Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You Tell Me: WRITER'S BLOCK

Today, I need your help.

In just over a month (July 25th, from 12-1pm), I'm going to be giving an online seminar during MediaBistro's Literary Festival and Workshops. Yes. You can sit in front of your computer and watch me flail tell you useful, illuminating things.

Do you see the company I'm in? Do you?!? (Oh, and if you do click on that link, you will see my S.E. Fine author photo. Because I know that is what you're really interested in: my FACE.)

Wow, I'm punchy this morning. (in all seriousness, I'm very excited about being able to participate in this event)

The title of my online seminar is "Overcoming Obstacles to Becoming the Writer You Want to Be."

I'm going to discuss two things in detail: rejection and writer's block.

So, I'd like to get your input. I know about both of these things from a cognitive/academic perspective, but only one of them from a personal perspective. I have plenty of experience with rejection. However, I've only been writing for about two and a half years, and I don't have experience with this thing we call "writer's block." (YET.)


Here's what I'd like to know: How do you define writer's block? Have you ever experienced it? How long did it last? Any theories about what caused it? What thoughts went through your mind as you dealt with it? How did you overcome it? What helped? What didn't?

I'd really like to include diverse experiences as I discuss writer's block, so I'll be eternally grateful if you give me some specific examples (and I'll give you credit in my talk at the Literary Festival!)

Thank you in advance, friends.

Oh! One more thing. If you do the Twitter, please consider following my dear co-author, Walter Jury, who is just getting up to speed in all things social media. He is the coolest, and knows more about movies than anyone I've ever met. Please help welcome him into the online world?

Thank you again :)

24 comments:

  1. I usually get writer's block for 6-8 months after I start querying a new project. Or rather, while a project I worked on and shined up over and over again gets pulled through the ringer with agents making requests and then turning it down. I think a lot happens emotionally during that time and I just can't seem to bring myself to work on anything for awhile. I start querying my last project in August of last year. I tried starting a new wip in November. It didn't happen. Started another one in February. Only got a few paragraphs in. Now, ten months later I'm finally writing through any blocks and I know I'll finish this one. I think, for me, it has to do with lingering hope over the last project and rebuilding self-confidence after a crapload of fall-throughs.

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  2. For me Writer's Block is when I can't make progress on a story. Sometimes it lasts for months, but usually it's a result of a broken element in my story like...the plot holes, or the stakes aren't high enough, or I've written my characters into a corner and not given them a way out. Writer's Block is usually a result of my mistakes and sometimes rewriting is the only way to fix it.

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  3. I think writer's block is different than writer's slump. My mind can go dry for a short while, but always, the well fills up again. Writer's block, I think, stems from emotions deep within that turns the valve off. But I believe the mind is always working and creating. For me? I think focusing on all it takes to get published is the more daunting emotional block to hurdle. Cute photo, by the way.

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  4. Oo, congratulations on doing a seminar. I'm sure you'll be fine.

    I have all the normal stuff above too, but here's one I'm starting to recognize as writer's block. I get this fidgety distracted feeling sometimes when I know I should sit down to write (want to sit down and write even), but for some reason I just can't. When I do sit down I'm easily distracted by twitter and blogs, etc. Once I finally turn off all the social media and read my last few paragraphs I'm usually good to go. But sometimes getting to that point takes a long time.

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  5. I think Writers Block is a continuum - you can of course write anything at any time - whether it is a load of rubbish or a work of literary creativity is another thing. So I believe WB doesn't exist - only good and bad writing - and sometimes the good writing is hard to get going.

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  6. I don't like using the term writer's block, cuz to me it implies something external that happens to me and that I can do nothing about. Like catching a cold.

    But I've had what might be considered it. I had to rip out a major plot point and replace it with something else (like a quarter of the book), and I was having the hardest time thinking of something that (a) was good and (b) would fit with the rest of the story. It took me a long time to get through it, and I dreaded my writing times during those couple of weeks.

    I wrote about how I got unstuck here, but it boiled down to not giving up.

