Friday, May 8, 2009

Getting the Block Out of Writer's Block

Writer's block is another one of those dirty little writer secrets that we aren't supposed to talk about. Like those other nasty writer issues---self-sabotage, contest mood disorder, rejection and depression, they only happen to other writers.

Anyone who says they have never had a moment of being blocked is either fibbing, in denial or they have already developed techniques to move past the block and have skillfully incorporated those techniques into their writing lifestyles. Bravo for the latter.

The reason the term writer's block is spoken in hush-hush tones is because many mistakenly think it means the well has dried up. The creative flow is no more.

Not necessarily true. Writer's block manifests in many forms.

Author and Writing Coach Jerry Mundis categorizes the 6 types of writer's block:

  • Paralysis
  • Avoidance behavior

  • Last minute crisis writing

  • Inability to finish

  • Inability to select among projects

  • Block specific (project specific)

Any of those sound familiar to you?

While we lovingly quote Nora Roberts and her thoughts on the writing muse around here...

“If you need to believe in the muse, let’s say, fine and dandy. Whatever works for you. But don’t tell me you can’t work today because the muse has left you. Go track down that fickle slut, drag her back, chain her to your keyboard, and GET TO WORK.”and"I don't believe in waiting for inspiration. It's my job to sit down and figure out what to write. I think if you wait for 'the muse' you may wait a very long time."

"I don't believe in waiting for inspiration. It's my job to sit down and figure out what to write. I think if you wait for 'the muse' you may wait a very long time."

...the reality is we are all unique and sometimes it isn't a matter of the chasing down the muse.

Because we are all unique there isn't a quick fix for writer's block.

Sometimes you simply have to get up and walk away.

Cultivate a new exercise program.

Discover the joy of antique stores, flea markets or garage sales.

Go to a movie all by yourself.

Check out your local museums and galleries.

Get lost in your local independent bookstore.

Enjoy a massage or a spa day.

Sit in on a free lecture.

Get a guide book and be a tourist in your own city.

Do anything that involves you getting you away from the computer screen and back into L-I-F-E. Do not write. At least for a day or two. Get yourself to the point where you are anxious and excited to get back to your writing.

Finding the root for writer's block might just unlock the problem.

There can be many reasons for writer's block including:
  • Fear of Failure
  • Fear of Success
  • Anxiety
  • Being Overwhelmed
  • Guilt
  • Perfectionism
  • Editor on the Shoulder Complex
  • Stress
  • Illness
One of the most destructive of these is stress. When family pressures, financial concerns, personal problems have taken over your body and mind they suck the creativity right out of us. If possible-- a solution is to take your mind, and maybe your body too, out of the the stressful situation. Utilize sensory/ emotional triggers for short periods of time, building your creative reserve back up. Take yourself on a writing retreat, even if it's only to the local java hut.

In Midnight Disease, Alice Weaver Flaherty, considers the problem to be neurological and more closely related to a mood disorder.

Susan O'Doherty's Getting Unstuck, Without Coming Unglued, addresses the problems specific to women and the creative process. Some of these include the roles women play and how they encourage us to put aside our dreams and creativity. She also discusses the isolation of creative women, because they see the world differently than their peers.

Several of the books listed in the resources below are exercise driven, providing writing prompts to release creativity.

Others provide prompts along with a good dose of humor like Jenna Glatzer's, Outwitting Writer's Block, which has a chapter called, Self-Doubt and Other Stupid Garbage.

She tells a funny personal anecdote: '...a family member...formerly liked who announces her revelation around the Thanksgiving dinner table: "Hey, Jenna, my kids are reading the Harry Potter series. Why don't you write something like that? You could sell a lot of books." Oh. Why didn't I think of that? Of course, all I have to do is is break into J. K. Rowling's computer, steal all her notes, and I'll be rolling in it.'

The most important thing is to stop doing what isn't working.

Albert Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

If you continue to sit down to write and continue to meet with writer's block, day after day, then you feed into negative thoughts, doubts and self images. You are perpetuating the cycle, and creating an negative association with your writing time.

Instead--find a solution.

Breaking down the task or deconstructing it into bite size measurable goals can be the best way to move on. Take that big boulder and chip away at it until you have small manageable pieces.

