Writer’s Block – n. Psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.
Imagine this scenario —
You’re at your desk. You’ve been in a writing frenzy; the words are pouring out of you like water. Suddenly you’re sweating, struggling to find the right words, then the story comes to a blinding halt. You sit back and think about it for a while. What happens next?
You check your email to see if anyone wants to talk to you, because obviously, your characters don’t want to. You check Facebook. Check your crops at Farmville. You might even make a few phone calls. They’re just little things, right?
Back at your story, you reread the last page or two to catch up. You’re ready to write again, but when you come to the last thing you wrote two hours ago, you suffer the same problem. What happens next? You’ve gotta think about it for a while, so you get up and vacuum the floor.
Back at your desk, you look at the screen before you. The cursor is blinking where you left it. It’s like a heartbeat, and the more you stare at it, the faster it seems to blink, as if adrenaline is feeding it. Your own heartbeat speeds up.
You decide the dishes need washing. After all, the last week you’ve neglected most house chores because of your writing frenzy. You just need a break and tidying up is as good as anything, right?
By the end of the week, your house is sparkling. And the dogs have had so many walks they’re hiding from you! But something’s off. It’s like everything you’ve spent the week polishing are now winking at you, mocking you. You look around for something else to clean, but there’s nothing. There’s just a black cloud hovering over your chair at the desk, and it’s churning like a slow moving hurricane, flashes of lightning sparking off each other. Looking closely, it’s almost as if the cumulus formations resemble your character’s faces and they’re contorted in pain, pleading for you to save them.
Frightened, you back away. This dark cloud is pressing down on you. The page cursor blinks heavily, steadily, demanding you to sit down and write. You pull at your hair, your own face contorting, and shout, “I can’t write. I can’t think of what happens next. My muse isn’t talking to me anymore. I have writer’s block!”
Go on. Admit it. This is you. Or has been at some point in your writing life. All writers suffer from some sort of ‘block’ that sends them into housekeeping mode. Or the do-anything-but-write mode. It’s at this point when you can think of a hundred other things that must get done right away, such as cleaning the cat box or raking dog dirt from the lawn, rather than sort out why your story is suffering.
Does writer’s block exist? No, not really. Family commitments aside, what are some things that keep us from writing?
1) Fear of failure or fear of success – Both challenge us in their own way. Fear of failure might have us comparing our work to others, saying, “I’ll never be that good. They won’t like me.” Fear of success might have us stressing over the ‘what ifs’ — “What if I get a three book contract. OMG, I’ll never be able to write three books in a year.”
2) Losing ones way while writing – For me personally, plotting a story is like routing a road trip. As I’m writing a story and following along with my plot, it’s like reading a road map while driving. If, while I’m writing, I come to a dead-end in the story, I think, “What would I do in the car when I come to a dead-end in the road?” Turn around! Go back to the last junction where I knew where I was and find another route. It’s not the muse, it’s not you, it’s not anyone specific. It’s not even the characters. It’s the story itself. Something’s not working, which means going back over your plot and examining how you got to this point. Maybe you need to do more research. Maybe you have too many characters or not enough. Perhaps there’s not enough story in your story. And sometimes we just need a break after a writing frenzy. Exhaustion plays a huge role in how we deal with writing stresses.
3) Trying to write outside of our comfort zone – The market changes quickly and, unfortunately, we can’t all write as quickly to cater for those changes, which can be frustrating when trying to sell our work. What we submit today might cater to the current market, but by the time it’s read at the publisher where we’ve submitted, the market may have changed. We all know that getting a reply from a publisher or agent can take months. In that time, the whole market could have changed.
4) Boredom – Chances if you’re bored with the story, it won’t go anywhere. And if you’re bored, your readers will be too. Avoid cliché’s and stereotyping. Lazy and passive writing will lose readers. Look for other ways to say something. It’s quite possible that the whole section needs to come out; even if it’s a great passage, it might not work in this context. Save it to a file and see if you can use it later, or in another story. Aim to keep things moving forward. If you’re engaged, your reader will be too.
5) Feeling overwhelmed – If you have too much on your plate, think about prioritizing. What are the top five things are THE most important at this time. If you put writing at #5, or it falls into the 6 to 10 area, then you have too much on your plate. Look at your top five items and the importance you put on them. Is checking Farmville more important than getting your book finished? If so, then maybe you love the idea of being a writer, but don’t have the dedication. It’s difficult, but sometimes you just have to stop doing things that are habit to do the things you really want to do. By doing that you create new and better habits.
Are there ways to get through your block? Certainly.
1) Read more – Easy! Chances are you’re writing in a genre you love reading, so get reading. Go to your keepers’ shelf and reread some of your favorite titles. What was it about those books that made them keepers for you? Was it one or more of these books that inspired you to write? If so, what was it about those books that inspired you? And because the market changes quickly, don’t forget to read new writers’ works. While you’re at it, look at whose publishing those authors. This is a good indication of where to submit your work when it’s ready.
