W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Saturday, July 09, 2005

No. 34 Writers Block

Writers Block
W3 Issue 34

W3 is updated the 15th of every month.

Old issues are still available at http://www.blogger.com/index.html

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Next month I will write about freelance writing.


Writers who claim writers block doesn’t exist, never had it. Those who have spent days, weeks, and months not being able to put their thoughts down on paper, know it exists.

There isn’t a writer in the world who hasn’t at one time or another had problems finding the right word or idea.

Those who write for newspapers, corporations or do other commercial writing cannot tell their bosses that they are blocked. Produce or get fired.

However, fiction writers have the “luxury” of being blocked.
For the sake of this article let’s define writers block as a prolonged period of not being able to produce satisfactory writing.

Sometimes in life writing is impossible: depression, times of personal tragedy, exhaustion from over work, great stress from outside sources, family problems, are all reasons for writers block, although some people take refuge in writing during these times. For those who don’t, remembering the problems are a good source of writing in the future.

Writers tend to lack confidence to start with, so any slowness in producing the quality of work they desire, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I didn’t write well yesterday, I won’t write well today or tomorrow. Panic follows.

What are some of the things to correct writers block. I will divide it into two parts. One is avoidance of writing totally. You run from paper, pencil, computer. The second is what to do when you sit with pencil or keyboard in hand and then freeze.

Avoidance of writing all together
1. Examine what is going in your life. If it is a bad period accept it and live the emotions. It is difficult to work on a comedy if your spouse just walked out on you. (Although Ephron wrote HEARTBURN under exactly that those circumstances making it a great revenge novel.)

2.Take a break. Accept that this won’t be productive and do some of the things that writing has made you postpone, a holiday, paint the house, whatever.

3. Exercise that allows thinking time, walking, running on a tread mill, biking.

4. Talk to others who have had the same problem.

5. Socialize with people that will stimulate ideas.

6. Go to a movie, play, museum to stimulate yourself.

7. Do something totally different from your normal

8. Be flexible. This is not the time for rigid writing schedules or forced discipline. It is a guaranteed set up for failure.

Freezing up when you are actually writing
1. Make a list of things you might want to write, or things you don’t want to write about

2. Copy something you wrote before.

3. Copy something your favorite writer wrote.

4. Make a mind map. Examples can be found on www.wisewordsonwriting.com/index.html
You don’t have to have a plot, you could do it on planning a party, a sporting event, etc. Just make sure you keep you pencil moving.

5. Free write. Put your pen to paper or your hand to your keyboard and write anything, no matter how nonsensical. Example: James smiled but why because he wanted to but why should he and that’s stupid stupid stupid stupid…etc.

6. Edit something you wrote earlier.

7. Edit something another writer wrote.

8. Write about your writers block.

9. Tape yourself talking. Talk about writers block or anything else that is important to you.

10. Read about writers block (see list of books in notes)

11. Talk with other writers who have suffered from writers block.

12. Draw no matter how limited your drawing talent is. There is something in the act of drawing that works well with writing.

13. Get some clay and work with it.

14. Give yourself permission to write badly.

If anyone had any other ideas, I would love to hear them.


All selections are by Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, a book every writer should read.

“Writers block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you’ve written lately and see with absolutely clarity that it is total dog shit…We have all been there, and it feels like the end of the world. It’s a little like a chickadee being hit by an H-bomb.” Here she says suffers of writers block are not alone.

When you don’t know what else to do, when you’re really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can’t just leave your work alone for a while and wait, you might try telling part of your history—part of a character’s history—in the form of a letter. The letter’s informality just might free you from the tyranny of perfectionism.” Here she makes a suggestion what to do.

“All good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind were recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos of meaning. All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions.” Here she encourages our own voices.

She talks to her writing students. “But I also tell them that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, the feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: The milk is so rich and delicious and the cow is glad you did it.” And this is the ultimate goal that we strive to reach, but like the perfect game of golf, it happens rarely. Just be glad when it does.

1. Write a letter to your favourite character in a book commenting on something they did. Make suggestions on how the could do it differently.

2. Start with this phrase and right for ten minutes – don’t let your pen leave the paper or your fingers the key board – The rain made the red tiles glisten when…

3. Sit somewhere outside your home and list as many details as you notice around. Limit it—for example if it is a café list what is on the table. Then describe each of those lists in great detail. Don’t worry if it is well written or not, you are just doing description.

4. Think of someone you knew in high school and didn’t like. Write three paragraphs about what you think happened to that person.

1. Some suggested web sites: www.writersblock.ca/www.sff.net/people/LisaRC/

2. Some book titles that might help. All are available on Amazon.com which will ship anywhere in the world. UNDERSTANDING WRITER'S BLOCK: A Therapist's Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment by Martin Kantor, THE WRITER'S BLOCK 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination by Jason Rekulak ON WRITER'S BLOCk by Victoria Nelson OUTWITTING WRITERS' BLOCK: And Other Problems of the Pen by Jenna Glatzer
See you next month

D-L Nelson