September 27, 2006

A Few Thoughts on Writer's Block

During my disturbing conversation yesterday with a personal trainer at my gym, the fact that I am a writer somehow came up. As is often the case, the person I was speaking to said something along the lines of "Oh, I used to love writing." (Amazing how many people "used to be" would-be writers, or "have an idea for a novel," etc. etc....bringing to mind the truism that writers, well, write...).

Anyway, she went on to say that, although she enjoys writing, she never seems to have any ideas. "I guess I have writer's block," she joked. That got me thinking about this strange phenomenon of writer's block. And I realized that I almost never have writer's block in the fundamental sense of having no ideas to churn out onto the page. Ideas are rarely, if ever, a problem for me. I can get inspiration from nearly anything in the world around me--TV, photographs, artwork, random memories, things I've overheard, things that annoy me, things that interest me that I want to know more about, and on and on. Sometimes I experience the sensation of having too many ideas and no knowing what to focus on, but I almost never feel like I have no ideas.

Now, feeling like I have no good ideas--that sometimes happens. Feeling like what comes out of my brain and onto the page is utterly pointless, or poorly written, or unsalvageably crappy--that's my version of writer's block. I don't want to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, for fear of the utter dreck that is certain to spill out. I'm sure many writers have this feeling, and it can be paralyzing.

What do I do about it? That varies. Often I take a break from writing for a few days--working on other creative projects can be inspiring and rejuvenating, and letting the ideas percolate subconsciously can sometimes prompt a floodgate to open the next time I sit down at the computer. Sometimes I retreat into utter escapism--an absorbing book that can inspire me back into writing; or if even reading is causing feelings of inferiority, if I can't stop comparing myself to what I'm reading, I'll watch TV or movies, exercise, and catch up on housework. I'll pay some attention to neglected hobbies that fall by the wayside when I'm in a writing groove. I'll spend time with my husband and my cat. Working on a different writing project, in a totally different genre or area, can also help. I know I'm still writing, but instead of dwelling on that story or novel that's aggravating me, I work on a magazine article or do some blogging (like now). Or I'll spend time on that ever-irritating chore of researching potential writing markets and sending work out. And sometimes, when none of this works and I still feel like dreck is oozing from my pores, I remind myself that once upon a time I was employed writing dreck, and enjoyed it, and had readers who enjoyed it and found it amusing. Even dreck has its place in the universe.

This is probably all too familiar to you writers out there. Everyone, of course, has their own coping strategy for writing difficulties. The important part is to keep going and keep trying, no matter what. Even if you have to take a break, don't let it turn into a lengthy hiatus. If you have to, tell yourself you're only writing for YOU, and nobody else is going to ever see it, if that's what it takes to keep writing.


TadMack said...

As I said before, I can't even BEGIN to tell you how gross and awful your personal trainer seems to be. May abuse be heaped upon his head! May the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits! Yuck!

But, bravo for hanging tough in the field of the arts. You're giving me courage.

a. fortis said...

The terrible part is, the personal trainer is a she, and she should know better.

TadMack said...

Oh, YUCK. A SHE!? And I wrote this whole story about a HE! Well, bygones.

I loved the Writer's Block Advice From the Prolific. My favorite is #1: Don't obsess on one thing -- have more than one project going at a time and if you get stuck on one, move to another.

I am trying to commit to coming back to "Wishing" and I like moving away from it into someplace where I'm more successful, but after today... success... seems a bit elusive.

This too shall pass, my mother would say.

a. fortis said...

Funny thing about moms--mine says that too.