Posted tagged ‘writer’s block’

Writer’s block

October 13, 2009

I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced writer’s block (and I hope I never do), but I don’t know the exact definition of the term, so maybe I am plagued with it and just keep writing because I don’t know any better. This Wikipedia article seems to do a good job of defining and describing the condition.

I say that I haven’t experienced writer’s block, but maybe I have. I can think of a couple of times in my writing efforts when the words didn’t come, and being “blocked” sounds a lot better than being “lazy.”

As part of a college program more than two decades ago, when I was a callow youth (is that redundant?), I undertook to write a whole novel in one semester. It was a young adult novel, and I still have fond memories of it (even if I no longer have a physical copy of it). But I do remember coming to a point where I didn’t know what to do next in the story telling. As I look back with my more experienced eyes I think it was a problem of not having “imagined” my story sufficiently at the time. I think I may have set my characters loose in a rough framework of a plot and then run into some problems filling out that plot. (I realize that some writers work this way — often work with even less structure and planning — but it sure doesn’t work for me!) I think it may also have been that I wasn’t sufficiently disciplined yet as a writer to muscle through the hard parts of writing. Perhaps, then, I truly was suffering from writer’s block, but I’ll leave that for you to diagnose.

In any case, I came up with a technique that helped me get over my block. I took all of my characters (from my young adult novel in progress) and wrote them as characters in a short story set in the American Old West; I made them cowboys and cowgirls. I didn’t magically transport modern characters to an “exotic” setting through some time travel device to watch them cope with a strange setting. I simply tried to write them as though they were characters of that time and place. Born, raised, and living there, as much a part of it as every other character inhabiting it. I’m not sure where this idea came from; I’d like to think I thought of it myself. (Let’s say I did, okay?) What it did for me, though, was to give me a fresh perspective about each character. I saw how they would react and behave in a different setting, and it seemed to energize my approach to them in the novel where I wanted them to be. That got me through the writer’s block and on my way again.

The second “incident” I suffered lasted many years. This is the one I attribute to laziness rather than creative failure. As I noted in an earlier post, about fifteen years had passed between the publication of my first short story and my second. I continued writing, though it was almost exclusively nonfiction. During that time I had more than sixty feature articles published in various newspapers and magazines, as a free lance. It was a heady time in my writing life, filled with the pride of accomplishment, and I was actually paid for some of it (!). What I wasn’t doing much of, however, was fiction writing. I think I may have poked around with some short stories that went nowhere (like the story that eventually became my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason), and I may have even submitted a few, but I can clearly remember thinking “when I write my novel” and “I should write a story about that” and such. I was thinking about writing a lot more than I was actually writing. Was I blocked or was I lazy? (Or was I also a husband and father with young children and a mortgage and other responsibilities? This may be a large part of it since I am writing fiction furiously fast and frequently now and the nest happens to be empty.)

As I said at the start of this rambling post, I don’t seem to suffer much from writer’s block. I have so many stories in my head and in my notes that I’ll never lack for subject matter. And I think I have developed sufficient discipline to keep myself before the keyboard to do the sometimes tedious work of actually writing. And I think further, in some undefinable sense, my creative self has matured sufficiently to allow me to see my way through my fiction to get it done.

Writer’s block

April 22, 2008

So far in my twenty-plus years of writing effort, I don’t think I can say that I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block. I suppose I should give you my definition of writer’s block so you can understand what I’m saying.

I consider writer’s block to be a state in which I have something I want or need to write, but I cannot make the words come. This is different from the common situation of not being satisfied with the way I have phrased something and a subsequent inability to say it right. Writer’s block to me is sitting before the screen for hours at a time getting virtually no writing done. It is a time when the creative process fails.

There have been long periods when I have not felt a desire to write, but I think that is different. And there have been times when I’ve been bored with what I am writing and didn’t really want to continue, but that is also different. But being stymied when I want to write — that’s just never occurred to me. (Yet?)

I’m not sure how to account for it. I’m certainly better at writing in the mornings, and even better in the mornings that are lubricated by tall glasses of iced tea. Perhaps if I tried to write fiction more often in the evenings, I would face more creative frustrations. I tend to prepare myself for my writing opportunities by making notes of what I should do next or fix or explore. Thus when I sit down at the keyboard on those mornings, half of the creative work — the imagining part — is already done. I may quite literally have a stack of notes beside my computer that I can review and put to use. I guess that’s a form of pre-writing, but as I noted in an earlier post, I’m cautious about understanding too much about my personal creative process.

One little trick I have used to overcome writing fatigue is to take familiar characters of mine and put them in different fiction. By that I mean I could take my husband and wife sleuths, Greg and Ann Finnegan, and put them in a western or a speculative fiction story. They wouldn’t be fish out of water characters but legitimate characters with all of the qualities they have in the mystery stories who happen to fit and belong in the different genre. I wouldn’t have them solving some mystery in the Old West but perhaps taking up farming or ranching on the high plains. They would be the same personalities simply put to a different purpose.

When I have done this with characters, I seem to discover (or create) new qualities for them. I understand them better. I enjoy them better. And when I go back to the original writing, I’ve felt renewed.

I also have a gazillion ideas about stories I want to write. If I ever begin to feel a bit of a frustration with one story, I can easily set it aside to ferment and pick up a completely different idea that I can generally jump right into. In fact, I’m doing that right now with a short story as I wait for the last chapter of Finnegans Afoot to gel.

I’ll cross my fingers or knock on wood or drink copious amounts of iced tea to keep writer’s block away, but so far it hasn’t been a problem.