Tuesday, 2 April 2013

B is for Barren

Some of you must be thinking with a title like that that I'm going to start talking about deserts, or reproduction, but today, I'm focusing on a specific kind of barren, that is, something very personal to me, the mental wasteland that can be writer's block.

Now, some people will tell you there is no such thing as writer's block, that, like every other job, a writer has to push on through and just get on with the task at hand, putting words on a page. Perhaps that is an effective tool for dealing with writer's block, but I'll get to that later. For now, let's just accept that there are times in any writer, or other artist's life when they come up dry, or worse, in the case of a writer, they have words, but can't put them into an effective order. This is what I define as writer's block.

I have experienced this dearth of words on many occasions and it can have many causes and come in many forms. Sometimes, it's due to physical fatigue. I have been experiencing this lately, because I have just started a new part-time job to supplement my writer's income and it's hard work starting somewhere new, lots to learn and lots to do to hit the ground running as a project manager. Thus, I've been coming home exhausted and too tired to even consider looking at a computer, let alone coming up with something coherent to say. This situation will pass. As I become settled in my new routine, I know I will loosen up and I won't be so tired.

However, at the other extreme, I have had very different bouts of writer's block, where I don't understand why I can't imagine, let alone write what I am thinking, down. These times can be very worrying, it's like losing a faculty and no amount of pushing will bring it back. I can also get very depressed when I can't daydream. Day dreaming is my way out of the world, away from the little niggles of the day, a time to be free, and if I can't do it, I have no other outlet. These days of no thought, and, thankfully, they don't usually last very long, must have an emotional trigger, since it certainly isn't physical, but I have never been able to identify what causes them.

So, as you can see, to me, writer's block is very real and comes in many different levels. However, I don't take it lying down. Fatigue has only one solution, rest, so, in the last few weeks, I have given myself time to relax and get used to my new routine, and, now I'm on the climb out of my little rut. At the other end, I just have to wait out the complete psychosomatic block, because I haven't found a technique for combating that one. However, that extreme does not happen very often, thankfully, so then there are all the little moments in between from 'can't be arsed' to 'dammit, that's not what I want to say' and I have many and varied techniques for beating those gremlins.

Can't be arsed is a simple one - all of us can be lazy when we want to be. At times like these, I have to remind myself that I am writing as a business. I may really enjoy it and it is a dream job, but if I want to bring in the pennies, I have to get the books out there. My answer in this situation is a swift mental kick up the jacksie and to give myself writing targets. That can be number of words in a day/week, reach the end of a chapter by the end of the day, or something like, six character outlines before teatime, depending on what stage of a story I'm at.

Dammit, that's not what I want to say, is a trickier one, because the words are flowing, just not in the right way. Sometimes this can be because I'm distracted. This happens with music from time to time, and then I just turn off the music. However, other times, I'm just plainly not in the mood for that particular scene, so I then leave it and walk away (to a different scene, or story) and trust my subconscious to work me through it.

Finally, there's the time when nothing is flowing properly, it's like I've never plotted a scene before in my life. It comes down to not knowing where I want my story to go, either consciously, or unconsciously. Recently there have been times where I have thought I was going exactly where I wanted to with the ol' plot and then I've realised I'm writing rubbish, but I don't know why. Then, I've left it for a bit and when I've come back, it's as clear as day where I was going wrong. Sometimes, just stepping out of the low-level writing and going back to the story plan, the overview, gives me help here. I'm a planner, I like my scene breakdowns, my location notes, my plot point lists, and my arc descriptions, and when I review these, they can put me back on track.

N.B. though, I don't think a plan is a rigid thing, that can be as bad as pantsing a story completely (writing a story off the cuff without any planning at all), it has to evolve and sometimes, when things aren't flowing, I find it is because my plan is wrong and that is what has to adapt.

So, that's it, my little wander through my neuroses ;) Do you have any techniques for getting through writer's block?

P.S. Check out other folk doing the A to Z April Challenge.
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  1. I hear ya about being tired sometimes. There are days when I just don't feel any words that need to come out. So, I don't write, and I don't stress it! At this point, I don't write for a living, so I don't give myself any grief when I spend a day just thinking or pondering. However, it is important for me to remember that it's best to keep writing regularly--it's good for my readers, and it's healthy for me! I think a swift mental kick is what I normally do for myself, too. :) That, or I just try to not let myself be distracted for a while, and look around me for inspiration. Then I just start writing and see what happens! :)

    Living in the Light
    A to Z Ambassador

    1. I like your idea of just looking around and starting to write. I will have to try that some time.

      You're right about not giving yourself grief for just pondering for a day, though, because that just leads to more stress and, although, I personally work quite well under pressure, it can also block up the creative flow to push too hard ;).

  2. Depends. Sometimes, I have a block because I don't feel like writing. Then I generally push myself to at least get going for a few minutes and see if it's just procrastination of my subconscious trying to tell me something.

    But when writing starts to feel like sipping yogurt through a thin straw, I pull back and rest. Watch t.v. or movies. Read more. Paint. Anything but writing. Because that part of my mind is usually occupied with trying to figure out a problem it picked up but I hadn't.

    Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but I write from the subconscious, so a lot of weird stuff come up while I write.

  3. Love your perspective on writer's block. Sometimes for me it's just a day or time of day when I am flagging physically, and then I know to stop. Often I pick up a good book I'm reading, set the kitchen timer (I know -- wierd!), and if I happen to fall asleep for 20 mins. or so, I awake refreshed and ready to go again. That kitchen timer is good for more than just cooking!

    Sherrey at Healing by Writing


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