Fighting Writer’s Block

WritersBlock

It happens to all writers. We have a tough day when the words won’t come. Or we go through life events that consume our time and focus and the writing gets pushed aside for days or weeks at a time. When we sit back down in front of the computer, the well is dry. How to get going again?

I fondly recall the torturous month I spent after accepting the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge some years ago. Sitting down and forcing out 1,700-some-odd words every day (weekends too) for thirty days made clear to me the level of commitment many classic writers possessed. As the laundry piled up, the dust bunnies multiplied and the children got tired of eating cereal for dinner, I reminded myself that those writers also had wives to handle the details of life while they hid in their studies with a typewriter, a bottle of bourbon and plenty of cigarettes. In other words, it’s doable, but not practical. At least, not for everyone.

What I learned about myself that month is that when I write every day, I build momentum. My brain begins to know what’s expected. It’s working even when I’m not at the computer. While I’m cooking, my subconscious is concocting plots, drawing characters and creating conflicts that will make their way onto the page when I sit down the next day. The conscious part knows I will be writing soon, and the subconscious steps up to the plate.

So when we can’t write every day, how do we start from zero and get going again when we have no momentum?

I’m sure each writer has their own tricks. For me, reading is the best thing I can do when I can’t write. Fabulous prose and rich stories get my mind working. My imagination fills with lush worlds and complex characters, and it helps clear the cobwebs out. Poetry also reminds me not to waste words so that when I’m ready to write, my mind searches for just the write ones to convey my thoughts.

As a last ditch effort, I like to open up an old project and do some editing. Often I’ll find a better way to say something, or a chapter that needs enhancement, clarification or more tension. And once I get going, it’s hard to stop.

What tricks do you use to break through writer’s block?

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Avoid The Proverbial Vacuum

CritiqueGroup

From the time I got my first job, I was surrounded by co-workers. Managers who put me through training, old pros who’d been at their profession for years and fellow newbies and trainees filled each office in every industry. We all worked side by side, a hive of new ideas, eager optimism and valued experience co-existing productively. I learned more in those environments–about life, work and people–than in all my years of college and graduate studies.

And then I became a writer.

The writing profession is an odd mix of contradictions. Writers daydream and percolate ideas, often craving quiet to organize our thoughts, and we take care to carve out time just to work on our words. But in order to become better at anything, we need to gather. It’s imperative that we feed off the energy of other artists, exchange ideas and frustrations, offer solutions and learn tricks of the trade. How to strike a balance?

It was always a wonder to me how writers accomplished so much before the Internet. Conversely, I often muse what an achievement it is to produce anything today, now that we have the Internet, the super highway of distraction. The answer lies not in the tools we use but in one action: connection.

Writers of old had their klatches: Hemingway had Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. Emile Zola had Gustave Flaubert, Edmond Goncourt, Guy de Maupassant , and Ivan Turgenev. These groups would gather, talk, drink, smoke and energize each other in their art. They knew their words were vital but the craft and its ideas had to grow: an artist could not exist in a vacuum.

Today, I am part of several writers’ groups, both locally and online. I draw ideas, feedback and knowledge from my fellow writers. We have  different degrees of experience, and we vary in style and proficiency, but we don’t compete. We encourage and cheer each other through failure and success. As it should be.

Whether you’re suffering from writer’s block, lacking inspiration or doubting your talents, the key is not to give up. You are still a writer, despite setbacks. Connect with other writers. They’ll be just what you needed, no matter what’s ailing you.

Ignorance is Bliss

Queries

Like most writers, when I first started submitting my work, I didn’t have a clue what I was up against. Rather than depress myself by reading stats about rejections, what editors don’t want to see and mistakes that expose you as a newbie, I chose instead to wade through my enormous copy of Writer’s Marketplace, giggling at the plethora of opportunities.

Only in retrospect do I realize how my ignorance is what kept me in dogged pursuit of my goal.

I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. The upside is that every letter (yes, I’m old enough to have queried by paper mail) that I received from an editor had encouragement, suggestions and thanks. Those small steps bolstered my confidence and were encouragement enough to keep going.

Now fifteen years on, I’ve had successes and failures in both the editing and publishing worlds, though likely no more or less than any other writer. But I also have the experience I gained on the journey. Today, I know how hard it is to get published. But because I kept going all those years despite setbacks, it’s now my experience that bolsters me to keep trying. What motivates you on your journey?

How Writing Saved Me

Writing

I go into every new venture with a sunny outlook. Change is good, learning opportunities even better. Of course, there will always be challenges; that’s how we grow. But I don’t fear change.

I sort of backed into writing as a career choice. Over the years, I’d worked jobs ranging from administrative to retail, customer service to tech support, and gained something from each experience. But I didn’t love any of them.

So I welcomed motherhood as yet another positive change. While I was on maternity leave, a dear friend suggested I start a blog on his computer server. This was over fifteen years ago, when “blog” was a relatively new and unknown term.

“But what will I write about?” I asked. After all, I was home with a newborn, rocking and singing and feeding him all day, doing laundry and catching cat naps while he slept. There wasn’t much of interest going on.

“Write about motherhood,” he said. This from a single, techie guy who knew about as much about mothering as I did at that point.

“Well,” I reasoned, “my parents are the only ones who’ll read it anyway. I guess I’ll write about my baby and how he’s growing.”

And so it began. I wrote every day, and it quickly came to feel like a personal success amid the constant drudgery and sleep-deprivation. Like a shower but more satisfying. My far-flung parents, as first-time grandparents, thrilled at the daily news, and I admit it made me a more attentive mother. I had to really think about what to write each day. Then something strange happened: I began to write not just what Jacob was learning about his world, but what I was learning about myself.

Fast forward six years. Our house now held a grade-schooler and a special needs toddler who confounded me at every turn. He didn’t sleep. He hardly ate. He cried all the time. He just never seemed happy, no matter what I did. The only thing that kept me from crying all the time too, was writing.

I wrote to puzzle out what was happening, what I was doing and what I would try instead. I wrote about how hard it was every day, all day long. I wrote about feeling like a terrible mother who was failing my child, and about how much I loved him, even though I had yet to understand him. And when I finally realized I couldn’t meet the challenge of understanding him, I switched gears. My new challenge to myself was to find the humor in each mystifying situation.

So as he grew, I laughed. I wrote about the things he did and what was funny about them because, of all the reactions I could have, I decided that was the best. No tears. Instead, laughing made life tolerable, manageable. As I got stronger, so did my writing. Ben gave me more material for my blog over the first five years of his life than I’d had in all the decades I’d lived before that. The challenges kept me writing, and the writing helped me cope.

Now that my boys are older, I use writing to set goals for myself. Articles, blog posts and, this year, a novel. With all it’s helped me survive and accomplish over the years, writing is the best job I’ve had alongside my other, more important job of being a mom. It’s evolved as I have, and helped me create a tangible record of my relationships with my sons.

But above all, writing was something I could count on during all the years when nothing was certain. Because I never knew what to expect, I relied on writing. And in the end, writing is what saved me.