Sunday, February 21, 2010

When the Lightbulb Doesn't Go Off...

Also known as the dreaded Writer's Block.


The word alone sends chills down even the most fearless of writers' spines! Problem is, it can affect ANYONE, and most often when it strikes, there's not much you can do to get that lightbulb working again.

It's a slow fix. And it can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of YEARS! (Yes...years for the truly unlucky!)

How do you know if you're suffering from Writer's Block? Well, here are a few symptoms. If you have more than three of these at one time, you have Writer's Block!

Common Symptoms:
  • You have not written anything in more than a month
  • Repeatedly throughout the week, you find yourself staring at your cursor for hours at a time, unable to come up with anything
  • Everything you write lacks originality or focus (this only applies to writers who have talent in the first place)
  • You don't feel like writing, or the thought of writing makes you tired
  • You lack inspiration or are unable to get your creative juices flowing
  • You procrastinate or deviate from an otherwise "fixed" writing schedule
  • You begin to hate or get frustrated with your characters or storyline
  • When you do write, it feels like you're just "going through the motions"
  • Writing doesn't excite you as it used to
  • You want to bash your head into a wall or throw your computer out the window
  • You want to delete or trash your entire story
  • You feel sad or depressed about not writing
These are just a few signs of Writer's Block. For every writer, it's different. It's an unmistakable illness, most writers know when they have it...but what causes Writer's Block?

There haven't been any scientific studies that I know of, but I do have a theory.

The biggest culprit of Writer's Block is FATIGUE! (Write it down, kids, there will be a pop quiz.)

Usually when you have Writer's Block, it's because you've been working too hard! You've exhausted your creative reserves and your brain needs a rest. You've spent too much time writing in the wee hours of the morning, and not enough time on sleep! Or, you've been spreading yourself too thin in other areas of your life--like all that overtime spent at your dead-in job, or that mountain of school work you've yet to start. Catering to the demands of your kids while juggling your marriage, career, bills, etc. can detract from the energy needed to complete/start a manuscript!

What so few people understand is writing is hard! Just like sculpting a statue or painting a mural, it takes just as much craft and artistry to crank out a novel or short story. There's sentence structure, story arcs, characterization, narrative description, plot development, creative hooks, dialogue structure and proper grammar to think about, in addition to the exhaustive editing and publishing process! It takes time to write well, so take the time when you start getting distress signals from your brain in the form of Writer's Block!

I am in no way and expert, but here are some solutions I've observed that can help combat "teh evil Writer's Block."

Curing Writer's Block:

First and foremost, stop writing! If you're suffering from fatigue, give yourself time to rest. If you have a huge project at work, your daughter's wedding to attend to, or you're in the middle of renovating your home, DON'T add onto your stress by trying to start a 90K+ novel! Use common sense.

Catch up on your reading! Great writers are great readers, so take this time to stock up on your favorite authors' latest books! Study their sentence structure, absorb the way they build character development or dramatic arcs. Learn from those you admire.

Get out there and do activities you haven't done in a while or otherwise wouldn't have had time for! Take this time to get back into the swing of things. Now that you're not writing, go out and see that new movie you thought was cool on TV. Take your friends with you. Go to the zoo. Go on a shopping spree! Do whatever it is you've been putting off. Writers are socially reclusive for the most part--so do not isolate yourself when you have Writer's Block! Now is the time to be social! Be as active as you can!

Lastly, take time to smell the roses for the next few days. Let yourself be inspired! Pamper yourself with long, hot baths, watch your favorite movies...have sex with your wife! Take it easy and allow yourself to recuperate. You deserve it, after all!

Here are a few stimulating exercises that have helped me.
  • Read your favorite passage from your favorite books and write a 500 word "free write" inspired by what you've read
  • Watch a movie/TV show you wouldn't normally watch so to reaffirm why you don't write that genre/type of characters. Either "free write" or mentally note areas of the movie that didn't make sense or turned you off.
  • Beta-read someone else's work (it really helps you work on your own writing!)
  • Journal, blog, etc.
In no time at all you'll be writing again! Remember, it takes PATIENCE! So don't try to force it and good luck writing! Hang in there!

If you have any other tips to share, let me know about it! Leave a comment! :)


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