If you’ve ever suffered through writer’s block, Barbara Wallace has some thoughts as to how you got there, and how to escape!
Google Writer’s Block online and you’ll find loads of tricks on how to plow through your blockage ranging from taking a walk to timed writing. That’s all well and good, but as you and I know, not all writer’s blocks are created equal.
Because I’m one of those people who likes to understand why something happens, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past years studying writer’s block. What I’ve discovered that most writer’s block falls under one of three umbrellas: Chemical causes, emotional demons, or story issues.
Let me explain.
Our body is a complex collection of chemicals. It’s the level of these chemicals that affect our creativity. That’s the reason, for example, that walking helps when you’re stuck. Exercise releases helps drain the brain of cortisol, which builds up because of stress and inhibits creative thinking.
Likewise, depression and seasonal affect disorder are caused by an imbalance in among other things, serotonin, which helps transmit messages from one side of your brain to another. Scientists have recently linked high levels of serotonin to creativity.
And then there are hormones.
About 75% of women suffer from PMS. (Sorry Dudes, I know testosterone has a cycle too, but this is the one I’m most familiar with.) Anyway, ask a female writer and she might very well tell you that the days just before her period are fraught with moodiness, brain fog and an inability to concentrate. Likewise, the same woman will have one week where her estrogen levels make her feel invincible. During those days she is filled with ambition and ideas.
What are some ways to combat chemical writer’s block?****
- Have a cup of coffee. Studies have shown that caffeine boosts serotonin production. It’s why people often feel most creative in the morning; that’s when their serotonin levels are highest.
- Try light therapy? It’s already been proven that light boxes help alleviate symptoms of Seasonal Affect Disorder. MIT professor and author of The Midnight Disease, Alice Flaherty, is experimenting to see if the same treatment can fight writer’s block.
- Take a day off. If you’ve got PMS, sometimes there’s nothing you can do but ride it out. When hormones hit, and the words stop, spend a day doing other writing related activities, such as catching up on correspondence or reading that craft book you’ve been meaning to finish.
***** Depression is a serious disease. If your blahs last more than a few days, or are impacting your ability to function in other aspects of your life, please seek professional help. There are treatments and medications available that will help. ****
Jealousy, perfectionism, fear. Like chemical imbalances, these causes of writer’s block are also in our head, but this time we’re the ones that manufacture them. They are functions of our ego, that part of our personality that governs our self-esteem and self-importance. That pesky internal editor? It’s your ego telling you that you suck.
The thing about the ego is that its criticism doesn’t have to make sense. All it needs is a trigger and our latent insecurity to start its nagging cycle. That trigger can be anything. A bad review, the news that a colleague won an award or signed a big contract, a note from your agent telling your Amazon rejected your latest story idea. As soon as your brain registers the news, your ego seizes on it and starts to feed off your fear and anxiety. That in turn creates more fear and anxiety, which strengthens the illogical argument, and voila! Writer’s block.
Sometimes we’re not even aware of the trigger! All we know is that we’re staring at a blank page agonizing over whether we’ve started too many sentences with the word And, convinced we’ll never write a coherent, sellable piece of fiction again.
This is when it’s time to remember that emotional demons are big fat liars. This is when the BICHOK tips for fighting block work best. That’s because internal demons are also liars. They go right to the worst common denominator.
For example, I am pretty sure this is the absolute worst blog article ever written. Logically, however, I know that while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it can’t be the absolute worst. Emotional Demons are nothing more than feelings on steroids. And feelings are not facts. These are feelings, not facts. Therefore, the best way to fight them is to plow straight through.
So if you’re pretty sure your block is being caused by something like perfectionism or insecurity, then the tried and true methods are for you. Try things like:
- Timed writing like 1K1Hr
- Covering your screen so you can’t see the words as you type (seriously. If you can’t see them, you can’t edit.)
- Writing Crap.
In other words, the key to beating this kind of block is to do everything you can to get words on paper. You don’t have to think they are good, you just have to get them down.
I put this last because while the simplest cause of block, it can also be the one we think of last. No brain chemicals or nasty internal thoughts. Sometimes writer’s block happens because ….
Your story took a wrong turn. In which case you take a step back to see how you wrote yourself into a corner. Half the time our writing stalls because we’re stubbornly trying to force our characters in the wrong direction rather than delete pages. Take it from me. As painful as deleting words can be, it will get the words flowing again.
The story got to the hard part. Lots of people can write a first chapter. Lots can write the first three. It’s when you get to the middle of the book, when the newness has worn off and their enthusiasm for the idea has waned that their writing stalls. If this is the case, then chances are you’re not blocked at all. You’re bored. You’re in the sagging middle of your process and it’s not fun. There’s only one solution to this kind of blockage. Putting your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard.
Clearly, I’ve only touched on the surface of what’s a truly complex problem for writers. Believe me, there’s a whole lot more. I hope though, that I’ve given you some food for thought and that the next time the words stall, you stop to ask why.
Have you ever dealt with writer’s block? What motivated you to start writing again?
Join us on Friday for the fabulous Pat Haggerty!
Bio: The award-winning author of 19 short contemporary romances, Barbara Wallace’s latest book is WINTER WEDDING FOR THE PRINCE by Harlequin Romance. You can read more about her and her titles at barbarawallace.com or on Facebook
Torn between Love and Duty
Crown Prince Armando’s belief in love died along with his wife, but duty dictates he must remarry. No sooner does he arrange the perfect political alliance when a sizzling kiss under the mistletoe with his royal assistant Rosa Lamberti awakens feelings Armando thought long buried.
Will Armando honor his commitment to his country? Or, will Christmas with
Rosa convince him to follow his heart?
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