Writer's Block Bookshelf:

Write. 10 Days To Overcome Writer's Block. Period. by Karen E. Peterson, Ph.D.

Outwitting Writer's Block and other Problems of the Pen by Jenna Glatzer

The Midnight Disease. The Drive to Write, Writers Block, and the Creative Brain by Alice W. Flaherty

Writer's Block Buster by Velina Hasu Houston

Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued. A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity by Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D.

Today in Seekerville we will be giving away a copy of


All you have to do is say hi, or share your tips for dealing with writer's block. Be sure to leave an email address or link to contact you.

Winners will be posted Saturday in the Weekend Edition.


  1. Great article! I have found that taking a day or two, at the most, away from the current writing project seems to rejuvenate me physically and mentally. When I sit back down to write, the ideas fly so fast that I have to grab a pen and paper to write them down so I won't forget to use the ideas at the appropriate place in my article or story.

  2. This is great stuff! I got such a kick out of the contest mood disorder - I hadn't read that one before. Very funny - as a lot of us wait to hear about the Genesis contest results!

  3. Love this article! I've been afflicted with writer's block in the past due to stress. When that happens, I look myself in my room, listen to music on my iPod and let my imagination wander. If that doesn't help, I shoot an e-mail to my writing group, begging for help. They help me work through the problem. Even talking about my stress helps diminish it so I can focus on my current WIP.

  4. Lately, I've struggled with several of the manifestations you listed. Yesterday I had 1/2 day comp time and sat down, expecting to push through my block. But...nothing came! I realized I had a major plot hole that needed attention, so I spent the afternoon with a time line and started an indepth outline for the rest of my WIP. Not quite finished, but I think it will really help me push through. I've more of a vague outline/panster, but think I am really an Outliner deep inside....or at least I need to be!!!

  5. Good morning, Seekerville.

    Friday, Friday--Friday is my favorite day.

    Overcast in Denver. Serving up Denver omelets and bacon and hash browns.

    The Genesis. If you say it do you think it is bad luck?

  6. Tina, what a great comprehensive post with wonderful resources for those experiencing writer's block! I'll admit the topic scares me. Like writer's block might be contagious. LOL

    I've never had a true block, but now that I'm published, at times, the pressure of meeting deadlines and editor/reader expectations produces anxiety in me. I've found prayer helps. And maintaining social contacts, which is important for my mental health. And a supportive husband who eliminates stress by taking over the house during the last couple weeks before a deadline. A friend really believes in deep breathing.

    For those struggling with writer's block--my heart and prayers go out to you.


  7. See what I mean. No one even likes to say the words.

    Jenna Glazer says that the trick is to really incorporate your w.b. defense mechanisms into your writing habits until they become second nature.

    The editor on the shoulder appears, you remove her and drown her in your coffee cup, dust off your hands and get back to work.

  8. And yes, Edwina, that does work. But you have to completely remove yourself from your desk, your computer and everything associated with your writing until you are giddy with anticipation again.

  9. When writing my first two books, I couldn't understand writers block because I'd never had it. But I sure had it with my third. (Kind of sounds like I'm talking about morning sicknesses and pregnancies.)

    Anyway, I think an important thing to determine is what's causing the writers block. Sometimes there's not much you can do about it, and sometimes there is. My solution is usually to pray. Pray really hard.

  10. Oh, wow, that didn't sound right. You should ALWAYS pray, not usually. And it's important to figure out the cause of the writers block. That's what I meant to say.

  11. TEEENNNNAAAA!!!!! I can ALWAYS tell your posts, not only from the pictures, but from the titles -- absolutely WONDERFUL!!

    And scary too -- I am familiar with five of the six forms of writer's block, and they give me cold chills.

    The worst time I had it was when I was writing book 3, A Passion Denied. Man, I hit the wall on this book because I was reading another author whose incredible talent made me feel like I wanted to puke on my keyboard whenever I read my own writing. The way I got over it was by staying away from my ms. for several weeks, praying my guts out for God to heal my attitude and perspective, then fasting the other writer's work for six months till I was done writing my own book. Also, it helped that my sister read what I had and told me it was the best thing I'd ever written. I was stunned. But that did the trick -- I finished it and loved it, thank God!

    But it WASN'T pretty while I was going through it, I can tell you that.


