Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Big Bad Block

Curses upon ye, writer's block!

This is the problem with a long hiatus from creative writing. I feel like I've forgotten how to write anything fun. Give me a work report or some painful professional navel-gazing and I'm your girl. I can analyze my teaching six ways to Sunday and throw in the words "intentional" and "differentiated" every other sentence.

But writing a scene full of witty banter? Re-plotting my novel to fix the dragging middle? Suddenly, I'm paralyzed. I'm worried that I won't do it well, or that I won't be able to sustain any sort of creative effort. I tell myself that I'm too busy or too exhausted. If I'm going to fail anyway, I might as well go clean the kitchen or write some curriculum because that's what's really important... and that's the only place I can actually succeed.

Obviously this is not a healthy attitude. I've had writer's block before, and I've tried a number of methods to deal with it. Though I've always managed to get back to work, I haven't sustained a healthy routine. These methods have always been about perpetuating self-loathing (as opposed to self-care). For instance, I tell myself I'll sit at the computer for an hour. And when I do, I'm humming "you can't do this" in my head. Yes, there's a winning mental refrain! Alternatively, I tell myself "the creative well has run temporarily dry. You need to abandon your project entirely." Then I set aside my writing routines so that I can eat fried food, read other people's romance novels, and worry that I'll never finish my own.

Shockingly enough, neither of those strategies really works.

I knew I was in deep trouble when it took me all week to write this post. (Yes, I actually started on Monday and now it's Saturday... sad, huh?) I think it's time to dust off my copy of The Artist's Way and put myself through a 12-week writers' recovery program.

Anyone else have any other ideas? Do share: how do you bust your block?


Christine said...

Busting a block--oh, that is a good question. Worst time for me was when the characters exited the brain and took all my other MCs with them. Not a good place to be as a writer.

Fast forward. I started to take a break, read more and I switch my gears to a different form of writing. The computer/laptop was becoming a drain of my creative energy so I wrote out long hand a lot of stuff, recopied notes from a workshop to keep my left brain engaged and I made an appointment with my characters to hear from them where they wanted the story to go.

I did. I basically said, HERO AND HEROINE, I am meeting you tomorrow at X time. If you want me to tell your story. Show up. Otherwise I am moving on. My heroine, bless her, showed up. My hero is being cagey but has shared more with me. Now I have six thousand words written in backstory for my eyes only, a new story sketch and outline with my acts clearly defined, and a wonderful new character that excites the hell out of me.

Take a break. Don't push it. Just let them tell you what you need and write it down without trying to figure out how to make it pretty or perfect.

That's for later.


Vivi Andrews said...

I do two things:
1) Give myself permission to suck. I tell myself I'll fix all the crap later, but right now I just need to get the creative flow flowing again.

2) I feed my naturally competitive nature. Some writers use NaNo. I use writing sprints. I meet a writer friend in an online chat, we set a number of minutes we're going to just write (usually around 20) and then we race to see who can pound out the most pages. It helps me push past my mental obstacles and just write, because I want to WIN.

(And Kate, if you're looking for a sprinting partner, I need to get back into my WIP in a bad way. I'm hoping RT will revitalize me.)

Lexi said...

Oh, I'm glad you mentioned The Artist's Way because that means you're in the right frame of mind. Time to fill up the well. Take yourself on an artist date. Create something else, something non-verbal. Get in the routine of writing morning pages, even for just a few days (and DON'T RE-READ THEM). Do something to get yourself out of your comfort zone, wherever that might lie.

And remember: national boards are over. Everything else is a cakewalk. :)

Anna Richland said...

I know what you mean. When I've lost the thread of my story and everything feels dull, how do I recharge my energy/enthusiasm? I read a Suzanne Brockmann Navy Seal novel straight through, starting immediately after kids' bedtime, and soak in a really good example of what I'm writing. Basically I'm rationing her Seal books for motivation.

Sounds like you think you're using reading as a form of procrastinating - but does it energize you? If you choose in your genre, a known commodity that will energize you and that you will zoom through (NOTHING worse that a book you can't finish when you can't write either), I think it's okay. But one, only one, and then you write.

Alternately, go swimming. That's the other thing I do. I think about my plot while doing laps. Things become clear, and the smell of chlorine makes me feel very strong and ready to work.

I would NOT switch to another book. That's going to prolong your agony.

AronArendt0418 said...

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Kate Diamond said...

Thank you all for your recommendations! I've been taking care of myself this week... trying to eat well (and by well, I mean finding a balance between "healthy" and "so incredibly tasty"). Every morning I get up early to either write three pages (just a brain dump), swim, or do yoga. It's been fabulous.

Guess I have to get this whole art of living down before I can really get a handle on the art of living!

Anna Richland said...

Glad to read your update! Swimming is fabulous for the brain, you know I believe that! But I took The Big Boy and Miss Bossy Boots to a wave pool/water slide yesterday for two hours, sans Mr. Richland, and I'm still recovering. Mr. Richland is perhaps better recovered from his 26.2-mile run than I am from a mere two hours at a wave pool.

I took last week off from writing, to celebrate finishing those pesky revisions, but starting tomorrow morning I'm back at it. Are you with me, Kate?

Katie said...

Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury. Honest.