Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do You Believe in Writer's Block?


Seriously, I've been listening to writers discuss this subject for over 20 years. Some writers have terrible bouts of writer's block and others don't have a clue.

I'm one of those writers who, personally, doesn't believe in it. I can always write. Always.

Unfortunately, I don't always write stuff that will ever see the light of day, let alone a printed page--nor am I always motivated to write on my current project. But I write. Every day. Fortunately, I have a newspaper column to create each month, along with 6-12 magazine articles each year. I also have insurance industry trade texts and seminars to research, develop, and write all year long. So, when I find myself struggling with one project, I simply focus on another one. At the moment, I'm in the process of writing two books: a follow-up to my mystery Second Time Around and a new book, a romantic suspense. Now, maybe I'd be better off focusing all my energies on one book. We all know I'll get it finished quicker than the way I'm doing it now. Maybe the book would be better written. But maybe it won't. I've been finding myself getting deeper into the characters--of both books--this way. Probably because my unconscious is working on whatever book is not actually in front of me. (Let me share a secret: my unconscious seems to work much more effectively that my conscious as I age...)

Anyway, enough about me. WHAT ABOUT YOU? DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER'S BLOCK? Let me know! Here are some things I'm interested in:
  1. What is your description of writer's block? I suspect it means different things to different people.
  2. How often do you get writer's block? With regularity or sporadically?
  3. Does anything in particular spur your writer's block? (i.e. Deadlines, allergies, arguments with your spouse/SO, etc.) If stress is your answer, please be specific about the type of stress.
  4. Does anything help you destroy the little bugger? (i.e. Alcohol, tea, coffee, chocolate, a run through the park, a game of basketball, screaming at the top of your lungs while you're driving your car, etc.)
  5. Pontificate - tell you YOUR opinion.
Let's work together to find a cure for writer's block. (I know, you're thinking, yeah right. But why not at least discuss it? We may come up with something that helps another writer.)


  1. Unfortunately, in my world, it is alive and well and comes around often. To me writer's block means I can't write ANYTHING. Can't quite put my finger on what causes it. Sometimes a vodka martini chases it away, and sometimes just walking away from the computer does the trick.

  2. I'd have to say that I believe in writer's block in the sense that it means not being able to focus on a writing project. I've had two experiences coming on the heels of a beloved cousin's diagnosis of terminal cancer and her death. What cured it? Time and patience with myself, knowing that motivation would be rekindled sooner than later.

    Sometimes a life crisis motivates me to write as a way of dealing with the stress. But whether the words are given to me or taken away for awhile, I know that I am a writer---for as long as I live.

  3. I pay my bills with my writing, so writer's block may be present - but I can't give in to it. I force myself to write, when I need to, because I have to.

    Jolie du Pre

  4. I don't believe in writer's block for myself, although I know others struggle with it at times. If I'm not "feeling it" or the words are stumbling out of me, I just keep plugging away, determined to wrestle that scene, page, chapter (whatever I'm working on) into submission. It's the bullheaded aproach to writing :)

    Dennis Palumbo, a therapist (also a published mystery writer and screenwriter) who specializes in creative issues for writers counsels writers to use their writing blocks to dig deeper into their character's issues. For example, to take the feeling you're experiencing in your writer's block (let's say it's fear) and write a scene where your character is afraid.


  5. Depends on your definition - I started doing "morning pages" (from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way) long before I started writing fiction. Getting something on the page every day, whatever it is, even if it looks like nonsense later, helps clear out the junk and open up space for what matters. So if I can't focus on the most pressing project, at least I have an avenue for finding out what's up and making better choices.

