It happens to every writer at some point in his or her writing endeavors. Many of us don’t care to explore too candidly. Sure, we talk about it, moan about it, but we don’t really like revealing too much.
It happens to the best of us. Sometimes for weeks on end, and in worse case scenarios, for months, sometimes years. We just don’t like talking about it. Why? If it happens to every writer, what’s the harm in talking about it? Because, it makes us frustrated, angry, and depressed to talk about it, even though we all know we’re going through it.
So what am I talking about?
The blank page.
At some point, every writer arrives at this point. What’s next for the story? We started the story all fired up and eager to explore what our characters had to say and then we hit the proverbial brick wall.
Some of us claim it doesn’t exist, while others know this feeling all too intimately.
According to Wikipedia, writer’s block is “a condition, associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task in hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.”
There can be many factors as to why this happens. For me personally, after my divorce in 2006, I had a strong desire to write, but I couldn’t find the ability to write anything I didn’t end up deleting right after I wrote it. My head was full of ideas and thoughts, but I couldn’t formulate them into anything of coherence. Not writing had a physical effect on me. I couldn’t sleep because my mind was racing so much. I was depressed because of the divorce, losing my son, and a host of other factors and not being able to concentrate long enough to write frustrated me even more. I was a mess, to say the least. Yet, I still had to function, get up, go to work, and put a smile on my face when in public. I kept it hidden pretty well, but my insides were churning and my head was spinning.
I ended up not writing for almost a year. I just stopped. I knew not writing was a factor in the way I was feeling, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Eventually, I found myself in front of the computer one night and I just started writing. Everything I’d been dealing with, struggling with, came pouring out. I was scared that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to find this place again. So, I pressed forward and when I finished I realized I felt better on many levels. I realized at that point that writing was ingrained in me. It was no longer a hobby or a fun lark; it was something that was very dear to me. It took me losing many things in my personal life to come to this realization. Looking back, I honestly wouldn’t want anything to be different, because everything that happened has brought me to this place where writing is once again, magical, healthy, and exciting.
Sure, I still have days were I want nothing more than to not to sit in front of the computer and bang out words. Talking about writing and actually writing is what separates the wannabe from the professional. Even when I don’t feel like writing, I sit down and do the work. Sometimes, I force myself to turn off the TV, quit surfing message boards, or hanging out on FB and sit down and put words on the paper. I’ve found the first few minutes can be pretty hard, but once the words start flowing things even out. Face it, if you write for long enough, there will be days where you don’t feel ‘it’, they’re going to happen, but you can’t let it get the best of you.
What has worked for me is something called free writing. I simply sit down and write whatever pops into my head. This could be describing a location, or a conversation between a couple of characters. I save everything I write. Those bits and pieces go into a file and eventually they get used down the line. By doing this, I have files upon files of snippets to draw upon if I get stuck. I’ve even combined two different stories a few times in the past.
If everyone always wrote when they ‘felt’ like it, then not a lot of writing would get done. Watching some of my friends in the business hammering out two or three novels a year to pay the bills used to scare me. I’m a slow writer because I tend to obsess over every plot twist or word when I write. I’ve gotten better over the years of just writing and worrying about editing after a first draft, but I still catch myself editing while I’m crafting a sentence. Don’t get caught up in counting words. Write at least a little a day, whether it is only 100 words or 1,000. Words on paper are words on paper. If the words aren’t coming, take a break, do something else for a little bit, and then come back.
I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but it works for me. Main thing is to keep at it no matter how frustrating it gets.
Eventually the words will flow, trust me.
(Originally appeared on Apex Publications Blog, March 2010)