A true writer loves to write, it is a passion that consumes, to some it is even a craving that needs to be fulfilled.
So what happens when the words don’t come, the characters fall silent, the plot line stops… or worse.
This is Creative Constipation (aka Writer’s Block) and every writer, from professional to amateur has suffered this. If you haven’t yet, you will – trust me.
Writer’s Block is one of the worst feelings a writer can experience. Even the best writers will suffer it at some point or another and truthfully it feels like complete crap!
Some writers use it as an excuse to give up and stop writing completely. This happens more when the block lasts for a considerable period. It does not just have to be over days, I have known it to be over weeks and even over months before now.
What can cause writer’s block?
I can appreciate the desire to give up, when you stare endlessly at a blank screen and feel like you are unable to connect to your characters or your world you created. It’s like being locked out of your own party.
Writer’s block can be for many reasons. Often it can be when you are struggling with a key part of your writing / plot and are not making any headway. If this continues and affects the flow of your writing you can find yourself feeling “stunted.”
Other blocks can be because you have overstretched yourself. Maybe you have been taking too much on or pushing yourself too hard. This is often when the hobby and joy of writing begins to feel like a tiring chore.
Writer’s block can blossom following bouts of negativity. Whether your own doubts about your ability, your future success or from someone’s negative comments. Even the most well meaning criticism can damage a writer if given at the wrong time.
However as writers we must not shy from any criticism, we can just take it too personally especially when we have writer’s block.
If necessary in these times, we should put the critique aside and view it when the block has gone. Or just tell those people to go blow it out their ass. Whichever feels best for you.
New writers often don’t realise that this creative constipation will pass. It may not feel like that, but then flu often doesn’t feel like it will pass while you are in the middle of suffering. Nope, instead you feel like you’re dying and nothing can help.
Writers can often get depressed when their writing flounders. This can then spiral out of control, and you start to question if anyone would even read your work, will it be published at all, will you ever finish etc. You begin to view everything with a damagingly-critical eye.
I have known writers discard large chunks of prose during this creative constipation because they felt it was bad. This is a mistake, NEVER discard prose during a block.
Put the work to one side and view it again when the block has passed. You will see things differently when you are not locked in a block.
If there are other things happening in your life, this can affect your writing. Be aware of it and try not to view your work too critically at this time. If necessary, stop writing while you are dealing with a life crisis so you do not fall straight into a writer’s block and feel worse.
Us creative types while dancing in our rainbow fields with unicorns aplenty… (wait is that just me?) are unfortunately highly prone to also “suffer for our craft”.
Yes, creative types are pretty high on the list of being people who may suffer from depression, anxiety, social stress etc. Aren’t we a big ol’ bag of fun. 🙂
You need to realise if you are suffering from these and how to recognise the signs. Each of these conditions often has peaks and troughs, and learning about it, knowing when it’s happening can stop you from trashing your work because your crashed.
Getting through the block
If you do find yourself in a writer’s block, here are some tips that might help you through it. Please note these are all from either personal experience or tips from other writers I’ve spoken too.
In the end, every writer is different and so too can the block be different. What works one time, might not work the second time – this can be due to whatever caused the block!
Keep writing – If you can, keep writing. If you find yourself sat before an empty page then just WRITE. Write whatever is in your head.
Even if it is “I have nothing to write, why won’t my brain work. This is very frustrating…” etc. Don’t think about writing your story, look at writing emails, to do lists, a review on the latest movie you saw, just something that will get words onto a page.
Use Pictures – Find a picture, a scene, a landscape an object etc and describe it. Don’t make it too fancy, don’t use your writer skills or flare just WRITE what you see.
For example “The mantelpiece is dark wood, stretching half way up the wall. The fire doesn’t work now and looks as clean as it did when it was first put in….” etc.
Use your observation to paint the image in words, slowly you might find yourself adding to it – for example, “a man stood at that mantle, reading a letter found hidden in a box under the bed….”
Start a New Project – If it is your current story that you are struggling with, it could be due to a stagnation in your writing. This happens often if you over-read / over-edit your work.
