, lurking in the shadows. I don’t acknowledge it, so it does not, cannot affect my writing. I write in spite of writer’s block. This attitude comes from my belief about my writing. I am a writer, and as such, I write. I don’t always write well, but I write every day, nearly 365 days a year.

So how do I write around writer’s block? The biggest obstacle is my attitude. If I make room for writer’s block, even a tiny corner of my mind, it will take over and hang around as long as I allow it to. I have learned to refuse to even acknowledge it. There is no room for writer’s block in my life because I’m committed to writing something every day. Sometimes the work is going well, just sailing along, and sometimes a strong wind comes around to stop me.

Here is the key to defeating writer’s block: I always have several writing projects going at the same time. If I am truly stuck, I work on something else for an hour, or even a day or two. This could mean writing a blog post, working on the next book, or answering an online question.

Then I go back to my main project. I review my notes, add to my character sketch, and reread a chapter or two I’ve already written. If I’m still stuck, I’ll skip over that rough spot and pick up the story a little further along. I can always return to it later. Often by then, I know a little more about my characters and the plot. Now I will know what needs to be there.

But what, exactly, is writer’s block?

Writer’s block is that fear that this book, article, proposal (whatever you are struggling with) is the end of your writing career. It’s scary when the words stop coming, and it’s easy to convince yourself they will never start again. But that is fear talking, not your experience. We all have times when the writing gets hard. Times when finding any word, let alone the right word, is so beyond our ability that it looks like the dream of being a writer is over.

Here is what I have learned about those times. The writing gets hard when:

I’m trying to force something to happen, or make a character do something, that doesn’t fit with the plot or the character’s nature as I’ve defined it.

I’ve lost sight of the point of the story and I can’t imagine how it’s all going to end.

If I remove the part of the writing that is tripping me up and rewrite that section from a different place or perspective, I can usually identify and fix the block.

Whatever ends up working, hitting a wilderness area in my novel does not give me an excuse to pitch a tent and go fishing. All it means is that I need to be even more creative and work through it. I need to go back to “what if” mode and start asking new questions. And, sometimes, I need to let it rest for a short period, so the characters start talking to me again.

Until next time,

Susan

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