Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dealing with Writer's Block

James Abela guestblogs this piece about writers block, which I'm sure the writers among you will find useful. Do feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
Dealing with writer's block

If you do a lot of writing, then you'll know that there are days when you just can't think of anything interesting to write or there's a dreaded piece of blank paper awaiting you. As a teacher of creative writing and an author I get asked about writer's block a lot and everybody wants a quick fix. There is a quick fix, but it is a painful because you have to admit to yourself why you are not writing. In nearly all the cases I have seen, it comes down to one of following reasons:

1. You don't really want to write it in the first place

This is a classic problem and one that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had terrible difficulties with, he'd created the legendary Sherlock Holmes and really didn't want to write about him any more, in fact he was loathed to write about him that he tried to kill him off only to be greeted by protests and thousands of letters demanding that he bring him back. In his case the motivation to continue writing was either to do it or become the most unpopular man in Victorian England. In a similar way when faced with something you don't wish to write, you must think of the bigger picture and why you need to write the piece.

2. You don't have any ideas

Sometimes you just can't think what to do next and there are a number of ways to fix this. If it is half way through a piece, then the best thing to do is find somebody you trust to help you and bring in a fresh perspective. If it is something new then do some research, which may be as simple as reading some books, watching television, visiting somewhere new or even just reading something random on the Internet.

3. You think your writing is bad

It is better to write something terrible and edit it than have nothing at all. I used to work in PR and I used to hate the fact that my boss would always make do the 1st draft, tell me all that was wrong with it in a few seconds and tell me to fix it. She did it because it took a lot less effort to correct something, than to come up with that first draft. I have seen some terrible manuscripts in my time, but it is a lot easier to say what needs to be done to improve something than to come up with a first draft. In the same way you can be your own editor, come up with that first draft and then go back and improve it.

4. You are stressed

Sometimes your mind is stressed and overworked and where possible the best thing you can do is to take a break, take a holiday or at the very least work on something else until you can come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

Hopefully the next time you think you have writer's block, you will look inwards and from there work out a solution.
James Abela is the author of X-Treme Creative Writing, X-Treme Factual writing and X-Treme Speed Reading. His books are available at all good bookshops and at the Marshall Cavendish stand at the KL Book fair. His Website is here.


Drachen said...

I'm lucky I don't write for a living. Often I feel as dry as the Sahara Desert. Once in a while the inspiration comes and it's like - dare I say it? - taking dictation from God! :-)

Damyanti said...

I am new at this whole creative writing thing, but my theory is not to acknowledge writer's block. I keep writing through the dry times, irrespective of quality.

I figure if I turn up at my writing desk every day, the good days are bound to come back. In the meantime, I keep exercising my writing muscles.

Zed Adam said...

When I hit writer's block, I usually take it easy and let it wane off. I'd take a break, watch some movies, go out or I'd listen to a lot of music. Music soothes me and I have to have it when I write, puts me in certain writing moods.

katztales said...

I never have writer's block but I do have days when I can't write. These days always come after two days of "super writing" when I've produced two or three thousand words on the trot. I'm having gone of those days now so I'm spending it fiddling about online (hi Sharon!) and going to have a hair cut.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away for a day.

bibliobibuli said...

i agree 100% with Damyanti - just show up and write crap if needs be - it will pass

but easier said than done sometimes. if i feel i can't write i tidy up. i sort out cupboards, i declutter things, and i think that that symbolic action actually creates space for writing.

Chet said...

It helps to have a few projects going at the same time. So if you're blocked on one, you can work on another.

christinejalleh said...

Really relevant post for me this week, Sharon!

It's definitely stress - I'm working on a topic close to my heart and wonder if that's actually the cause for the stress :)

I had the ideas, the opening, the headline, the quotes and even the photos swimming around my head, I could only breathe after I'd sketched out an outline on pen and paper.

Thankfully, I've got the first draft out!

Erwin said...

Thanks, this definitely help. I just discover your blog, and as a kid that dreams of becoming a writer, i am having problem with my dialogue and feeling discomfort with my writings. I'm gonna bookmark your blog when i get home! ^^