  12. Great article.

    I can get blocked when I'm tyrannized by a particularly tough scene coming up. I know it's a turning point in the story, and I want to do it justice, but I'm afraid I won't be able to convey what I know the story needs.

    As one sage writer said, "It's less about writer's block than about writer's doubt."

    Writer's Doubt will do me in every time.

  13. Great stuff, Tina. Love all the reference books you've listed. Can never have too many solutions to a re-occuring problem : )

    When writer's block hits, I don't always identify it. Instead, I call myself lazy, ineffective, and dozens of other names. Finally I declare I've been a writer in disguise all these years.

    Now THAT's something to strike the fear of God right down to your core.

    Often, my writer's block isn't block at all. It's God saying *hey, you're going the wrong way in this story*. Once I determine where I've detoured, or written in the wrong POV, or whatever, the juices start flowing again and I'm a relieved camper.

    I've been writing a looooong time. You'd think I'd learn to identify my problem sooner than I do : )

    Happy Friday, all!!!

  14. Even writer's block is fun on Seekerville. Great article. When I posted my Facing Fear blog a few months ago, I received many great ideas from your faithful readers. These books sound as if they'd be a great help in bashing my fear of success right in the head. I'd love to win one.

  15. I LOVE that first photo!!! Now that's a road block. :)

    Thanks for a great post, Tina! I'm kind of stuck right now on plotting. I think my problem is that when starting a new proposal, there are just so many possibilities! I'm afraid to narrow it down and make the wrong choice.

    So fear is my problem right now.


  16. Hello, everyone,
    What a great article! If I get stuck, I also take myself away from the desk, put some soothing music on and just drift away. Slowly, the inspiration comes back. Not that I wait for it, but sometimes a person gets burnt out and they have to overcome it.

  17. I hadn't read the article on contest mood disorder and it had me rolling with laughter! It's just what I needed today! And I love the quote from Nora Roberts about tracking down the fickle slut and chaining her to the keyboard. Sometimes writer's block is all about persevering!

  18. Writer's Doubt. I like that. How appropro!!

    So what do you call it when you are Mary and writing ten zillion words a day and suddenly can only write 9 zillion a day?

  19. A little Friday thank you for you devoted Seekerville friends.

    Free chocolate:

  20. Huh, I'm six for six on Writer's Block. I think too much. About stuff that I can't really control. Must fix that.

    Great Post, Tina. You always take a tough subject and make it fun.

  21. I agree, Missy -- when you're just starting to map out a new story there are so many directions it can take. Too many choices! This road leads hero & heroinne here, that one there. If the hero is like this, then he can't be like that. If her goal is this, then it can't be that,too, which means hero's story arc has to change also to put them in conflict again.

    Eventually it all settles down--and by the time you finish you can't imagine your characters/story being any other way because they've become so "real" to you. But at the beginning, it can be kind of stormy and you just have to keep at it and ride it out.

  22. Appreciate the helpful article.

    As a recovering perfectionist, I've had to learn to muzzle my internal editor when I'm writing a first draft. Giving myself permission to just get the story on the page seems to help. Since editing comes naturally to me, I know I can improve things later.

  23. I feel almost guilty here to admit I haven't ever had writer's block.

    I sometimes write drivel that needs to be overhauled later, but forward progress is never a problem.

    I can feel myself avoiding a scene that I know is going to be a lot of work. Comedy scenes, strong comedy scenes, not just sassy dialogue, are a lot of work to get right, and so are action scenes.

    What I've learned about them is, I can't do it right the first time. I just can't. For me it's all about the tweaking. To get a scene to move, to get the comic beats in. So, I just do it wrong first. I go in and do it and then move on. I KNOW that scene was high stakes, I know it's not done. So usually, every day after I've written it, I go back, work my way through it again, add action, shorten sentences, bust up the dialogue, put in physical comedy and misunderstandings, Tweak and tweak and tweak until I'm happy with it.

    I don't know if you've read Petticoat Ranch, but the scene where the whole book collides on the mountain, someone tries to kill Clay, Luther and Adam and Sophie all wade into the middle of it and save him and endanger themselves.

    That scene maybe took me three weeks to write. It is daunting, but once I realized I could NOT do it right the first time, to do my best and move on, then come back and tweak, it helped me face those really difficult moments in the book.

