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October 7, 2011 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Ten Types Of Writer's Block And How To Overcome Them
posted by The Whelk (77 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't see The "Internet Exists" on there.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:20 AM on October 7, 2011 [31 favorites]


If you start out with that headline then "In fact, there's no such thing as 'Writer's Block' [...]" shouldn't be your fifth sentence. This is a nice break down of problems, but my solution would be, "Keep your butt in the chair" nearly every time. The other times it would be, "Take a walk and then come back to it."

He forgot "Out of cigarettes and I can't write without one" block.

He also forgot the "Drink more booze. The inner critic has less alcohol tolerance than you" solution.

Writer's block is my brain's way of telling me I should be doing something else. Luckily I don't write to keep myself fed.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


During my last huge block I disabled all internet access and found I perfectly capable of staring stock still at a wall repeating hitting my hand against the table for an hour rather then work.
posted by The Whelk at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2011 [32 favorites]


11. What I really want to be is a lumberjack
posted by bicyclefish at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]





...

It's like I want to comment on this post, but I just don't know quite what to write.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:27 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the writer, his way to overcome writer's block was to write the post. Good strategy.
posted by inturnaround at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2011


Heh.

These days i have absolutly no time to sit down and concentrate on writing whatsoever. Frequently i've got the next scene I want to write down running through my head for a week or more before I have any time to commit it to paper. So whenever I do squeeze in some time to write for an hour or two I've got so much to do that the thought of being "blocked" just seems kind of ridiculous now.

Though, of course the near geological timescales I now woerk over are pretty much identical to thsoe of someone pulling their hair out at every opportunity.
posted by Artw at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


11. You keep reading about writer's block on the Internet.
posted by kmz at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2011


The only cure that works for me is sitzfleisch.

And I've written two novels.
posted by dontoine at 10:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Still not going to help you come Tuesday, Whelk.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:42 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


what's that? I can't hear you over the sound of my two previously published works of fiction
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 AM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Hmm, they missed #11, which I shared with some poor fellow who thinks I'm that Tom Clancy
posted by yerfatma at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, what is the sound of a published work of fiction? I've imagined it as a contented sigh, but I'd imagine it could end up sounding a bit like a screaming orgasm, depending on how long you've waited.

Inquiring minds want to know, and whatnot.
posted by Mooski at 10:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


11. What I really want to be is a lumberjack
posted by bicyclefish at 6:26 PM on October 7


One day you'll realise there's more to life than culture!
posted by Decani at 10:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


#5 is why it took me fifteen years to write my first novel. (Well, that, and I started it when I was a freshman in high school. Not exactly the best time to come up with mature, interesting ideas.)

In happier news, I may get the second one done this year. At that rate, my fourth novel should take me about ten minutes to write.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


TV Tropes.

No, seriously. You only worry about deadlines when they're not completely hopeless.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think once someone told me - totally anecdotal, and I don't know the validity of this - that 'writer's block' was an English term and didn't exist in other languages. Somehow this made me get over it, because I could think of it as not objectively existing. This approach, however, does not help the Wikipedia/TvT-hole effect.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:50 AM on October 7, 2011


Also, bookmarked for November.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"There's nothing wrong with spending a day or two fussing over one sentence. It may seem like a waste of time, it may feel like you're stuck - but actually, you're just paying close attention to your writing and to the way you're depicting the scene. If this goes on for a week, though, just pick a verb and move on."

Apparently this guy has never had to turn around a quick 750 words/1,800 words/2500 words/etc. in a really tight deadline.

It seems that most of the tips are tips for fiction writers, and not people who need to produce other types of written content.
posted by sardonyx at 10:53 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiosity, what is the sound of a published work of fiction?

The lone steady moan of a dying hobo
posted by The Whelk at 10:54 AM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


This approach, however, does not help the Wikipedia/TvT-hole effect.

Seerate planning and research from the writing portion of the work, then when you are writing turn wi-fi off or go somewhere where there is no wi-fi.
posted by Artw at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2011


The lone steady moan of a dying hobo

Christ, I'll just leave 'em in the trunk, then. They mostly just mutter in there.
posted by Mooski at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2011


I've never suffered from writer's block. Only writer's laziness. Seriously, people have trouble coming up with shit to write about? I'm always rolling in it, like a happy, overstimulated scent hound.