2) Look at the structure of your story – Can it be changed to make it more exciting? When a story works well, the words will pour out of you once more. Sure, you’ll have rocky places, but as long as the story is moving forward, it’s all good!
3) Talk it out – Talk with a friend, critique partner, or writing group you’re involved in. That’s what they’re there for. Remember the old adage when seeing a doctor — get a second opinion. There’s nothing like a new and fresh perspective.
4) Take a break – Your brain works better when it’s rested. Get out of the house for a while. Take a walk to clear the cobwebs. Go to gathering places and people watch — what characteristics to people have that draws your gaze and makes you watch them? You can use those in your story, as long as it helps move the story forward.
Remember that saying you heard when you first started writing? Write what you know! Stories come from life experiences, research, reading . . . life in general. You can only experience life by getting out of the house and living it.
Even if you’re just sitting in the garden listening to the sheets flapping on the drying line, listen to them. What are they telling you? Sails of a ship on the high seas maybe? What adventure are they on? Is this a pirate ship or military vessel? Maybe it has a female captain. Who is she? How did she come to captain her own ship?
Or maybe they’re just sheets on a drying line behind a sod house on the prairie and the sun is beating down, cracking the parched earth. Is the woman living here alone, widowed, married . . . ? Does she hear a wagon coming, chains clinking on the horse’s harness? Who’s coming and what news do they carry?
Use your imagination for not just telling the story, but also for coming up with plotting, or even starting a new story. The break away from the house may just be a trip to the library and looking through actual books rather than relying on the internet.
5) Eat and hydrate – When did you eat last? When did you last eat something good for you? If it’s been too long between meals, your blood sugar may be low. If you feel tired but you only woke a couple hours ago, it’s possible you’re just dehydrated. Drink some water. Stay away from caffeine as it can add to your dehydration. Drink a couple tall glasses of water, have something nutritious to eat, maybe even grab a 15 minute nap. Then tackle that scene again.
6) Stop procrastinating – As Nike coined, Just Do It! You must have thought there was a great story in you waiting to be told or you wouldn’t have sat down to write it. You need to remind yourself what that story was. Once you have, just get it out. Don’t try editing while you’re writing. Just get the story out. Tell your story in your own way. Edits will come later.
ONE NIGHT IN DUBLIN
City Nights Series, #9
At her mother’s prompting (nagging) about grandchildren, Sive wonders if it really is time to settle down. She’s just finishing college so she should be thinking about her future. But is she ready to settle down? Is she ready for kids? And more importantly, which of the three men she’s been seeing does she want to spend the rest of her life with?
Sive has a choice to make, and only 24 hours in which to make it.
We all make them. From the moment we wake up, it’s: “do I get out of bed now or hit the snooze button . . . again?” “shall I wear this outfit to work or that one?” “tea and toast or grab something on the way?”
It’s all mundane bullshit. They’re all choices we make on the fly without even realizing we’re making them.
Think about it. What choices do you make when you’re not thinking about them? Like going home from work. You get on the train, find a seat and wait for your stop. But when you get there, you wonder how the hell you got there because you don’t remember making the journey.
What I’m trying to say is that we often go on auto-pilot and just do what needs doing without any real thought, because there are usually more pressing things to think about—the important things. Or seemingly so. Like, what movie to see, what restaurant to eat in, where to go on holidays . . . and for some girls, this pair of sensible shoes on sale or another pair not on sale but immensely sexier?
For me, today, my choices aren’t so mundane, and they’ll require a lot of conscious thought. I have an important decision to make. One that could change my life forever, pardon the cliché.
They—whoever ‘they’ are—say there is someone for everyone, that we all have a ‘type’ of person we’re attracted to. I’m still figuring it all out . . . exploring to see what is my type . . . that someone just for me. And it doesn’t help that my mum’s voice is in the back of my head, asking . . . i.e. nagging (yes, I just said i.e.) . . . when I’m going to settle down and give her grandkids.
First, let me say this: I’m not a slut. I’m not loose, I don’t carelessly sleep around, and I don’t do one-night stands. I just love men and all of their vast differences.
What can I say about my boys that every other woman out there doesn’t already know about men? Charmers, every one of them. But they all give me something I need.
Tonight I need to decide what, or who, I need the most—Fitzy, Moss, or Sully.
Kemberlee Shortland is a native Northern Californian who grew up in a community founded by artists and writers, including John Steinbeck, George Sterling, and Jack London. It’s no wonder she’s loved telling stories since she was very young. Kemberlee completed her first novel at 21 and hasn’t looked back. In 1997, she left the employ of Clint Eastwood to live in Ireland for six months. It was there she met the man she would marry, and permanently relocated to live in Ireland. While always writing, Kemberlee earned her keep as a travel consultant and writing travel articles about Ireland. In 2005, she saw her first romance sell, and to date, she has nine published romances. When not writing, Kemberlee enjoys spending time with her two Border Collies, who feature on the cover of A Piece of My Heart, and also knitting, gardening, photography, music, travel, and tacos!
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