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  7. I've never had writers block in the sense of being unable to come up with a new project idea and writing the book. I have tons of ideas. I'm dealing with a new issue which might be writer's block. It's the coming up with a solution to a plot/characterization problem. Until I solve it I'm stuck and can't move forward. The only solution I can thing of in this situation is shelving the book and working on something else. Of course this doesn't work if the issue is bigger, like coming up with an idea to begin with. You can't shelve something you don't have. :)

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  8. LOL! "flail" (*snort*) Yay for you, superstar! And yay for Walter! I feel like I'm still getting up to speed on Twitter... ;p

    OK, for the Writer's Block question. I've been writing professionally around 15 years now, and here's what I think: Much like when I'm talking, sometimes when I'm writing, I don't know how to say what I'm trying to say. (Or even what to say, for that matter.) So I toss out a lot of words until I find it, get the groove going, and take off.

    Then I go back and delete the crap or hang my head in shame/apologize to my poor listeners. It's a terrible TERRIBLE trick for conversation, but it works fantastically well for writer's block. :D

    Also I think writer's block can turn into one of those head games/self-fulfilling prophecies. So I resist allowing my brain to even think about falling down that spiral. (I don't even like talking about it. ;o)

    Good luck w/the seminar! <3

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  9. After querying my third novel and failing miserably, I ran into major writer's block. Everyone had said that was "the book," and when I failed again, I began to doubt everything I was doing. This funk was not easy to get out of and took a process of several months. I began two new novels which both fizzled out fairly quickly. A friend of mine encouraged me to write a short story for fun which I did. (This story ended up getting published. Go fig.) Then, I created a short story blog with a group of friends, so if nothing else, I was writing and creating one new story a month. Still no new novels for over four months. What finally broke me out of that was changing genre. I went from YA paranormal/mystery to MG fantasy. I haven't finished the MG novel, but I'm making steady progress on the first draft, so that's good enough for now.

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  10. I don't really believe in "writer's block" per se, though I've had my uncreative periods. When I talk writing with my students, we speak about those blocks as mountains that just take some time to scale. Sometimes, you have to stop and catch your breath. Sometimes, you have to take a snack break. And sometimes, when a part of the mountain is too steep, so you have to back up and choose a different direction.

    It makes more sense to the students (and me) and makes it a bit less intimidating.

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  11. It took me a long time to figure out I finally discovered that writer's block is like a detour sign stopping me from going down the wrong road. The solution is easy: back up and find the detour that will take me down the proper road and on to my destination. Sometimes I have to back up a lot and try many different roads but thus far I've found this method to work 100% of the time. I just wish I discovered it a long time ago!

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  12. I'm a 100% pantser, I write chronologically (most of the time), and when I sit at my computer, I write what I know.

    'Writers block', is when I stop (occasionally mid-sentence) because I have no idea what happens next. It's not something I get overly concerned about, 'cause I know the rest of the story is lurking in the back of my head somewhere, so I'll take a break, go for a run, do something other than writing, and eventually things click and I know what I need to write next.

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  13. I've never really suffered from writer's block. More like writING block. What I mean is, whenever I actually manage to make time to sit down to write, I've always got plenty to say. It's making the time that's the problem.

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  14. Sorry, I like to help but I've never expereinced writers block either. I have encountered writers hesitation before...which is my own definition for stalling ahead of writing a difficult scene. :)

    Good luck!

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  15. Oh I've definitely gotten writer's block before, and it's usually because I've written myself into a corner. I didn't plan something well enough before or things went for a turn I didn't expect and I don't know how to get out. In these situations, I think the problem is that I'm too close to the problem. I over-think the situation while trying to get out, making me blind to obvious solutions. When this happens, I usually just have to step away from it for a little bit. I'll maybe work on something else or go veg out for a while and NOT think about it so furiously. Then I let the thoughts/musings trickle back in (usually in the shower, and then bam! inspiration!). I've also found that it helps to talk it out with someone. The different perspective can help find those obvious solutions and/or open up totally new possibilities!

    Good luck with your talk! How exciting! Also, I'm super jealous that you've yet to experience Writer's Block. It's the worst!

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  16. I'd like to start by saying that I'm incredibly jealous of anyone who has never experienced writers' block. I get it often.

    I define writers' block as anything that causes the words to stop flowing easily. Mine has lasted anywhere from a few minutes to months. There are lots of causes for me and they're different for every person. Mine include: distraction, real life stress, trying to force characters to do something that's not "them," another WIP is calling me, or a plot point is not working.

