There’s no such thing as writer’s block

That’s what I thought until a young writer contacted me recently asking for ideas of how to get around writer’s block.  She had had some success as a writer and was finding it hard to get started again.  That very success seemed to be the cause of her anxiety, and that was holding her back from starting again.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that if writer’s block exists, it has nothing to do with a shortage of ideas to write, or knowing what words to start with. Quite the opposite.  It’s a form of paralysis caused  by too many ideas to choose from, and a nagging self-doubt that any of those ideas will lead to anything of real quality.

I’m sure all writers have spells where we are distracted for periods. Writing is a solitary activity and it’s easy to get distracted by e-mails, social networking, marketing – anything other than writing.  And I think it is here that we can lose some of the passion to write and let self-doubt creep in. We write a paragraph and it looks like c**p, compared to the work we’ve published before.  We seem to forget that all first drafts are rubbish, and it’s only after the editing and polishing that the draft will begin to shine.

Some of the writing  gurus say that the answer is for all writers to set  word count targets per day, or per week; turn off the e-mail, Facebook etc. and focus on writing the first draft.  They also suggest avoiding redrafting until the first draft is complete. Others have said that they will start the day editing the work finished the day before, but will not go back any further.  This way they can keep up the daily count.

It’s probably all good advice, but it is not for me.  I write when the creative juices are running.  When I’m not happy with a scene,  I sometimes leave it for days to let my subconscious work on it.  Then I go back and redraft the scene, and any further structural changes before moving on.  The time I spend thinking about the problem, for me, is just as valuable as the time spent hitting the keys.  But then again, I’m fortunate, as writing is a hobby for me; it doesn’t have to pay for my board and rations, and I don’t have any publisher’s targets to meet.

If you’re a writer, have you ever experienced writer’s block?  And if so, what was your solution?

4 comments on “There’s no such thing as writer’s block

  1. My “writer’s block” tends to more take the form of “what the heck should happen next?” block. As in, “my characters need to get to A by the end of chapter 7, but they’re currently locked in prison at place B, and neither of them are particularly skilled at jailbreaks or have any outside contacts that would be able to help them escape AHHHHHHHHHHH!”

    My solution is generally to grab my ipod, go for a really long walk, think up a solution, go home, explain it to my brother, and then take studious notes while he explains to me why my solution makes absolutely no sense and how I should fix it.

    • Hi Michelle,

      I think that this is a different type of block, but perhaps just as frustrating. Does this mean that you’re a ‘pantser’ type of writer as opposed to a plotter? I tend to plot, but then have this really great idea that throws the original plotline off course and then have to think of a clever way to get back on course.

      Like you, I find walking is a great way of thinking those types of things through; or I find the solution comes to me in the middle of the night. Having someone to talk to, when you have this kind of problem, is a great way of keeping sane. In my case, it’s my wife, and the answer is that ‘they would never do that’. Back to walking again.

      • Hahaha, “back to walking again” is probably my mantra 🙂 I do tend to be a bit of a pantser, although I generally have an idea of where I want to the story to go. In the case of the current book I’m working on, I did actually have a plan, but upon going back and re-reading the completed manuscript, I realized that I didn’t like certain elements of the plot. So now I’m re-planning so I can go back and re-write.

  2. It’s the difference between a plan and planning. Planning is a process that doesn’t stop once you start writing. Sometimes when a new idea comes along the only way to test it is to try it out, If it works, adapt and re-plan. When it doesn’t discard it.I don’t think we’re that different.

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