Monday, April 09, 2007

Tackling Writer's Block

Yesterday broke the record for the coldest Easter in north Texas history. It was colder on Sunday in Dallas than it had been on Christmas Day. The Easter Bunny froze his butkus off.


Recently, a writer asked for help on an online writer's group. He said he was suffering from severe writer's block. Despite having the time to write, he found himself putting it off out of some kind of deep fear.

I wrote him a note and wanted to share the essence of what I said.

I suspect your expectations of yourself are so high that you fear you'll never be "good enough."

Most of us become writers for the sheer joy of telling a story, for the pleasure of manipulating words into the shapes of our choosing. I can't design or sew, I can't play an instrument, and I can't build a house, but I CAN tell a story. It's one of the things in life that makes me happiest.

Somehow you have to regain the feeling that made you want to be a writer in the first place. One suggestion might be to write something completely different from the genre in which you plan to write. If you think of yourself as an adult writer, tell a child's fairy tale. If you think of yourself as writing thrillers, do an
inspirational short story. Do something for which you have no expectations. Do it just for fun.

This may be blasphemy, but I don't believe in writer's block. I refuse to allow myself to believe in it the way I refuse to believe in the boogey man under the bed. I don't want to give it form and substance.

When I can't write on my current project, I start a new one. If I hit a roadblock on that one, I start another. I think of it as exercising my writer's muscles, in the same way an athlete develops strength and stamina by exercising every day. If he can't run because of a pulled leg muscle, he lifts weights or does stretches.

The athletes I know don't let a day go by without exercising. It's like brushing their teeth; they can't imagine skipping the task. So, I believe, it must be with writers. Write SOMETHING every day. One page, two pages; it doesn't matter. Keep your muscles moving; don't let them tighten up.

Yesterday morning, it was colder than a witch's heart here in north Texas. It freaking snowed on Saturday. I really, really thought about skipping my walk. But I didn't. I walked for three miles in a biting wind. By the time I got home, I couldn't feel my toes.

Today my skin is peeling as if I'd been sunburned. But I got up and walked again, and I sat down and wrote again. Not a lot, but a little.

Let us know how you do. I'm pulling for you.


B.E. Sanderson said...

Excellent advice, Maya. Fear of failure can really be a killer, and I think that's what's happening to most people who have 'writers block'. I went through a period of it a couple of years ago, and it nearly did me in, but once I located the source, it went away and I don't expect it will come back.

Maya Reynolds said...

B.E.: Good for you. I think most writers just accept it's "writer's block" and don't look any deeper.

I operate on a pure behavioral model. I just figure I'll behave my way to success. If I can't write one thing, I'll write something else until I'm ready to go back to the first.

Marie Tuhart said...


This blog is very timely because I've been having trouble writing. I can edit, but not write the new words. And it is fear stopping me, I know that, and I have to find someway to overcome this fear. I will, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Rob said...

Really good advice about getting past writers block.

Another idea is to work out the subjects you want to write about and then set up some google alerts to find what others are doing on this topic.

No stories are completely original but are variations on general themes.

Reading other people's ideas often stimulates your own.

Maya Reynolds said...

Marie: Don't be too hard on yourself. You've had a lot on your plate.

I know some people seek refuge in writing when they're stressed. I've never been among that number.

Be kind to you. The rest will follow.



Maya Reynolds said...

Rob: Every writer finds his/her own tricks to help stimulate the muse.

Thanks for your post and for stopping by.