Since I always know how my stories end before I write them, I actually don't encounter a lot of what they're talking about here. Sometimes I hit a bit of a wall when writing feels boring, boring, boring and I don't want to do it. Usually that indicates a plot problem I haven't made myself think hard enough about to solve, or that I haven't developed my characters enough, or whatever. Just gotta turn off the TV and try harder when those things happen.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


For real, #2 is a thing for me. I fall in love with an idea, and then another, and then another... my problem is that I don't have a really clear idea yet of which ideas I can execute in fiction. I think some of the ideas are ideas I would like to read or see, not ideas I would really like to write.

Charles Stross wrote a great piece on books he will never write. He acknowledges that he has more ideas than he has time to execute them; the interesting thing to me is how some of the ideas morph and merge and inform work he actually executes.

And that has been an inspiration for me. I've realized that this great funny oddball character in my head, far from the protagonist of the Great American Novel that I'll never write, can be a fun little character study in another book that I'm actually working on. So that's helped me to get moving again. I'm able to put pen to paper, so to speak. I've realized that it's not 'cheating' to let your initial idea evolve into something different. Bizarrely, 'cheating' is exactly how I thought of it— I had this deeply misguided conviction that I had to 'stay true' to my 'vision' as it came to me all in a rush. On a conscious level, I knew that was bunk, but it was deeply ingrained in my subconscious and poisoned everything I tried to write for some time.

Having to write ad copy against deadline helped me overcome this affliction somewhat, but it still lurked, invisible and insidious, in the part of my mind that wanted to write fiction, that wanted to make art. Hell, it's probably in there still, but it's just a weird old aunt that knits and farts up in the attic, not a terrifying and exacting schoolmaster who compels unflagging obedience to arbitrary constraints.
posted by Mister_A at 11:04 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


My writer's block is a result of "Holy crap I haven't updated my blog in forever so the next article has to top the last one" and I never can so pthh.
posted by hellojed at 11:05 AM on October 7, 2011


I usually just end up in the valley of the shadow of EVERYTHING SUCKS I HATE IT
posted by The Whelk at 11:07 AM on October 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


And yes, external deadlines are the only way I get *anything* done.
posted by The Whelk at 11:07 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I live near a Circle K downtown. Hobos usually go very quietly, in a rumpled heap that is at first glance, just a pile of old clothes.

The rock star fantastic of a hobo power chording glittering rays of trip

Sparkling streaming flashing
posted by Xoebe at 11:07 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, writing any sort of commercial copy under deadline is a great way to learn how to hack your way out of a bunch of those. It's much easier to learn good habits when you don't have a deep emotional connection to the prose.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's also like "Oh a formulaic spy story should be easy dum dum do HOLY SHIT I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO WRITE ACTION AT ALL."
posted by The Whelk at 11:09 AM on October 7, 2011


I think I *won't* post this to any of the NaNoWriMo forums when the time comes, lest it become some sort of writer's version of medical student syndrome.
That said, I think participants already have a lock on #s 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9.

As an aside, is there a sudden explosion of i09 material on the blue? I recommend "top ten things you didn't know about Star Trek TNG". Seriously, three breasts!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:12 AM on October 7, 2011


For me, the only sure cure to writer's block is to write something, anything, every single fucking day.
posted by blucevalo at 11:18 AM on October 7, 2011


Anyone have any good anti-workflow tips? I feel like I'm not procrastinating enough here.
posted by modernserf at 11:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


So we're not talking about the maneuver whereby you step between the insufferably self-absorbed writer and his cornered, cocktail party-victim?

Because that's how I typically block a writer.
posted by xod at 11:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


xod, we're all self-absorbed, but mostly not obnoxiously extroverted. The 'real' writer is the one in the corner trying to get herself drunk enough to talk to somebody.
posted by Mister_A at 11:30 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


modernserf: Minecraft!
posted by mothershock at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2011


> Anyone have any good anti-workflow tips? I feel like I'm not procrastinating enough here.

How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done. (I also have lots of lots of great tips on how to procrastinate and not get things done, which I'll locate and post here by Tuesday at the latest.)
posted by jfuller at 11:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Research" is such a broad term that covers up so many sins.
posted by The Whelk at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2011


I am on my thirty-ninth year of writer's block, and am beginning to think that writing is not the game for me.
posted by everichon at 11:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Todd Alcott has one of my favorite lines about writing fiction, that it's not like other forms of work like making a chair or baking cookies where you can just follow the steps, every time is the first time.)
posted by The Whelk at 11:44 AM on October 7, 2011


The graphic next to "You're stuck in the middle and have no idea what happens next." is brilliant.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:53 AM on October 7, 2011


I dunno, I was hoping it was a picture of George R. R. Martin.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wrote in the comments over there that whenever I have writer's block I think of my mortgage. And then the writer's block goes away.