    A couple years ago, I had a WIP where the MC was supposed to apologize to her friend for blowing her off and they were supposed to make up. When I got to that scene, I got a terrible case of writers' block and my character presented me with an alternative: she wanted to snap at her friend, slam her locker, and walk away.

    I resisted the urge to write the scene "her" way until finally I just gave in and did it. The moment I gave in and wrote the scene in the way that was more in character for my MC, my writers' block disappeared.

    My most recent cases of writers' block have all been caused by the simple problem that I wasn't sure what was supposed to happen next. (I had a light outline and I had trouble figuring out how to get from where I was in the story to the next major plot point on the outline.)

    I've developed several ways of getting over writers' block. In the past, washing dishes or going for a walk has helped a lot. Anything that allows my mind to wander while I'm doing something mindless is a time for it to puzzle out any problems that I'm having.

    My most recent, and most effective, method involves setting a word count goal for myself every day and not letting myself do things like read for pleasure or watch movies until that goal is reached. My goal is 500 words a day so it's easy enough if I'm having trouble and it helps me push through blocks until I get to that point where the words are flowing easily again.

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  17. I usually slow down or stop writing for a few reasons. 1) I know the upcoming scene is hard and I'm stressed about doing a good job. 2) I have to write a scene that I'm not excited about.

    (this would only make sense for people who outline like me).
    The resolution for #1 is to just get through it and remember that it doesn't have to be perfect the first time I put it down. And for #2, it's to step back and ask myself why I'm not happy about the scene. Usually, it's because I've done something wrong in my plotting.

    Good luck on the conference Sarah! I know you'll do a great job!

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  18. Writer's block hits me all the time, right when I'm cruising along. It's usually a case of mistaken intention, as in I have mistaken whose intentions are the right ones to focus on... I have to pick apart the scene before I can get going again.

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  19. I don't think "writer's block" is something I've experienced -- if it truly means unable to write or come up with any ideas.

    I've been stuck. I've been frustrated. And I've been too exhausted to write and too stubborn to admit it. Forcing myself to take a day or two off usually fixes all those problems!

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  20. I've had dry spells, but it had more to do with lack of motivation than no ideas. I've had to work to make sure I don't let life get in the way of my writing. Completely. Now, when I'm stuck at a certain part of my manuscript, I take a break from it until the idea comes. But I make sure to write other things, so I don't think of it as a block.

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  21. And good luck with your online seminar!

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  22. Hi Sarah! It's so nice to meet you. I found your blog through Elana Johnson. It's so exciting that you are hosting an online seminar. Rejection and writer's block are two of the hottest topics in the literary world. I wish you best of luck!

    Hmm, I think everyone has a different experience when it comes to writer's block. Some people don't believe that it exists, and for others it might be the bane of their existence. For me, there are a few factors that can trigger writer's block - including exhaustion from too much writing and "pantsing," or not enough planning/outlining. It might be more exciting when you don't know where you're going with your story, but it also means you're more likely to reach a dead end.

    I'm following you now! I am actually double majoring in Journalism and Psychology right now, so it's exciting that I found your blog. :)

    By the way, I'm hosting an awesome blogfest and critique giveaway at my blog from June 22-24 that you should totally come participate in if you're interested! Hope you have a great day.

    ~Wendy Lu

    The Roarin' Twenties Poetry Blogfest + Chapter Critique Giveaway (hosted by The Red Angel)

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  23. Uhhh, I've had writer's block for about a year now, LOL! Ok, so I've written some short stories, but IDK...I haven't been able to produce the volume I used to. Maybe it's part of my journey.

    Good luck with your seminar--you'll do GREAT!

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  24. Basically I get two types of writer's block: One where I've written too much too fast. When that happens, it's almost like I get burned out and I struggle to write anything. Even blog posts. This can take weeks to get better.

    The other one is where I just don't know when to write. I'll sit in front of the computer/notebook and write a few words (which are usually enough to kick start my writing), but nothing will come to mind. Usually this is because something I've written doesn't work and my mind needs to find a way to solve whatever's bothering it. This can also take a while, but sometimes I help the situation along by figuring out where the problem lies and actively working to solve it.

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