The members of my critique group are well versed in “writer’s block” as the writing community knows it. We’ve read articles and books about it. We’ve all experienced “it”on a scale of some kind. One of the great things about a critique group is that we help each other through those times. I don’t believe in “writer’s block” as a phenomenon. I have never been blocked from writing in the true sense. No one has held a gun to my head and prevented me from writing. They didn’t padlock my computer in a drawer or lock away all the paper and pens. My microcassette and iPhone didn’t disappear. Much as I’d like to have those excuses for my blockages the reality is that “no one” blocks me. So, what is it?
Writing is a profession, a job. Like all jobs it will vary with the peaks and valleys of life. When life is in the peaks, your job will be good. When life is in the valleys, your job will usually follow suit. This is the harsh reality. Our writing is usually not blocked by a person but by life. Common culprits?
Economics: The list here is endless. I have to work 40-60 hours a week or I work several jobs. When I’m done, I crash and burn or I’m doing laundry or chauffering the kids. If I could just write full-time, it would work. I can’t afford to write. If you’re a writer, you can’t afford not to write. At midnight, at 4 a.m., with a baby in one arm and a pad and pen in the other. The stories are out there of writers who got up at 4 a.m. every morning for a year to write that first novel. Flannery O’Conner (I believe) used to walk to the post office with kids in tow to post submissions. It can be done.
Sadness: Probably a more appropriate word is depression, but not all people fall into the depressed category. This is when life hands us times where perhaps we are caring for an aging parent, or a child or spouse who is ill. We may be dealiing with physical illness ourselves. Life may have simply handed us too many things to handle at one time. We are so heavy with the weight of it all that writing becomes one more weight we cannot bear. The best thing for these times is to ride it out. Life hands us these times, and we must cope. I’ve never been a big person for journals, but they are excellent during these times. The wide range of emotions you experience will be something you can mine for your writing when you come out the other side. Also, stay in touch with writing friends. If there is one thing we all understand, it is these times.
Frustration: After years of pursuing the craft, we become mired in the belief we aren’t cut out for it. Perhaps we don’t have the talent we thought we had. Obviously, we have wasted our time. This defeatist thinking is coming from a point of frustration. You haven’t made forward momentum, maybe it’s time to…give up. Don’t! The worst thing to do at a low in your writing is to quit. Change up what you’re doing. Take a class. Read a craft book or a good novel. Go to a conference. Have a writer’s retreat with a friend or alone. Give yourself the encouragement you need. A good book to read during this period is Nancy Pickard’s Seven Steps in the Writer’s Path.
Writing, not living: Probably a more appropriate title would be compulsive factor. This is one I am guilty of but probably all writers can be, especially when we’re in the zone. We compulsively write, abandoning everything else, including family and friends. In order to write well, you need to live. Stop writing and get out and take time to enjoy each day. Honestly, you’ll be glad. The writing will be the better for it.
Chair Butt: This is deadly for a writer. We have a sedentary life, but endorphins spur creativity and those come from exercise. Get up and get moving. Every day. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing but get the blood flowing, the heart pumping.
If you do reach that dream of writing full time, remember to still get out in the world. You don’t want your writing to stagnate because you haven’t left your four walls in eleven months. Remember to support each other. This is a job rampant with rejection so we need each other. Be the validation for another writer and you know they’ll be there for you.
How do you handle times when the writing “won’t come”?