Still true here.

"Just out of curiosity, what is the sound of a published work of fiction?"


Mostly a lot of giggling, of the "I can't believe I got away with this" sort. For additional novels, add "again" to the end of that sentence.
posted by jscalzi at 12:00 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I've currently put myself on the hook of needing to write a not-terribly-shitty bit of ongoing fiction to show strangers every weekday and it is simultaneously much easier than I thought and also way too hard.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:06 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think "writer's block" is the wrong term for these things -- these, to me, all fall under the heading of "writer's process." Nobody, no matter what they tell you, sits down and writes something, from beginning to end, with no doubts along the way, no pausing for contemplation, no revising or revisiting, no second thoughts about anything, no revelations. Sure, the goal is that (hopefully) the finished product feels inevitable, as though it couldn't possibly happen any other way. But the process of getting to that point isn't quite so clean.
posted by mothershock at 12:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I dunno, I forget who it was said, "My dad worked in a factory for years and he never got factory block." I think just writing your way through it and admitting things don't have to be perfect the first time is the best approach.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:08 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


"My dad worked in a factory for years and he never got factory block."

It's not like they come to your house and take away all your writing implements if you fail to turn in a thousand words a day (well not here, maybe over at Gawker)
posted by The Whelk at 12:14 PM on October 7, 2011


I dunno, I was hoping it was a picture of George R. R. Martin.

I was coming into this thread to say someone should forward this to him.

I just cannot take waiting 5/6 years for the next one.
posted by sbutler at 12:19 PM on October 7, 2011


I've heard (and experienced) the advice to be working on more than one piece at a time, so that even if one of them is blocked, the other will be advancing.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2011


I remember, as a young lad, reading something that Piers Anthony had written about never having writer's block. I was an aspiring writer, and was amazed that someone who had written so many books had never had writer's block. Then, as I read more of his books, I realized how it was possible. Turns out he was writing the same book over and over, with different character names.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2011


Yeah devoting ALL my time to one thing is a sure-fire way to not move at all (unless it's research I have Residual Good Student Syndrome). You know what they say, if you want something done give it to a busy person.
posted by The Whelk at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2011


Heh. I read that same thing, and have actually used a couple of the techniques he described (notably the "throw [and then they have dinner and find out they're cousins] in brackets and come back and actually write the scene later" technique - I don't use it a lot, but it has definitely helped.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:50 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


(although granted one of the "side projects" is writing a detailed history of my "abandoned Hellenistic island" in Minecraft. Wordbuilding for it's own sake. )
posted by The Whelk at 12:51 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Minecraft: the cause of and solution to all writer's block problems. :)

Writer's block. Heh.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:02 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Basically the only thing to do is to create a blocked writer Sim with your exact life and see what happens.
posted by The Whelk at 1:09 PM on October 7, 2011


Same thing as real life: crying inside the bathroom while the kitchen's on fire.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I don't have writer's block, I have that thing where suddenly it becomes ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL THAT I GO TO THE STORE RIGHT NOW FOR THAT ONE THING. And while I'm out, I should conserve gas and time and run a bunch of other errands too, while I'm at it.

I believe this is the curse of the work-at-home in all industries, not just writing.

(Note to people referring to the article's author as "he," Charlie Jane Anders is female, although I understand why the "Charlie" might throw people off.)
posted by ErikaB at 1:17 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wordbuilding or worldbuilding? Is there any difference anyway? What IS the whelk up to in Minecraft?
posted by Mister_A at 1:22 PM on October 7, 2011


The piece jfuller linked to is really funny!
posted by Mister_A at 1:22 PM on October 7, 2011


