Today’s blog is inspired by ... the blank screen, I can’t think of a darn thing to write – writer’s block.
Sound familiar? Don’t want to think about it? Well, thinking about it may just save you from future bouts. If you can figure out what’s stopping you from writing, you can probably head off the trouble before it becomes habitually problematic. So, what are some common causes of so-called writer’s block?
LACK OF A DIRECTION. You feel compelled to write something – anything – but don’t have a clue what to write about. What you need to do is narrow your choices by defining why you must write.
Let’s assume you’re not trying to finish an existing project and you have no motivation to start a specific new project, and you are in fact just putting in time to get your obligatory ‘X-hours per day’ of writing in, kind of like the daily exercise to keep yourself fit. In this case, any kind of writing will do – just write something, even if it’s gibberish or random words. It doesn’t matter what you write. Record your daily activities journal-style. Write your (pretend) letter of resignation for your day job (just don’t hand it in).
Once you get that terror of the blank screen (or page) out of the way, you can relax, settle down, and clear your mind so you can think of something you’d actually prefer to write about. Maybe even start that novel you’ve been itching to write.
TOO MUCH DISTRACTION. Some people can write in a crowded bar with TVs and music playing, dishes clattering, people laughing. Some people can’t write if they hear a pin drop – traffic outside drives them bananas. A stay-at-home mom writer might have three screaming kids ripping up the house, making focus nearly impossible.
The truth is, every writer has some kind of distraction to put up with, whether it’s external or internal. There are only three ways to handle distraction – remove it, or remove yourself from it, or learn to ignore it.
If you can’t get two words down because your yowling cat is walking on your keyboard, lock the cat up in the bathroom until you can get a couple paragraphs written, at least enough to satisfy your writerly needs for a while. (However, don’t try this with the kids. Invest in a mom’s day out where you can pay for childcare and get some needed ‘me’ time.) If you find you can’t write on your coffee break at your desk, then take a pad and pen and leave your office to find a more secluded location, even if it’s a lighted broom closet. And if you can focus on your writing strongly enough, you can ignore strangers around you to write on the bus on your way home – just don’t miss your stop!
PROBLEM AVOIDANCE. One of the classic causes of writer’s block is having written yourself into a corner with no way out. It doesn’t matter how you got there, the fact is, you are there, and you need to get out of that bad place. You can do one of two things. Either set the writing project aside, or tackle it and go back to the point where things went wrong and do a rewrite.
Another problematic situation that makes writers avoid writing is not knowing what to write next. That’s a little more difficult to fix, because it involves plotting. But every problem can be analyzed in basic aspects – identify what the problem really is, and then identify ways that it can be satisfactorily remedied. With plotting a story, one has to keep in mind the overall objective for the story and what it is supposed to represent or accomplish or say to the reader. If action’s the main ingredient, then more action is probably what’s needed to keep the story moving. As long as what you write next segues logically from what came before, you can keep moving – one idea at a time.
However, there’s another problem many writers grapple with – having to write a scene the writer isn’t comfortable with. For action writers, romance may be the problem. For a romance writer, perhaps a suspense scene involving firearms the writer knows nothing about could be the problem. In any case, it’s usually a lack of knowledge that makes a writer hesitant to forge ahead with a scene outside the writer’s usual comfort zone. A little research online might be just the ticket to solve the anxiety associated with writing about an unfamiliar subject. And if writing a murder scene or a sex scene is the source of worry, reading other books written by authors who do those types of scenes well could be just the ticket to show how it’s done.
MISCELLANEOUS REASONS. Sometimes illness blocks productivity. This is a situation that has to be dealt with and worked through. There’s no getting around it. Once the writer feels better, usually the urge to write returns.
Depression can be a huge block for writers, making productive and logical thought nearly impossible. Sometimes only time can heal the source of the depression, so it’s important that writers suffering from this take time to get back on the right/write track and seek professional help if time is not enough.
Lack of time can be a big cause of not writing. Sometimes other things come first, and no writer can change that. It’s just something that has to be dealt with.
IN SUMMARY. For every reason listed here for writer’s block, there’s sure to be another not listed. The important thing to remember is to recognize what the problem is, then take the necessary steps to correct it. When you do that, you’re sure to unblock that block and be free to write again.
Pat Morrison, Penumbra Publishing