‘Round the Block

Last night a friend and I were talking about writing and the pressure some writers feel when trying to come up with that perfect idea, phrase or direction. She commented that for some people she knew, the pressure of perfection grew so much it essentially crippled them, preventing them from writing anything at all. I replied that to me, that was just another form or writer’s block.

Ah, writer’s block, you wily sumbitch … you strike without warning, leaving us to twist in the wind like an old sweatsock forgotten on the clothesline. But wait … is writer’s block even real? There are tons of books, websites and seminars that promise to help you jumpstart your writing, cure writer’s block and help you get your groove back (although we hope it turns out much better for you in the end than it did for “Stella” recently); but do they help? If writer’s block is more than just a myth, more than a euphemism for “hey I’m tired and I don’t want to think no mo'”, are there different types of writer’s block? Do you experience writer’s block? What gets you over the hump? Maybe it’s a writing group, critique, writing challenges or perhaps a contest … or a hard deadline combined with a swift kick in the pants? Tell us what works for you and what doesn’t.

11 Responses

  1. i really likethat contest
    i really like

    that contest idea. Heh.

    Anyway, I had long stretches of creative productivity, punctuated by short bouts of writer’s block, but now it seems I’m living the reverse. I don’t write very often, and when I do, I’m usually displeased with it, though I will occasionally write a phrase, a sentence, or an entire paragraph that stuns me. This is rare. I’m not answering the question, though, so I guess I’ll do that.

    Used to be, when I’d worry about this sort of thing, I’d get over a case of writer’s block by sitting down and forcing myself to write. I’d make up little challenges for myself — describe the sky, write about your day as if you were a fictional character, write a poem about Soylent Green, whatever — and pretty soon, the flow would be back. Lately, I don’t seem to care so much that I don’t really do any creative writing anymore. (What I’m going to say next is going to sound pretentious as hell, and I don’t mean it the way it sounds.) I think that my relentless pursuit of perfection has ruined it for me. </pretentious as hell> I guess what I mean is that I’d gotten to the point where I was just manipulating the words to make them sound nice, working entirely in the technical without any real passion. So that was no fun and over the past year or so, I’ve decided to satisfy my creative energy in other ways.

    That’s writer’s block, too, by the way — being too caught up in the technical aspects of writing to enjoy anything about the craft.

    Anyway, other than this year-long anomaly that I’m in now, I’ve been writing pretty much since I could hold a pencil, so I’m sure I’ll come back to it someday. For now, I’m busy with other stuff, because, you know, I just ordered a Holga.

  2. coffeeCoffee is not

    Coffee is not necessarily an essential, so if you don’t drink coffee, it’s ok. Here is the real secret:

    When I write, I first have to have an idea. Something I want to write about. Whatever it is. A plot, a scene, a concept, a theme – something. Then I start writing as if I were telling it to someone, not worrying or caring if it is good writing or not. Just tell the damn thing. ‘A man walks into the doctor’s office and says he thinks there is a duck growing out of his ass’ For example. ‘The doctor says, “What the hell…?’ and ‘Well, blah, blah…and this is what happened next…weird, huh?’

    Later I go back and re-read it, and make little changes. Sometimes I cut out parts that don’t really contribute to the story. Sometimes I add more. I always see a better way to write something. Like, if I wrote, “The man was nervous and shakey. The doctor gave him a prescription for valium.” I might change it to, ‘The man’s hand shook when he reached for the valium prescription.’

    “Nervous?” asked the doctor.

    Now, see, I could probably come back and make that sound even better, but I want to post this before lunchtime.

    Wait, I have to redo it.

    “I’m going to give you some
    valium,” the doctor said, ballpoint pen squiggling on the prescription pad.

    The man’s hand shook as he reached for the slip of paper.

    “Nervous?” asked the doctor.

    If you are anything like me, you will find countless errors when you proofread your work, so you correct the obvious errors – misspellings, etc. – but as you go along, you just make changes which make the story flow better. You don’t have to do it all in one sitting. You can do it as many times as you want.

    For me, that’s where the coffee comes in. And – you have to like what you wrote or you won’t be able to stand reading it over & over.

    To sum it up, you just start writing something. It’s not always a magical experience; sometimes it’s like mowing the lawn or doing laundry. You have this vision of a nice lawn or some spring-fresh garments, and you think these things are good ideas, so you just get started. You can always take breaks. One other thing I’ve found. After a considerable output, like when I finally publish a book, I don’t write for a while. A month or two might go by without much writing but I never worry about it. My battery is recharging. I know there is more water down in the well and sooner or later it will surface. Don’t be like the infant who thinks the world disappears when someone covers your eyes, or you’re afraid to go to sleep because you don’t understand you will wake up later. As you get a bit older, you learn that it’s still there everytime you look again.

  3. Is that a camera? A Holga?
    Is that a camera? A Holga? Digital or film?

    A contest, eh?

    I’m full of questions today, aren’t I?

  4. Yep. A Holga is a camera. A
    Yep. A Holga is a camera. A cheap, crappy, medium format film plastic toy camera that can help produce some of the most stunningly dreamlike images I’ve ever seen. Let me not get started on that.

    As for your other questions: yes and yes.

  5. I see. Well, I hope you share
    I see. Well, I hope you share some of these fantasmagoric images with us.

    Funny thing about that. Friend of mine wanted a camera but he somehow got onto a Russian mail-order bride site, next thing he knew he had a Helga.

    Hell of a thing.

  6. Purposeful Writer’s BlockHow
    Purposeful Writer’s Block

    How about not writing, on purpose? I presently feel that higher education has killed my want to be creative anytime soon. I will not write something again until I know I really will want to, or will try to do a good job at it. My best response to writer’s block, purposeful or not, is to wait. Wait until the creative urge will strike again.It will most likely work. (Eventually)

  7. Yes, I do that sometimes.
    Yes, I do that sometimes. Like a singer resting his voice. All these analogies – I hope I don’t sound like I’m full of myself. Some people like my writing, some don’t care for it, and I know I have a long way to go.

  8. I don’t believe…I don’t
    I don’t believe…

    I don’t believe in writer’s block, I see it as an excuse not to write.

    Like Billectric I don’t sit down & write unless I know how I’m going to start, at the very least.

  9. andeh,In University, Margaret
    In University, Margaret Atwood agreed to be my mentor for an individualized credit program. Well, that experience was sobering to say the least. Her advice was brutally honest(which was good!) but the sidelines killed me. The phone calls to the In writers, the jokes on the In-side, the In tone and the foreign vibration all contributed to a writer’s block that lasted almost 10 years.

    So, I’d have to say the definitely higher education for me of that specific sort was the greatest single contributor to my avoidance of all creative writing for a decade of my life.

    It could be that the loss was the best thing that ever happened to me!

    Writer’s block is not a free pass to hell, it’s simply refraining from writing for awhile. That’s okay.

    As a Toronto astrologer once so brilliantly put it to me: “Sometimes you fill up the bucket, and sometimes you empty it.”

    Writing is emptying, not writing is filling.

    It’s all part of the process.

  10. just manipulating the words
    just manipulating the words to make them sound nice….

    like every other word loving poet in the world of words?

    grrl, manipulating words and sounding nice is THE basis for poetic perfection.

  11. CharacterizationalismI think

    I think if the characters in the story are really good, they will tell the tale according to their nature and you don’t really have to do much except write down what they have to tell. I mean, don’t put words in their mouth or try to describe what’s going on, just let those little puppets of your mind do all the work and talk as they talk and environ themselves as is there custom. Like that show The Wire, however sloppily put together it was, the good in it was when the characters were being themselves.

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