Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Confidently Stuck: A lament on writer's block

When I have writer’s block, it generally is one of two things: a) my writing confidence is lacking or b) I’m stuck, I don’t know what precisely is going to happen next. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. Here are some tips I use to get through it:

A. Confidence
• I remember I’m as poor a writer as I’ll ever be. If I work hard, the only direction is up.
• I’m the best writer I can be. Right here, in this moment, I am perfect.
• I staple Jane Yolen’s quote to my forehead: "Just write. If you have to make a choice, if you say, 'Oh well, I'm going to put the writing away until my children are grown,' then you don't really want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer, you do your writing. . . if you don't do it, you probably don't want to be a writer, you just want to have written and be famous -- which is very different."
• If Jane Yolen’s advice doesn’t work, I remind myself I can’t stop writing even if I want to, so I might as well embrace this part of me, judgment on my own talent set aside.
• I review this interview by Neil Gaiman on how he felt he wasn’t a good enough writer to write The Graveyard Book for many years. (He had the idea in 1985.) I have stories I feel that way about too. Boy, do I ever.

B. Stuck in the story.
• I skip the scene I’m stuck on and move to another, one I see clearly in my head.
• If I can’t skip ahead, I use Kevin Henke’s advice, and draw out the scene in illustration (or if you are drawing impaired like me, find pictures in magazines or online that inspire you to write on).
• I go back to my outline pages and rewrite them a third or fourth time. (Sometimes this is a list, sometimes this is a visual diagram of plots, characters, and subplots).
• I treat the book like I would the reorganization of a house: one piece of furniture, one pile of papers at a time. Baby steps, I remind myself, can lead to a finish line too.

So my Q4U: What creates your writer’s block? Or if you are not a writer, what stops you from accomplishing something you really want to finish?


  1. Good words, Jackee!

    That Jane Yolen quote is fabulous. Can I stick it to my forehead, too? (But I'd rather use tape - is that okay?)

    Amy :)

  2. pressure to finish at a certain date stops me. as a self-publisher, i can set my own deadlines, but when i set them, it shuts off my creative brain because i panic. being in the midst of a move makes it worse. i've had to let go of my expectations of when i'm going to publish my sequel and just let things be as they are. in the meantime, my brain is still letting everything stew.

  3. What creates my writer's block?Distractions!!! And not just the physical stuff either. My writing is so tied with my emotional well being. If I'm unhappy about something external it affects my creativity - as in I dry up cos whatever has happened to upset me is all consuming! Then it becomes this domino effect. But not to worry, I snap out of these doldrums eventually - thank goodness for blogging! LOL!

    Take care

  4. Wonderful tips, Jackee! I have used some of them myself: like telling myself that I cannot stop writing, so I might as well slog on (and then when the going gets good, I can't believe that I thought of writing as slogging :)).

    For me, writer's block is brought on by self-doubts, too, but also at times by the curve balls life throws at us. In either case, deep breaths and then keep writing.

  5. I wish I had some good advice. Your ideas are good - I can imagine skipping a scene and coming back to it later. I'm a little stuck right now too. When that happens, I put it down and work on something else while I ponder. :)

  6. What an inspiring post.

    I loved The Graveyard Book. Interesting to know Gaiman had to be ready to write it. Humbling.

    And I love what Yolen says. We can talk a mountain of excuses like unfolded laundry, but that doesn't get a word down.

    I have to be in the right state of mind. If I'm mentally and physically exhausted, I can't write. And if I've started something, but get stuck in a spot, I mull it over until it comes to me.

    Good luck! E-mail me when you need a pep talk!

  7. Usually what creates writer's block for me is if I don't have a good idea of how to transition from where I am in the scene to where the character needs to be later. And that's usually my fault because I might be forcing the character to do something that's counter to who he/she is.

  8. Great quote and steps to follow Jackee. I find my writers block falls into both these categories. Confidence in my writing ability and often losing the plot in more ways than one!

  9. I think what usually stops me is that I don't know what happens next, but I don't like to outline. I like to let the characters take me there. I love that quote. I need to tape it to my forehead too :-)

  10. Another great post! I allow myself to get stuck. I think I get so many ideas and stories started that I get overwhelemed. Then I read some of my writing buddies work and think less of my abilities. So I make excuses. But this week I've been pushing myself, and it's only Tuesday. I sent something to a comonn friend to read and worked on a ya I started a year and a half ago. :) (and did the laundry)

  11. Right now, my writer's block is coming from the fact that my revisions consist of rewriting the entire book. Very sad, but very true and I don't want to do it!

  12. My biggest problem is usually a plot problem I'm not sure how to fix. When that happens, I either make a list of ten possible solutions (I make myself write down ten to make sure I don't always go for the easy answer), or take the dog for a walk. It's amazing how that time alone (with the dog) can clear my head, and usually at the end of the walk, I have my answer.

  13. Writer's block isn't my problem so much a me getting in my own way.

  14. Awesome quote!! :)

    When I get stuck I usually find that I've written too far down the wrong road. My characters dig in their heels and refuse to let me push them any farther. When I finally listen to them, it all makes more sense!

  15. Sadness causes my writers block. I hate it.


  16. I've started doing a system of outlining that I've developed that really works for me. I ask myself what the different characters want, and what they're afraid of. Sometimes knowing what they want makes it easy to see what they would/should do next. Since I started doing this, I don't get stuck.

  17. Fatigue causes my writer's block. Also, looking at the big picture and realizing how much work is needed...that can be daunting.

  18. I love the Yolen quote - she's wonderful isn't she! I relate completely to these aspects of writer's block. It's oddly reassuring to know others experience it in the same way.

  19. All great advice. I'll have to check out the Neil Gaiman interview. That sounds inspiring!