  6. Hi Linda,
    I was glad to see your email announcing your blog post on writer's block today. If I hadn't, I may have never discovered your blog. So thanks for that. I plan on visitng again.
    I've always been a nay sayer on the subject of writer's block. I've always maintained that at least in my experience it doesn't exist, it's not an issue. When I sit down to write, I'm always able to bang out something.
    But...and this is a HUGE but, There are times when I simply refuse to sit down. I avoid the documents icon on my laptop screen like I would bio hazard waste.
    I'm an insufferable perfectionist and sadly I give up much too easily If I feel like what I'm writing doesn't meet my ridiculous expectations (no body is perfect - why can't I get that?) I'm one of those author's who will write non stop for a few weeks, type out ten or twelve chapters of good, solid work and then I get...well, I get scared. What if I do all this work, pour my soul into this novel, finish it, submit it and it's not good enough and gets rejected? So instead of finishing it, I start a new book (I have nine mostly finished novels and only one completed novel)
    Now some might think that I'm probably getting stuck 1/2 way or 3/4th's of the way through. That's not the case. I have complete synopsis on all of these novels. I know where these stories are going. So why the heck can't I get past the fear of rejection or the fear that the finished product might stink?
    I have no idea.
    I don't like being a quitter.
    I hate having 1/2 book writer's block. I also hate getting requests for full novels and not being able to submit because they're not finished.
    Hah, ironic, I was able to finish this reply to your post.
    Sorry for my long winded comment. You struck a nerve in me and that's a good thing. Hopefully it will get me past my many insecurities.
    Have a lovely afternoon and if you have a spare moment check out my blog - Petit Fours and Hot Tamales. Me and my fabulous blog sisters have a pretty good thing going over there and we're very proud of it.
    Thanks again for your post!

  7. As a published writer and editor, I do not believe in writer's block. I do, however, believe in writer's procrastination, which I frequently face. There are too many ways around 'not writing' such as free writes, "what ifs," and jumping way out of the box. I find that the key for me is just grabbing myself by the scruff of the neck, and forcing myself to look at where I'm at in my own writing, and asking myself what my character(s) would do to move the story forward. Even if I write a terrible scene, at least I'm tackling my writing and not ignoring it, calling it something that it isn't.

  8. Nope! Don't believe it exists. I hear too many writers who are simply procrastinating by complqaining they have writers block. Who's in charge, there, anyway?

  9. There are clearly times when I can not write, although I hesitate to call it writer’s block. There are times when I can’t find the right words. Generally, if I walk away for a bit, or focus on something else like you do, it comes to me. Sort of like remembering in the middle of the night who sang that song you’ve had in your head all day. :)

    The more serious situation, though, is when I can’t see where a scene or story is going. Yes, I’m a bit of a pantser. It took a long time for me to see a pattern there, but, in most cases, the direction I took was the issue. Once I backed up and found another vein to follow, things opened back up for me.

    Of course, there’s always the procrastinator’s block. My solution to that is goal setting and a critique partner who holds me accountable for them. :) If I have to get XXX written by the end of the week, it makes me sit down and write.

    Thanks for the interesting topic.

  10. Thanks for your input! I share the opinion of many of you that writer's block is not necessarily the lack of anything to write, but procrastination. I have also found that, quite often, my procrastination is the direct result of characters or plot that need some serious work.

  11. I'm rarely blocked -- Time's winged chariot is always trying to catch up to me. I do a lot of thinking about my project before I start putting words together, and revisit my work mentally when I'm away from it so I have three or four things to work on in my next session.

    One instructor pointed out that the block might show up when I need to stretch further than I have before and you're not ready.

    Right now, I'm between books -- finished one recently and am sketching out the next in my mind, working on plot, motivation -- and figuring out what I need to research before moving forward.

    And I realize that I need to rest between projects. I need time to clear my mind so that the next project will be fresh and different from the last.

  12. I personally don't believe in writer's block. I believe there might be some other reason for not being able to write like depression or illness, but other than that, I think it is a matter of sitting down and going to work, just like someone at an office. I have been writing for many years and that is my experience. Can't say it's right for everyone but it works for me.

  13. How do I handle writer's block? I'm under deadline so I pound through it. With my forehead against the keyboard. I spend a lot of money on aspirin.

  14. Personally, I've never had the problem. I learned early in life that in order to avoid it, I just tell my characters to create the scenes at night while I sleep. When I get up and am ready to write, it just flows like water from the tap. I'm usually surprised by how well it went together also. Occasionally I have to veto and have them begin again.

