blocked

Blocked

Yes. That.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, included the following gem in her book about the writing process, Bird by Bird:

I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.

The process of writing is an inverted roller coaster ride. There are long periods of slow climbs up ridiculously steep inclines with that grating clank, clank, clank sound as the only evidence you’ve made any progress at all. These gradual ascensions are occasionally broken off by thrilling descents at giggle-inducing speeds, only to end too quickly when the coaster slows and begins another long, grinding climb up another overwhelmingly steep hill.

You cherish the times when writing feels natural. When the words flow. But you struggle through the times when words eek out, your writing sessions feeling like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.

And sometimes, you can’t squeeze anything out. We call that writer’s block, a far too innocent turn of phrase to describe the horror of being a wordsmith who has forgotten how to construct sentences.

When writer’s block hits, you have a few options:

1. Suffer through it. Keep trying to write, even if you can only produce one tenth of what you would normally write during the same amount of time. This is arguably the most noble, mature response, though I’d be lying to you if I said it’s anything but gut-wrenchingly hard.

2. Nose dive into severe depression, questioning your validity as a writer. This option is alarmingly easy. Hell, I’d wager any writer has visited this dark head-space a few times. It’s the worst option, but sometimes it happens.

3. Take a break. Go read something. Watch a movie. Clean the house. Do something that doesn’t require you to string words together for a while and wait until you feel at least a little refreshed.

Do #1 as often as you can, with the understanding you won’t always be able to pull it off. Avoid #2 at all costs, even though sometimes doubt will creep up on you in these periods and you’ll find yourself smack-dab in the middle of I-suck-dom faster than Facebook can change its privacy policies. When that happens, go as easy on yourself as you can and try not to dwell on it too much. Go with #3 if you can’t manage #1 and you sense yourself drifting toward #2. It’s not as good a choice as writing anyway, but it’s much easier to recover from than the false belief that you’re a hack.

What do you do when writer’s block hits? Any tips or suggestions? Share them in the comments.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

6 Responses to blocked

  1. I read. I do that anyway, but I substitute reading for writing for a little while, so as to refresh my thoughts on my own writing. Also, sometimes my writer’s block is specific to one project, so I’ll switch to a different one for a while–I usually have three or four in the works.

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    • dex says:

      Both great options, and I do those, as well. I should have mentioned switching projects in the original post. Nice catch! That can be really helpful, and it keeps you productive.

      Like

  2. tristdagon says:

    I personally try for number one but if that fails I go find a chai and try to think through the block. I evaluate what I wrote before the block and reaffix where everything was headed. If that doesn’t work I try writing something new or I fiddle with a old piece.

    When all else fails I try to force my way past it with sheer force of will. I will admit there have been stick in number two a few times. Thankfully I eventually claw my way out of that pit.

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    • dex says:

      It can be tough, but I think that’s the best approach–to fight through it. Of course, sometimes that’s just too exhausting or simply not possible. That’s when a cup of coffee and an hour reading a good book can really help out!

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  3. I was inspired by that quote in Lamott’s book too. It’s a good one to keep in your back pocket for a dreary, empty-worded day. And, you’re right…I DO feel like a turnip when I can’t write! ;0)

    When plagued with the dreaded ‘block’ I suffer…greatly…and then I get the hell on with it. I know I JUST posted this on your site a moment ago, but it bears repeating.

    “Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.”

    Like

    • dex says:

      Yeah, I HATE writer’s block, but there is one great thing about it. Only writers get writer’s block. When it happens, it’s a backwards affirmation of the fact that you are what you call yourself.

      Like

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