11. I don't really have writer's block. It's just that my whole house is filthy and I need to clean it right now.
posted by tuesdayschild at 1:26 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically I loaded up a seed that has you start on an island with one tree and a mine under it I posited a group of shipwreck survivors arrive there and slowly began to settle in - you can trace how old a building is by what materials were used (fer example, the Temple is all smooth stone, seems expensive but the Priest King's hut under it is actually more valuable, it's all wood and wood was a precious commodity before the planting of the Second Grove - newer houses show off their expensive ore decorations and use wood for flooring and servant's quarters) and have sketched out the entire history of the Five Priest Kings (The Holy, The Great, The Mad, The Glorious, And The Fool, respectfully) their relationship to the Lighthouse Keeper (They married, ceremonially, but control independently two chunks of the island, the LHK is always female, a reference to the Concubine Princess who kept watch every day for ships) the division of the Land into who owns what, the ongoing problem of The Big Mine, Their tree-worship, communal melon farms and worker's lodgings, and several half-finished projects or dis-used buildings from the follies of former Priest Kings.
posted by The Whelk at 1:29 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyone have any good anti-workflow tips

How to Fail at Writing

So what happens Tuesday?
posted by Zed at 1:47 PM on October 7, 2011


The list seems like excuses non-pro writers come up with, rather than actual writer's block. When you write for a living, most of those on the list don't pop up very often. Of course, I never believe anyone who says they just love to write. I love to have written.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, these things come up for pros too, but as Mothershock points out, above, it's part of the process, and you know how to work through it.
posted by Mister_A at 2:22 PM on October 7, 2011


What happens Tuesday
posted by The Whelk at 2:50 PM on October 7, 2011


It's probably telling every author I know has either an immaculate house, a beautiful garden, or a really well appointed kitchen.
posted by The Whelk at 2:51 PM on October 7, 2011


( or absurdly complicated wet bars )
posted by The Whelk at 2:51 PM on October 7, 2011


My solution is basically what he said. Sometimes it comes out crap and I have to burn it, but writer's block is kind of like expanding foam; the longer you let it sit there without being cleared out, the harder it is to get rid of it. Kick through it while its still damp and worry about shaking the clods off later.
posted by Scattercat at 3:10 PM on October 7, 2011


Oddly I found the "How to Fail at Writing" article more constructive. Apparently the monkey on my back is "having a job" though, and I've yet to hear a constructive solution to THAT particular bad habit.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:10 PM on October 7, 2011


Having a job is nothing. Hell, having a job + 1 kid is not too bad. having a job + multiple kids appears like it might be a step too far.
posted by Artw at 4:00 PM on October 7, 2011


Apparently the monkey on my back is "having a job" though, and I've yet to hear a constructive solution to THAT particular bad habit.

I thought the problem was, for years, that I had semi-creative jobs and that they were emptying the tank, somehow. And then I realized that I had gotten the most done with a creative job that I disliked, in a living situation that kinda sucked, so that I ended up spending all my non-work time at a coffeeshop writing because it was the least worst alternative.

So I guess the real problem is having a pleasant job and a lovely home. Except now I have that, and I get a bunch done (although not as much.) But now I have an absolutely terrifying writing group full of hyper-competent people who incidentally hold multiple black belts. So maybe that makes up for it.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:05 PM on October 7, 2011


I could say: Don't just force yourself to write unless you are motivated.

(I really liked the cover for Astounding Stories with the title "Dark Moon". But they're all good.)
posted by ovvl at 5:38 PM on October 7, 2011


Get a publication out of it.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:03 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually do love to write, not just having written. Though I've certainly been frustrated, bored, annoyed, embarrassed, and sick of a story plenty of times. Writing has often felt like I'm pulling out my own intestines. I have abandoned way more stories halfway through than I care to remember. In the realm of original fiction, I've just been a non-finisher. My inability to see the task through to the end made me think that I'm just not organized/passionate/dedicated enough for the writing game.

Which is fine, because I really love my job.

I guess if I were someone else I would say I have had nothing but writer's block, but I don't think of it that way. I just thought I wasn't the sort who could do it. Not a writer at all, so how could I have writer's block?

That said, I've written plenty of fanfiction in my time, and really enjoyed the community and the feedback and all that stuff. I learned tons from it, as controversial as that probably still sounds to people (but you know what: plenty of my friends from fandom are now NYT bestselling authors, so whatevs). I have no problem finishing fanfiction of any length, including novel-length. Presumably this is because there is a built-in audience that keeps me motivated. But original fiction for me always started with joy and excitement and then ended in tears. I generally decide, each time I try, that I'm not cut out for it.