You get tired of it, see all the flaws and none of the positive aspects. Start something new. Even better, have a few different projects on the go anyway to help stop the stagnation from happening to begin with.
It doesn’t have to just be stories, how about articles, tutorials, the idea for a comic or screenplay etc. This should be done with caution otherwise you can find you are jumping from project to project and never finishing anything.
Write a Letter – Keep the writing going but do something different. Write a letter to an old friend, or to support a campaign. Campaign ones are great as they often require you to put your argument down clearly and concisely, so this helps to kickstart your creative juices.
Read – Take some time away from your own writing and read a book. This will give your brain some much needed respite and may also give you fresh ideas or better perspectives. You may even find a new way of approaching the problems you have in your own work.
Fresh air and exercise – Writers tend to be little hermits, hidden from the world, we sit hunched over a computer or pad, typing or scribbling away.
Get away from your computer or your area of writing. Stretch yourself, go for a walk get some fresh air.
Do some gentle exercises to get the blood flowing, this reduces tension, and release endorphins. You may even be feeling a little dehydrated.
Again, many writers get caught up in drinking tea and coffee rather than water or fruit juice. Make sure your health does not suffer.
Movies – Give yourself a break from the words and go watch a movie. Maybe your favourite DVD needs pulling out, or a trip out to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster.
If you are struggling to get back into the world you created, try watching movies that are similar in genre.
Whenever I get stuck in my fantasy novel, I will often pull out all my fantasy DVDs like LotR, Willow, Princess Bride (awesome movie, if you haven’t watched it, WATCH IT.), How to Train your Dragon (Yes I love cartoons and animation!)
Hands on Project – Something that helped me greatly was to get away from my own mind. Writers live in their heads, usually it’s quite comfy…but not always.
We listen to dialogue, we picture scenes, we dissect plot… it is mentally exhausting. Take up a project that uses your hands, something that isn’t going to allow you to be inside your head all the time.
I took up art first, then jewellery making, then pottery. While I am crafting or sculpting, I find my mind goes silent and I get a relaxation that goes beyond anything.
Meditate – I don’t want to sound New Age-y but meditation is a good way to clear your head. If you find sitting in silence and focusing on your breathing uncomfortable try yoga.
It allows the same focus for breath while giving you a nice soothing stress. It does help to de-stress and creative constipation is definitely stressful.
Real Life – Take a step away from fantasy life and move back into real life. Visit friends and family, go out with them, take lunch, go bowling or ice skating or hiking or just go around to their house for a good gossip.
Interactions fuel our creative wells and help to develop new ideas. So go dig for those ideas in life and the characters out there.
Understand your block
Writer’s block is not just about struggling to write or struggling to come up with ideas. There is also the “noisy block”.
This type of block is not when the characters go silent and the plot stops. This is where you can hear the characters, you can see the plot, you know the next step but something, some strange sense, some weight, stops you from actually writing.
You know what you want to write, what you have to write, you can even plan out the scenes but there is just so much damn noise in your head you can’t even attempt to find the words.
I find noisy blocks definitely come from external issues – something else in your life has latched on in your head and is messing everything up. Whether it’s stress, worry, illness, panic, grief etc. But it’s colouring how you see things and it is hiding the fact you even have a block because you KNOW what you want to write you just….can’t.
Noisy blocks can stop any form of writing, so usually needs you to step away completely. Not easy when you love the world you created.
This can make you stressed and depressed. Especially if writing is your escape, somewhere that none of the hurts in life can touch you. But remember, you need to step away, try some of the tips above.
If you go into your world with a noisy block, you can end up tearing it up because you can’t see it properly. Think of it like a quarantine – you need to find your centre, your quiet writer’s voice before you go back there.
There is no hard and fast rule for Writer’s Block, the only one I can think of is don’t let it stop you completely.
Try the above tips, find some new ones and work out what works best for you. Depending on what the reason for the block may depend on the tip you use to combat it.
But never EVER believe the block, the block will tell you that you aren’t a writer, can’t be a writer…or that your creative well has run dry. It hasn’t – our creative well is attached to the ocean and is never ending.
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