Writer’s Block

I’ve been thinking about what drives a wedge of self-doubt under the door of the writing process. Depending on mood and circumstance – and every day brings different pressures and feelings – certain things get in the way of just getting on with the job.

For me, I plan my novels quite meticulously (this is for another post), meaning my agent approves the book idea first. This is a good thing, obviously, but on a bad day it can also feel a little, well, too organised to be a heap of fun to write.

When writing fiction you have to hammer out chapters from nothing more than polluted London air. You have nothing to go on but what’s inside your head and quite often there’s nothing in there to come out. There’s NOTHING THERE. It’s tempting to just force something out (that’s fine and actually that’s what writing a book mainly is) but instead you may just feel frustrated, or more dramatically, consider never writing again.

But I have certain tactics at hand for when I have no bloody idea what I’m doing. These are some of them:

*I read. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter.  I read writers who are better than me and there’s no shame in admitting this: it’s a fact of life. Are these writers humbling or inspiring? Both, actually. (While you’re reading, do make a note of unfamiliar words and keep a word book. Mine is bulging now and you’re more likely to remember a word you’ve taken the trouble to write down and contextualise).

*Blog. I blog to flex my non-fiction muscle. Writing features and reviews is my background. I miss it sometimes. Balance is good.

*Write flash. For a break from the discursive, I can’t recommend this enough. Sometimes I need to be experimental. It’s good for my soul and a reminder of how writing should stretch form and be quite fun to do. Shine a torch on a scene and then walk away.

*I stare. I stare out of the window and have a cigarette. Yes, I’ve had some of my better ideas doing this, so there.

If all else fails, I just have a day or two off. That’s fine too. Nobody’s going to nag me.

What do you do when you’re exasperated with the writing process?

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About Suzy Norman Writes

Suzy is a freelance features writer and novelist. Her novel 'Duff' will be published by Patrician Press in 2015. It was also shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize 2014.
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7 Responses to Writer’s Block

  1. Hi Suzy, I recently received a Versatile Blogger Award, which I would like to pass on to you in appreciation of how much I enjoy your blog. http://permanentlyinapickle.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/speechless/

  2. 23Daves says:

    As a poet, I find that cut-ups, playing with Found Poetry, etc, is a good way of exercising the creative muscle again – a lot of the better stuff I write also occurs in the early hours of the morning when my brain isn’t interfering with the process in a very logical way, so sometimes even a late night will do the trick…

  3. Thanks Dave. I think the fact I’m writing first drafts at the moment is the reason for regular blocks. After I’d finished the edits of my first book I realised editing is what I miss. Everyone knows the first draft of anything is rubbish and so it can feel strange setting yourself a target of say, 1,000 words a day. It’s only when you go back and look at it again that the REAL writing begins. That’s the part I really love doing.

    And Claire, thanks so much! *Cries*

  4. alison says:

    I tend to go and read other things too. Sometimes I just let myself get engrossed in the story, sometimes I try and pinpoint exactly what it is that the writer is doing and that can often help with what I’m writing. I blog. I go and sit in a cafe and eavesdrop on people. Lately I’ve been trying to be more structured so that I have more of a plan going. And I clean. Manically! .

  5. Thanks Alison, I’m a cleaner too. It’s rare one switches off from thinking about the book, even doing this, but it helps. Maybe something to do with getting the blood pumping to the brain. Sometimes you need to just get out of the house too. A lively chat with a pal over lunch can work wonders in getting back into the job, compared with staying at home and forcing words out, which can be counterproductive. And coffee and biscuits, obviously.

  6. Jessica says:

    Hi Suzy

    I try to have an editing project on the sidelines and I find that editing helps me get back into writing too. But I think you are right, having a day of two off is okay – sometimes it is best to step away and have a break.

    I find I am very tearful when I have writer’s block and I plan how I am going to box up my writing how-to books and store them in the loft so they can’t stare at me.

  7. Thanks Jessica. That’s interesting what you say about editing helping you get into writing. That first draft can be a hard discipline: it’s making something from nothing. Editing is making something new from something that already exists and can feel more involving as a result.

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