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Writer’s Block: Myth or Terrifying Beastie Under The Bed?

With NaNoWriMo hovering just 20 days away near the horizon, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about Writer’s Block. Is it real? Is it a figment of our imagination? Is it simply fear? Whatever it is, I’ve had it on and off for years.

Whenever a project is doing really well I freeze. Stop. Unlike Vanilla Ice I don’t collaborate and listen. I just freeze. I scratch my head. I fidget in my chair. I spend hours straining to give birth to the next word in the sentence. I stress and freak out and wonder what the next word should be. Is it descriptive enough? Clear enough? Are my emotions coming through?

In the past I reached for a glass of wine. Then another. Throwing myself into a race against the wine. What would come first; the empty bottle or the filled page. Usually three glasses into the attempt I’d find myself watching videos on Youtube or singing along off-key to the latest Kylie Minogue single.

7 years ago was the last time I attempted to write a novel. It wasn’t NaNoWriMo. It was just before my world imploded. I was writing a Vampire story. It was doing really well for a first draft. The characters were strong. The world it was set in was clear in my mind.

I introduced my sad lonely Vampire to a mouthy street kid and a young woman slashed and left for dead in a London alley way. There was a ginger cat and a gray mouse. All of them were living in a basement. The story came to a screeching halt as the Vampire attempted to save the young woman’s life.

I don’t know why it stopped. It just did. One minute I was writing my way through another nicotine craving – it was around the time of another attempt to give up smoking – and somewhere between carrying her into the basement and reaching for a bowl of warm water I lost the story line.

Well I don’t know that I actually lost the story line. I sort of stumbled. But that was enough. The words that had flowed with such ease froze up and refused to come to my attention. I couldn’t bring myself to type another word. Ten minutes before hand I’d been riding a wave.

Out of nowhere the wave disappeared and I felt like I’d face-planted into concrete.

It’s funny how you can allow random moments to capture you so tightly. It wasn’t until I went to the Sydney Writer’s Centre and did the Creative Writing Stage One course with Kate Forsyth that I felt I could maybe pick myself up and dust myself off. That was a year or so ago now. I have played around since then. A short story. Mostly a couple of short films and a web comedy.

So as I prep for NaNoWriMo I thought about writing a blog about Writer’s Block and how I got myself passed the terrifying metal brick wall that haunted me for a long time.

I was toying with the idea of writing a “my top 10 tips for getting past writer’s block” but in the end, I couldn’t think of 10 top tips. There really isn’t that many.

When faced with Writer’s Block I take only a few short steps these days to get past it and continue on my writing journey.

How I Beat Writer’s Block:

1. Let go of the delusion writing has to be perfect straight out of your head. You’re a writer but I’ve found about 90% of my writing is rewriting. It’s in the rewriting I find where stories trail off into nowhere, where characters merge and become someone else entirely. By letting go of the expectation that I had to be perfect straight away I provided myself with the next step.
2. Allow yourself to be stupid: I find most people I know who want to write take themselves way to seriously. I let the critics take care of that. I will never appeal to 100% of the people 100% of the time. Some people will get the idea I’m working on, others won’t. I don’t aim to write Shakespeare quality literature. I aim to run fun, easy to read and entertaining stories. By giving myself permission to write absolute drivel I allow the story just to flow.

3. Send your editor on vacation: Easier said then done. Particularly given that my internal editor has a voice like a foghorn and refuses to sit quietly in the corner. It demands attention. One tip I was given a long time ago and that I’ve found works is to simply make a deal with your editor. It won’t have anything to work on unless you get the draft out in the first place. I usually offer my editor free reign to rip the draft to pieces. It works most of the time. If I find myself starting to feel panicky or stressed I do the next step.

4. Go do something monotonous: Showering, shaving, dusting. Whatever it is. Something that doesn’t take brain power. I find when I’m lost in some random repetitive motion I get the link or sentence I’ve been struggling over. Usually, if I’m dusting or vacuuming or something similar I’m happy enough to stop what I’m doing and go back to my writing.

5. As Nike says “Just Do It.”: I’ve found the easiest way to get past writer’s block is to simply acknowledge the words are getting caught up and keep on going. Pushing through the fear and just letting the cards fall wherever they chose is the best tip I can give you. If you’re worried about writing rubbish then remember Step 1 and make a note to fix it up in the re-writing/editing stage.

So that’s what I’m trying to keep in mind as I work on the outline for my NaNoWriMo attempt in 2012. I saw a tweet the other day from a writer I follow who said something along the lines of;

“I space my NaNoWriMo daily words across 3 blocks of writing 600 words each.”

The target is 1750 words or something a day. By doing it that way you end up with 1800 words a day, so you’ll have no trouble reaching your NaNoWriMo target.

Funny thing, 1800 words sounds like so much, but I started writing this post 15 minutes ago and it’s currently at 1055 words or something. I do write fairly quickly though and this is free form, not a novel.

I guess the point of this post is that you have to understand Writer’s Block is for the most part simply fear. Fear of being judged, fear of being told you’ve got the talent of a deflated balloon, fear of finishing and achieving a goal you have set for yourself.

You – me, us – can not live our lives in fear. We have to accept the fear, and then write our way through it. No one will make us succeed at NaNoWriMo or at our career as a writer. Only we can do that for ourselves.

Through places like Twitter we can meet and become friends with other writers who we can support emotionally. Emotional support is excellent.

But when it’s you and that blank screen and you suddenly remember you have Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion on your IQ to watch, it’s only you who can make the decision to block out the doubts and just start writing.

What do you do to over come Writer’s Block? Leave a comment below if you’ve got a hankering too. I’d love to hear your opinions on overcoming Writer’s Block.

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43 year old Australian writer currently working on the first of a planned three book Epic Fantasy series. When he's not writing policy discussions, or tales of swords, Gods, and magic, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen, and turning perfectly good ingredients into crimes against humanity.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for making me laugh… “Whenever a project is doing really well I freeze. Stop. Unlike Vanilla Ice I don’t collaborate and listen. I just freeze.” And I greatly appreciate your 5 tips to beat writer’s block!! Keep up the good work 🙂

    • writinginshadows says

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I’m glad I got a laugh out of you 😀 I try to write as a I speak. That particular line gave me a moment of “hmm should I really say that, it’s not really professional” but I let it go. Perfect example for me of not editing myself.

  2. Pingback: YOU BLOCK HEAD and other writer myths « My Etch-A-Sketch Life

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