Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What is Writer's Block?

If you're friends with an author long enough, they'll eventually tell you about something called writer's block.

It's an awful illness and it can manifest itself in several different, ugly ways. However, they all share one common symptom--writing stops or becomes excruciatingly difficult. The afflicted author may or may not moan, bang head in frustration against desk when in proximity of their computer, become sleep deprived, or act listless or uninterested in writing.

As a friend to these aspiring authors, it is your privilege (and responsibility) to help them overcome this disease ;) Even just realizing they're going through it and supporting them is helpful. I've included brief descriptions of different strains of the virus (thankfully it's not contagious) and what treatment may aid your writing friend on the path to recovery.

The Curse of the Blank Page! Though this looks very nice.
Writer's Block Type A:
You're writing, writing writing...and then the story stops coming. Suddenly. Without warning. You try to write, but no ideas come. It's like you're brain dead.

This type happens to me quite frequently when I'm using the pantsing method of writing a novel. I typically step back from my computer, go for a run or a swim or a long hot shower and come back to it. If that doesn't loosen up the gears in my head enough, I let it sit for one or two days before coming back to it.

Writer's Block Type B:
You've left a story sitting for several weeks because life got busy and you come back to find the novel lifeless. You totally forgot how excited you were for the story, what the characters were about, why the villain was so compelling...and now it feels dead. Ideas have stopped coming. It's hard to write because every step is plagued by thoughts like, "This character is so flat. How could I have liked him? And he was the main driving force for the story." or "Why did I think this plot was cool? Nobody's going to like it."

And if you let those ideas sit and ferment, you'll probably leave the story in some forgotten corner.

My solution to this? Don't let the novel sit too long unsupervised (occasionally that's necessary, but you have to have some true grit to come back to a long-lost story idea; the couple time's I've done it, I've ended up overhauling the story). NaNoWriMo is great for staying motivated and preventing this.

If it's already happened and you're determined to see the story through even if you don't feel like it, you're going to have to sit down and stare at a blinking cursor for a while. Hash some words out, even if you think they're awful. The story will come back eventually and you'll remember why you liked it.

Writer's Block Type C:
The slow fade. You've been writing pretty steadily (but not with blinding speed). And each day it gets a little harder and harder until one day you just can't seem to write any more.

Like Type A, sometimes it's best to take a day off from writing. You might be burned out. If, however, this keeps happening, approach as you would approach Type B--force yourself to write, even if it's only a little. Sometimes I just need to re-read what I've written and rediscover my love for the story, re-lighting the fire I had at the start of the project.

Regardless of the form it takes, writer's block can be difficult to get over. The important thing is that you keep writing!

For more on writer's block, check out Victoria J's post here. It's excellent and humorous (and check out her other stuff, too!)

Do you struggle with writer's block? How do you cope with it?


  1. Thanks for the mention! (I'm glad you found it funny :) )

    Hmmm, yeah, I'd say I struggle with writer's block. At the moment it's more like there's so much stuff going on that I can't write, then I kinda forget that my story is awesome when I find the time. I'll probably deal with it by just diving headfirst into it when exams are over.

    Would you say that editing is a form of writer's block? I don't know about you, but I get to the point when I just scroll through my manuscript, not really doing anything. Not sure if that counts or not. *shrugs* Anyways. What type do you get the most often?

    1. I definitely get editor's block (I don't know if that's what you call it). I start missing little things because I just get burnt out on editing. That's actually been happening to me a lot lately; I've been primarily editing since about June, because that's what needs done right now before I can write the next book in my series. I've got one WIP in micro and one in macro, which just makes it that much more tiresome.

      I probably struggle the most with type B (as far as getting myself out of it), where I can't seem to get back into a story after leaving it. That's why I'm such a big fan of NaNo; it makes me stay on a manuscript every day. But, that leads back into editing block, because I end up with a very sloppy first draft that needs edited extensively. (I typically focus on editing about 8-10 months out of the year and only write truly "fresh" stuff for 2-3 months; I don't mix editing with fresh creative writing because then my inner editor gets really persnickety when I'm trying to write my first draft).

      Once I get my WIP out of macro, I'm going to start plotting a fresh book (fresh characters, too. It's starting to get tiring hanging out with them, since they've really been the only characters I've "socialized with" for about 2 years). I think I'm going to try out the snowflake method and use it during NaNo. Maybe that way I'll end up with a manuscript that makes sense at the end of November and that might even be writable in spite of school work. That'd give me a good month and a half or two month break from editing as well, which would be really good.

      Thanks for the comment and the great questions! And I apologize if this reply was waaay too long. :)

    2. Since June? Wow, that's a long time to just be editing. I have to take breaks and write first drafts of other things. Yep, burnout sounds appropriate.

      While I don't think I would survive NaNo, I do think it's a great way to avoid that type of writer's block.

      Oooh, that sounds exciting. New characters are so much fun to play with :)

      Thanks for writing a great post!


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