Smart Girls Read Romance

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

WEATHERING THE STORM OF WRITER'S BLOCK

By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever, marks the spot.” ~ Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

It never ceases to surprise me how a certain quote from a book or movie will surface from a distant memory out of the blue. This particular quote by the fictitious archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, has been replaying in my brain for days now. Why, you might ask? Well, perhaps to remind me that reaching one's goal is never easy, and that no matter how I may have mapped out a book in my mind (or charted its course in detail on paper), I still can get lost. In many ways, a writer is like the captain of a ship called Creativity and the book you are creating is the journey.

Currents shift, the winds change and you suddenly find yourself in the midst of a storm (let’s call it a wicked migraine). Try as you might to stay on course, the pounding of the waves from the storm batter both you and your ship. There is nothing you can do but ride it out. Finally, dawn breaks and you anxiously return to the helm, only to realize your ship has been drifting for days. You fix your gaze on the horizon and wait for the wind to rise and fill the sails. But there is no wind, only a strange silence…as if you and your ship are in some kind of limbo. And much to your surprise, a certain character (let’s call him your hero), is being unusually quiet. You don’t know if he’s hiding below deck or decided to jump ship.

Nautical metaphor aside, I am talking about the dreaded curse of ‘writer’s block’. Various degrees and different causes are often attributed to ‘writer’s block’, from being distracted by family obligations or illness (that can temporarily affect the discipline and rhythm of your writing), to the pressures of another job, publisher deadlines, or creative problems within the story’s structure itself. Perhaps an author may suffer from 'writer's block' because of insecurity or fear of failure, especially if a previous book was highly acclaimed. This type of 'writer's block' happened to J.K. Rowling, who said: "I suffered writer's block badly once, and that was during the writing of Chamber of Secrets. I had my first burst of publicity about the first book and it paralyzed me. I was scared the second book wouldn't measure up, but I got through it."

A scientific explanation was also served up to explain the problem. In 2004, a book titled The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain, author and neurologist Alice W. Flaherty wrote “literary creativity is a function of specific areas of the brain, and that block may be the result of brain activity being disrupted in those areas.” So what’s a writer to do?

The solutions to the problem are just as varied. Some suggest taking a break, going for a long walk, or doing something other than stare at a blank page. You might try some free-writing exercise; asking the proverbial ‘what if’, might unclog the cobwebs of your mind. Others suggest, especially if you feel you’ve hit a wall with your writing, to brainstorm with a critique partner or friend about alternate plot threads, or even skip ahead in your story to a different scene then double-back later to the problem area.

There is comfort (at least for me) in the knowledge that most writers experience this ‘disruption of the creative mind’ at one time or another, including famous authors. And we all work our way through it somehow. But here is what some of them had to say on the subject of the difficulties of writing and/or advice about 'writer’s block'.

“Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning.” ~ Neil Gaiman

“Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.” ~ John Steinbeck

“Stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck…your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Whether you are a writer or not, life is a journey. We are each captains of our own ship. Its timbers are crafted from our hopes and dreams, as well as perseverance, education, experience and training -- all joined together to make the vessel we need to achieve each goal we set before us. Needless to say, it isn't always smooth sailing. It's often a ‘learn as you go’ process. Sometimes there are no obstacles, no ill wind to blow you off course. Yet if there should be delays and obstacles, storms that batter you every which way, frustrating as they might be, perhaps learning to cope with those storms will make us all stronger in the end. I hope so.

Thanks for stopping by today. As for me and the status of my ‘writer’s block’, I am once more aboard the ship of Creativity. This particular journey may be slow going, but I believe it will be worthwhile in the end. In closing, I leave you with an inspirational quote from Elizabeth Edwards:

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.”

Happy writing…and reading! ~ AKB

21 comments:

  1. Hmm, this one's tricky. At times, I'll either read a book or series I enjoyed or watch a favorite movie. I also find if I spend some time with the genre I write, like YA, it helps. My last WB epi lasted the entire summer and I thought I was finished!!

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    1. Hi Tuere - Thanks for visiting and sharing your experience. I can well imagine how upsetting it must have been to have Writer's Block for an entire summer. It has been about a week for me, and I think it's tied to this migraine. It was improving but today is not a good day. Take care.

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  2. Great post!

    It's funny, because until very recently I never experienced writer's block. And I'd written for years--more than ten years of nothing close to writer's block. Oh, I had days where I didn't exactly feel like writing, but then once I opened my latest WIP, I'd get excited and run like a racehorse toward the finish line. I'm very humbled now to have experienced it and can sympathize and commiserate better with other writers.But what's more, I turned into my writer's block. Instead of running from it, which I like to do with all my conflict, I just asked it what it was. I dove deep into it, and it was dark and very personal. Once I started realizing what it was, it was easier to work through. It wasn't just an obstacle in my way any longer, but my instincts trying very hard to tell me something very important about me personally, and not just about my writing. It was one of the toughest journeys I've been through, and I'm not sure if I'm even done! But so worth it.