    Again though, whether that, back then, how hard it was, counts as writer's block...I don't know.
    I write everyday. I lengthen my manuscript every day. I'm also writing the next book in my head, proposing the next series in my head, revising old finished manuscripts that are due to send in to Barbour in my head.

    And if I ever really do get stuck...I just shoot somebody.

  24. I don't know how you made writer's block so fun to read about, Tina. I loved knowing the causes and having some ideas on how to combat them.

    I don't have writer's block often. However, when I start to suffer from it on one project, I often switch to another for a few days. Having a basic outline of where I want to go with the story helps me a lot, too, and when I get done for the day, I often add a note of where I planned to go next. Since I often have to write in snatches, it really helps me pick right up where I left off. Another trick that helps me is to brain storm story directions with a friend. It doesn't even have to be a writing friend. I've gotten great ideas from that and I can't wait to get started on them.

  25. Super post, as always, Tina! I don't think I've ever experienced all-out writer's block, but I have run into my share of detours. When I'm working on a manuscript, I'm kind of like Mary--I just keep adding words, living in the characters' heads, and see where they take me. I know I can (and will!) always go back and edit later.

    I used to listen over and over to Robin Lee Hatcher's workshop recorded at the Houston ACRW conference. She said pretty much the same thing as Nora Roberts, that writing is our job. If we were accountants, we'd sit in our chairs and do the accounts. We have to treat writing the same way.

    So I'm pretty much at my desk in writing mode (SOME kind of writing) every afternoon between 1 and 6. Mornings are for busy work, and once I know it's behind me, then it frees up my mind to think about writing.

    Bottom line? Ya just gotta do it!!!

  26. Great post.
    I find road biking a bunch of miles or trail running with some sweet music thumping in my ears is the best medicine for me.

    Yeah, I liked that contest mood disorder one, too!


  27. Thanks for stopping by Cat.

    I appreciate everyone's honesty.

    And in a perfect world I'd never had Writer's DOUBT either :)


  28. Fear of Failure
    Fear of Success
    Being Overwhelmed

    Having just returned to writing after a almost two years of fighting on and off again bouts of writer's blockage, I can honestly say I understand completely.

    I actually started asking the Lord if he just wanted me to quit writing altogether because it got so bad I couldn't even write a paragraph.

    This after I could write for hours on end before and finished several novels.

    Then the words just disappeared, as did the dreams.

    Looking back at that the long dry spell, there was a lot going on in our lives, and the big STRESS practically drug me under.

    I turned to writing, because that is usually a place where I can let off steam, and found I didn't have that either.

    The thought that I'd lost the writing touch, made me ill.

    I cried and yelled and until

    All I could do was pray, and the Lord finally answered me. I'm with you, I'll get you through this."

    And then he let me know "You are still a writer." It's a gift he gave me, a talent... he wasn't stripping it from me because I failed or I didn't manage to get myself published soon enough, he just wanted me to take some time and rest in him.

  29. Well, Tina, I just want to say ...


  30. Excellent post, but in the case of my third ms. there was one more factor that you didn't mention: it was a lousy story, and I was hip-deep in it before I realized that. The stress in my life at the time wasn't helping, as all the negativity in my daily life was spilling over into the story and making it worse. So not only was I fighting through a hailstorm of family disasters, I was also struggling to write about characters that I had come to personally dislike. I finally thought, "Why am I putting myself through this?" and set the story aside to work on one that was lighter and more entertaining. As it turned out, the snarky, fun characters in the new story are just what I need to get me through this dark period in my own life. When life gets more upbeat, I'll go back to the angsty characters and perform some major personality surgery.

  31. Boy have I had some of those moments myself, EC.

  32. I had someone say once that when you can't go forward with a story, you should go back. Back up maybe two chapters and see if you can go a different direction. Did you give away too much backstory. Did you solve too many problems, did you reduce the conflict too much.

    Maybe go back, be meaner, mess their lives up a bit more, then go forward from them, maybe even save those two discarded chapters and see if they fit later, when you're wrapping things up,

  33. wonderful piece! Thanks so much - and I'd love to win!


  34. After I got through laughing at the retro pictures and their captions... this was a great post! I didn't recognize "avoidance" and "inability to finish" as forms of writer's block, and so I haven't been dealing with them as such! I feel like I've just had a complete writer's physical!