But I go back to it every couple of years or so, because I really do enjoy it and I'm drawn back in. This time around, I decided to follow an actual, organized process, and record the entire experience to see where it fails for me (on the presumption that I would in fact fail). Surprisingly, this time I actually finished a novel first draft (101K). I learned a bunch from the experience. I'm definitely no expert, only a raw beginner, but this is what I learned:

1) Create a detailed, scene-by-scene outline, and revise it daily. I'm not naturally an outline writer at all. Until now, I just wrote stuff and worked it out on the fly. Seat of my pants. but I discovered that when I reach somewhere around the middle, I lose complete track of the story and it all looks like crap to me. The decisions I made at the beginning look ridiculous. I can't fathom why I'm writing this story. Without an outline I can't see my way through this phase and I abandon the project.

This time, with a detailed outline, I thought, no no, don't get like that, have faith in your outline and just write what it tells you to write next. Even if you can't see anymore why you should. I worked myself out of that funk in about a week and a half and the second half of the story was easier to write than the first half. So now I am the outline's biggest advocate. It's the bird's eye view of the story, and once the major and minor arcs are worked out through the outline, I can use my day to day attention and creativity on the details and emotions of each scene rather than the macro plot work. Still creative and new every day, but in different ways.

2) Build in an audience. I did this because of my experiences in fandoms. I am an exhibitionist, apparently, and I like to share my little victories as I pass each milestone. So I gathered a tiny group of people around who were willing to read as I wrote. At first I shared a chapter at a time, but eventually it was a scene at a time. It gave me a sense of progress, as well as instant feedback. I think most people might find this really weird, so YMMV. But I loved having people to discuss the story with, who were invested in my progress and engaged in my story.

3) No daily word count goals. I find I get discouraged if I have a daily goal to meet and then fail. That's just too many failures for me. I set reasonable weekly targets instead. Though the next time around (my next project starts next week) I don't think I'm going to set word count goals at all. I think instead I'm going to demarcate milestones in the outline, so it will be more like, get to X point in the outline by Sunday night. Word count is the roughest possible gauge of a story anyway.

4) Related to no daily word counts: stop to recharge. This advice runs counter to what real writers tell you, so I won't blame anyone for disagreeing. I don't find "write every day" works that well for me. If I give myself a day or two between writing sessions, the writing comes much easier and is richer and better. I don't know why this is. I don't know if it would be different if I weren't working full time as well. But if I write 5k words on Sunday, Monday will get me 800 words that I had to wring from my fingers. But if I wait until Tuesday or Wednesday, the next 2500 will just run right out. I try not to make writing hurt. If I can set it up so it feels like a joy rather than a struggle, I will do that. I find pain demotivating.

5) I tried to give myself the rule, "take a walk every 1000 words," but I only followed it half the time. It was nice, though.

6) Find your time of day. I discovered by accident that early mornings are the best time for me to write. Early in the morning I can write 2k words in an hour or less without even feeling it. By the afternoon, that same 2k take me three times as long and are harder to drag out. Unfortunately, I love to stay up late, so I have a bit of a conflict on that front.

I fully and completely acknowledge that I know next to nothing about writing and process, so grains of salt for everyone, but this is what I've learned this summer. I am continuing to learn with my next novel project. But I'm doing nothing but having fun with it, which I intend to continue doing. People frequently ask me if I'm going to publish, but that's mostly the furthest thing from my mind. At this point I just want to learn to write the best novel I can. I figure if I write seven or eight of them, I might have a sense of whether I want to pursue publishing or not. At the moment I'm just happy to write, construct characters and stories, and learn.

In sum: this is the story of how I learned to overcome my life-long writer's block. With organization.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:38 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


> Don't just force yourself to write unless you are motivated.

"I admire him very much. He sits down every afternoon between two and three and composes. I can only compose when I have an idea." -- Wagner, of Max Reger
posted by jfuller at 8:54 AM on October 8, 2011


The list seems like excuses non-pro writers come up with, rather than actual writer's block. When you write for a living, most of those on the list don't pop up very often.

I write for a living. The stuff that I have to write gets written. It's my job; I do my job. It's the stuff that I want to write -- the stuff that no one's actually asking for or paying me for -- that is the problem. I know that people get writer's block doing WFH, but I can't imagine why.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:37 PM on October 8, 2011


"I actually do love to write, not just having written."

I think I'm actually just the opposite, and maybe that's my problem. I love writing so much, but I'm seldom satisfied with the finished product, so I seldom bother finishing things. Working on that.

That said, I'd love to publish a weight-loss book called "Rocks Fall, Everyone Diets!"
posted by Eideteker at 12:12 PM on October 12, 2011


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