  15. I don't believe in it. I was at a conference and a well-known author said that "it's just an excuse to allow the butt to leave the chair." When I'm stumped as to where to go next I take the last two or three paragraphs and rewrite them, making the characters deal with a crisis. The more I'm stumped the bigger the crisis. It may not even make it through the final edits if it doesn't progress the plot, but often it's a fun exercise and I save the result for perhaps a scene in a future book.
    Merely switching to a different project I'm working on often allows me to overcome a stump-time.
    I have three books in the works so I can't afford to waste time with so-called writer's block.

  16. So glad I found your blog. I'll definitely be a follower from now on.

    As for writer's block, to me it means all ideas have flown out the window and the writer can't even imagine the next word to write/type. That does not happen to me, not ever. Even if I'm procrastinating, or have been shanghied by other tasks, I'm still writing in my head. A cure for "writer's block?" If you have it, you don't want to be a writer bad enough. Give it up and do something else.

    Patricia Stoltey's blog

  17. Why is it that doctors never get "MD block" or plumbers "plumber's block" or ...?

  18. Procrastination explains to me rather than "writer's block" why I stop writing and invent other chores.
    I agree with Linda Faulkner, when it hounds me something is wrong with the plot, theme, or the characters. That entails serious work, which I don't care to attempt. But it's like dirty dishes, a genie isn't going to do them, it is up to me to get busy.

  19. Linda, great topic! I used to believe in writer's block but now I know it's either procrastination or I just don't know where to go with my plot. Tell me that gets easier!

  20. I believe there are times when whatever we write is just horrible, doesn't hit the mark at all.

    But there is never a time when we CAN'T write. And the mere practice, the daily butt-in-chair, helps us transform those dispiriting moments -- be they days weeks or months -- into something worthwhile.

    We have to write through that frozen tundra of creativity.

    At least that's how I do it.

  21. If you define writer's block as not being able to write at all, it hasn't ever happened to me. If you define it as not begin able to produce quality work for a specific project on demand, then it comes and goes. When this happens, I work on something else for a while. This generally works.

    Charlotte Phillips

  22. I think different people use writer's block as an explanation for many different processes. Inability to transfer words from mind to paper or screen can be due to a great variety of causes, from a subconscious desire to not be writing, at least not writing that particular piece, to organic brain damage.
    I don't often find myself grinding to a halt, but when I do, it seems to be related to one of two causes.
    First, I may be fighting the story. A good story tells the writer what it wants and what it does not want, and these are non-negotiable demands. While I was writing my first mystery novel, The Music Box Murders, I came up to a point where a favorite character was about to be murdered. I hadn't planned on that, and spent some three weeks trying - unsuccessfully - to write around it. Finally, I gave in, let the inevitable happen, and on went the narrative. You've got to give the story what it wants.
    Second, in all my books, there are sections that seem like god-awful messes. The first time that happened, I spent hours trying to fix the mess, no luck. Finally, I said to myself, "What am I trying to say here," and the light went on. Now, I welcome these passages, because I know they contain either the germ of the theme that led me to write the story in the first place, or a critical event in the narrative. In either case, the cure seems to be patient rewriting, particularly cutting, and often interspersed with ongoing work on the story as a whole. I may re-do a section fifty times, but in the end, I'm pleased with the three or four lines I've mined from the three or four pages of slop.

    Larry Karp

  23. Yes and no. Yes, when I'm beginning a project or, perhaps, stuck with a scene, I feel (notice the word "feel") as if I'm blocked. But I can actually freewrite or make a list or turn on some spirited music, go to the kitchen for coffee, chocolate, whatever and, above all, take my mind out of gear, the "I'm-stuck" gear and put it in what I call meta-mind, and think around the particular problem. So, no, I've never experienced the paralyzing depression of serious writer's block.

  24. Fascinating selection of responses and I'm reassured to see that the majority seem to dismiss the idea of such a condition. I know that some suffer from it but it's never happened to me. I co-wrote a book aimed at helping students to compose, write and edit things such as essays and dealt with it there. On balance, it does seem (as others have said) that it's related more closely to procrastination than anything else. But, if it does happen, the best advice seems to be to force yourself to write anything - even unadulterated rubbish, just to get the 'writing muscles' working. Sit there and just bang out words - unrelated words if you like. Eventually, the writer will re-emerge and take over again.