Figuring out if and why you have writer's block is about half the battle. The rest is trying to work your way over, under, around or through the block itself. Many of our initial, intuitive responses to being blocked -- buckling down, barelling through, giving up -- may end up being less than helpful, and can even backfire on us. Here are some alternative strategies:
1. READ ABOUT WRITER'S BLOCKJust what you're doing now is one way to learn more about the problem, find workable solutions, and reassure yourself that you are not alone and doomed.2. WRITE ABOUT WRITER'S BLOCK
The sheer volume of books about writer's block in the bookstore and in libraries is a testament to the idea that writer's block probably hits most write's at some point in their careers. A quick search of 'writer's block' in Amazon.com's database shows at least 10 books on the subject you can order online. Two books I can't say enough about are Victoria Nelson's eloquent "On Writer's Block: a new approach to creativity" and Anne Lamott's hilarious "Bird by Bird: musings on writing and life." Both books are comforting, encouraging, and full of helpful information. I highly recommend them as a starting point for your recovery.
Another way to work through the block -- that also keeps your writing muscles from atrophying -- is writing about writer's block. For me, the exercise of creating these pages has been immensely helpful in recognizing and working through my own block.3. TAKE A BREAK
Writing self-dialogues, doing exercises, keeping a journal, and jotting down ideas are all possibile ways to keep yourself in touch with writing in short, manageable doses. And if you have thoughts about writer's block you'd like to share, please submit them for posting on the reader comments page.
If your writer's block has been going on for a while and the very thought of even trying to write makes you feel ill, it might not be a bad idea to take a deliberate break or sabbatical from writing. This is not the same as quitting or giving up writing. This is taking action against a sea of troubles. Give the sabbatical a definite time frame and use the time to actively work on the writer's block problem. At the end of the time frame, test the waters to see if you feel like writing again. Lather, rinse, repeat until your eagerness to write, or to try to write, returns.4. FIGURE OUT WHAT'S WRONG AND ADDRESS THAT PROBLEM
This may appear self-evident, but sometimes writers need to be reminded that writing isn't really magic, even though it often seems a magical and mysterious process. And since writer's block shakes our confidence in the process itself and our sense of competence, it can sometimes feel like we've simply "lost the gift."5. TREAT YOURSELF LIKE A RECOVERING ATHLETE
Whatever your philosophy about the source of your writing, that take on writer's block leaves the writer helpless and passive, hoping the "writing gods" will once again smile upon him. A more viable position is to approach the block as the sign or symptom of a specific problem, something that can be understood, and possibly solved or adapted to or even used as a way to stretch ourselves as artists and craftspeople.
In practical terms this means regularly putting aside time work on your writer's block. How long, how often and what you do is up to you. If you're at a loss for where to begin, try some of the exercises suggested on the exercise page, or take a bunch of books out of the library and start reading. If you need to stop for a while and mull things over, then stop, but do it with a sincere committment to return to the process when you can. The important thing to remember is that getting over writer's block is a process, much like the process of writing. And like with writing, if you force it or neglect it, it doesn't work very well.
This doesn't mean WALK IT OFF. This means take your writer's block difficulty seriously. Writer's block can be a career threatening injury, so you don't want to rush the comeback and risk a relapse or re-injury. Nor, on the other hand, do you want to leave the healing to chance and neglect. By taking an active role in your own recovery -- by understanding the problem, keeping in mind your goal of returning to work and progressing toward that goal at a pace appropriate for you -- you improve your chances of being able to go back to being the impassioned, hopeful and committed writer you started out to be.6. TALK TO OTHER WRITERS
In fact, you stand a good chance of coming back even stronger than before. Writer's block, as Victoria Nelson points out, is not just an obstacle, it's a sign to the writer that there is something that needs fixing. As with an athlete whose injury is caused by bad form or poor technique, if the training works to correct that inadequacy, the athlete returns with less chance of reinjury. This then is your opportunity to not only tape yourself back together, but to actually get yourself in prime writing shape, ready to tackle the projects that excite and challenge you.
It's good to have people around that you can talk to openly and honestly about not being able to write, but it's particularly good if you can talk to another writer about it. There is something to be said for communicating with people who've shared your experience -- who have been blocked and survived, who have never been blocked and have a philosophy you can learn from, or who may be just as blocked as you but can offer some real sympathy and understanding.
If you're not comfortable with revealing your blocked state to other writers, consider broaching the subject by asking if they've ever had any experience with being blocked. Another ice-breaker that worked for me was to submit an exercise dealing with writer's block (the 3 lists exercise) to my writer's group.
The internet is another place to contact other writers. Usenet groups like misc.writing and rec.arts.sf.composition are friendly forums for discussion of all things writing. SFF NET, the host site of these pages, has many more intimate newsgroups relating to all manner of writing, including a companion newsgroup to this page, sff.writing.writers-block.
m a i n m e n u / m y o w n p a g e