    Again, thanks for such a great post!

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    1. Hi Lani - Thanks so much for taking the time to visit and comment. I am with you that I have never had this before, although there were days I didn't want to write. But usually I was plotting in my head or doing research. I am both fascinated and impressed with your approach of digging deep and analyzing the cause. Sounds like a life-changing revelation in many ways. Take care, and thanks again for sharing your experience.

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  3. If I find I'm at a roadblock in my writing it's usually because I wrote the characters into a corner. I step back then read the last two scenes out of context to see if I need a different POV or to change their actions or the actions of the antagonist.

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  4. Great information, Paty! Thanks for sharing how you approach the problem. I know many writers have had this type of writer's block and it can be frustrating. Hearing how others worked through it is very helpful. ((Hugs))

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  5. I think all the advice is good. One way or another, it will work out. Good luck and hugs. Tweeted.

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  6. Great analogy, Ashley. There is an article on 25 ways of fighting writer's block in this month's newsletter. Great post as usual.

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    1. Must be a Virgo things, Caroline. Perhaps alignment of the planets has some influence on people of a certain sign. Or, you instinctively knew I was having a problem. LOL I looking forward to reading that article! :)))

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  7. Ashley, I too love your analogy. We are indeed on a ship in a very stormy sea. Like you, I have moments, days, even weeks when the creative juices refuse to flow. Sometimes I hash through plot sticking points with crit partners. Other times I sit myself down, tune out the world and scribble in a notebook until I arrive at a good place in the plot. Then it usually starts flowing again. Sometimes I just give myself permission not to write. There are other things in life.

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    1. Hi Lyn - Thank you very much. You are such a disciplined, productive, and wonderful writer, and I really appreciate your input here. Hearing about how others tackle the problem is interesting, and I think helps to understand just as the reason for writer's block may be different at any given time, the way to handle it can vary, too. ((hugs))

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  8. I agree with the idea of stopping your writing each day when you are in the middle of a scene or a paragraph and you know exactly what is going to happen next. I have been trying this for a little while now and it means you can leap back into your writing each day. Great post Ashley.

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    1. Hi Sasha - I am so glad you commented! I really found Hemingway's suggestion fascinating, and can see how it would also keep the writing fresh and give your brain a chance to re-charge (so to speak). :))

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  9. I actually wrote an article on Writer's Block one time. And still have used things from it to help me get unstuck. But recently I've found that the only time I get stuck is when my characters aren't doing what they need to do to further the plot or strengthen the romance.
    So, I've found I need to pay close attention to what they're trying to tell me when the writing gets to be a struggle.
    And your idea to stop in the middle of something is wonderful.
    I've also found that if I write poetry, haiku in particular and practice using descriptive language in a different way, it seems to help inspire me. I also have deal a story cards created by Sue Viders that I use. Just to exercise my brain and get me going on plotting.
    Thank you for a great post.
    Teresa R.

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    1. Hi Teresa - Thanks for your input! The "story cards" are interesting, and I'd like to know more about them. The free writing exercises you do by writing poetry is great, and very creative. I can see how that might, in turn, stir the imagination. It's GREAT to hear how other writers work through this problem. :)

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  10. Good post, Ashley. I've recently come off a time when my story wasn't moving forward -- I tried not to call it Writer's Block, tho. But to stop in the middle of a scene that's going strong--I don't know that I could do that. I'd worry about it all night :)

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    1. Hi Barbara - Well, just like style of writing, what works for someone else may not work for me. But this episode was so tough, I really wanted to try anything. lol. I understand what you mean about not being able to sleep if you stop in the middle of a scene. But I think Hemingway meant to stop after a scene when you know what will happen next, rather than press on, and that it gives your mind a chance to re-charge. I know I have pushed on through the night in some instances...to the point of mental and physical exhaustion then found I should have stopped and rested. Maybe writer's block is our creative mind telling us to relax, gain some perspective and not try and force the work's progress. At least, for me, I think that's true...especially if a scene isn't working the way I want. It really is a "learn as you go" process for me, and so having feedback from others has been very helpful. :)). Thank you very much for commenting today.

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  11. Loved the post, Ashley! I'm in the midst of a huge block right now, a large boulder, a cement cave. Grief and mourning can sink the creativity ship.

    I'm calling the crew to rescue my "black pearl" ship from Davy Jones locker. ;-) Wish me luck!

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  12. Hi Carole - I am so sorry. Sending positive thoughts and ((hugs)) you way that the storm will pass soon, and your creativity will be stronger than ever.

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  13. Great article, Ashley. I think there are temporary writing halts in every writer's life due to sickness, grief, personal life issues, and other intrusions. Personally, I think every writer has a unique set of fears and doubts, and if a writer allows too much time to pass without writing, then doubt and fear gain an upper hand.

    Then when the writer sits down to write, the creative process suffers because of these doubts and fears. If the writer does not push herself to write but rationalizes that tomorrow she'll do better, then the fear has won. The more often that writing loses and fear wins is the foundation of writer's block.

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