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Writer's Block and Other Myths

Updated on August 20, 2016
FatBoyThin profile image

Colin's novels, story collections and stage plays are available as eBooks and paperbacks.

A lot of writers complain that their creative juices won't flow because of that age old problem they call Writer's Block. But what exactly is it, and does it really exist?

Ernest Hemmingway at his desk
Ernest Hemmingway at his desk | Source

What is Writer's Block, Anyway?

Most folk think of it as something that prevents them from being creative - it stops them from writing, from finishing the piece they're busy with, or from starting a new one. It drops down in front of them like a physical entity, barring the way to writerly freedom.

Writer's Block is a phrase we use as a means of describing, or even affirming, how that thing is to blame for our lack of creativity. But whichever way you want to think of it, it's pretty damn negative.

Does is Really Exist?

No, absolutely not.

No, no, no.

Nopedy nopedy no.

That's a negative.

No.

So Why Can't I Write?

Now I know there's maybe a few folk who won't agree with me, so let's just say, for the sake of argument, that there are certain circumstances that can bring about a creative logjam and, being writers, we want to give that log jam a name. Fair enough, however, that doesn't mean we have to also give it credence.

What I've outlined below are some of the strategies I use when I get a bit stuck. Before we go any further though, remember that my way of writing is not to have a plan of any kind - my stories and novels start at the beginning and continue to the end. I never know what's going to happen (which is just the way I like it), so if you're a stickler for planning, this might not do a darn thing for you.

So let's have a closer look...

Reasons to be Fearful (Part 1)

Mood

It would be great if we could just sit down and start writing at any time of day, in any situation, in any frame of mind and let those words frolic across the page like tiny alphabet-shaped penguins, and see our story/poem/epic novel come to life. Just like that.

But of course, we are human and being human we are moody blighters. If we're not feeling absolutely on top of the world, it's bound to affect our imagination and motivation, so when I'm feeling a bit depressed, stressed, tired, unloved or just shagged-out after a long squawk, I know it's probably not the best time to dive into my on-going tale of kidnapping and murder in 1890's Edinburgh.

The Un-Moody-Vator

Nevertheless, I have found that these very negative circumstances can also be helped by doing the very thing I'm having trouble doing - writing. It doesn't matter what you write, because all writing is good (No Writing - Bad. Some Writing - Good). Admittedly, the stuff I churn out during these periods may not have a great deal of literary merit (nine unfinished short stories will testify to this fact), but it can also be a way of opening up new ideas that maybe I wouldn't have thought about before.

Friedrich Nietzsche - stuck for ideas, or just thinking?
Friedrich Nietzsche - stuck for ideas, or just thinking? | Source

Reasons to be Fearful (Part 2)

Lack of Ideas

Okay so I admit, this is one of the big ones. Sitting down to write with not a single word, phrase, title character or theme in our heads, can make it feel like drawing with a broken pencil - pointless. But even the act of doing that very thing (sitting down to write etc...), can get you started, so try writing about writing:

The Un-Idea-Vator

Examples

Watching the words crawl across the page, he began to wonder if she was monitoring his key-strokes too - if every negative phrase he came up with was jotted down in her little black book, to be dragged out of him like fragments of bone at some future time...

or...

The writer (as she liked to think of herself) began her list with those words that had most recently been used against her: jealous, tardy, unwilling and defiant. Which ones could she use against him? Which would prove to be the most painful?

Or even...

He'd been sitting there for almost an hour without a single word appearing on the page. How could he go on like this? Glancing out of the window at Sheena as she lay basking in the afternoon sun, he knew he'd have to come up with something pretty soon, or she'd be leaving him for that bronzed action-hero next door. Even now, he could see her craning that beautiful neck to watch the bigoted buffoon flipping burgers and eyeing Sheena like he'd already got her in the sack...

Reasons to be Fearful (Part 3)

The other thing that tends to stop us in our tracks, is the when we seem physically unable to type/write a single word, when that vital first word/phrase/sentence just won't come out.

Okay, smart-arse, what do we do about that one? (I hear you ask).

Well, again, you have to start writing, but if that first word just won't come, you need to give it a little encouragement. One of the things I do is to take the first word that comes into my head (and don't even think about saying 'but I don't have a single word in my head!' because there's always something, some word, some single word:

Lost for words
Lost for words | Source

The Un-Word-Vator

Examples

That single word had stuck again, stuck in her head like it always did, sitting there laughing at her as if it actually has some weird power over her mind and could, at any moment, spring out and rip her brain to shreds. But that was silly. Wasn't it...?

Or...

A single word, that's all he'd said, and it had ruined the entire evening. He couldn't believe it - if he'd paused for a second, used a different word, changed tack, nothing would have happened, but of course, as usual, he was in the moment, full of his own bravado, brimming with an excitement that he'd hoped she would share. But no.

Reasons to be Fearful (Part 4)

If you're still one of those whingeing-type writers who maintain that even now you're struggling for inspiration, then take a look at your surroundings and start with whatever you see. I write in my kitchen, on a laptop at the kitchen table. Around me I see: a refrigerator, a bookshelf, a framed print from Venice, a CD player, a classical guitar (Yeah, I know, shouldn't really be in the kitchen, but it's a small house), and a diamond-patterned tablecloth. And all that is without turning my head. So:

"He knelt down and slid a finger along the top shelf..."
"He knelt down and slid a finger along the top shelf..." | Source

The Un-Inspired-Vator

Inspirational Objects

Paul had locked himself in the fridge again. I knew he was there of course, but there was no way I was going to say anything - I mean, if a guy won't take responsibility for his own actions, why should anyone else? Then again, if he suffocated and died, it would be me who ended up organising the funeral, so maybe I should have dragged him out of there. Then again...

And...

Her books were still there. Sorted alphabetically, neat, tidy, like she always was. Gazing along the spines, Adrian noticed the postcards were still there too - interspersed between every third or fourth volume like markers, indicating something...significant, maybe? He knelt down and slid a finger along the top shelf...

And...

She'd bought him the print after her first visit to the city. He'd been impressed - must have cost a few bob. Even the frame looked expensive. He cast his mind back to that first year, trying to work out if she would've met Carl at that point. Not that it mattered, not now. But there'd always been that doubt, stuck there in the back of that unrational thoughts bit of his brain, urging him to push further, to discover the truth.

Okay, I won't do any more, you get the picture - take an object and start writing. Easy.

Writing exercises?
Writing exercises? | Source

Writing Exercises? What Writing Exercises?

As my regular readers will know, I hate writing exercises and avoid them at all costs; however, all of the above examples are definitely not writing exercises. They are Beginnings. Openings to stories. Initial paragraphs. And so on.

It's also worth pointing out that none of them were written before I commenced this Hub - they were all written as part of the Hub, not simply inserted from my files of unfinished tales. Consequently, at least some of them (maybe all) will be continued to their various conclusions, since every one sparked an interest in me (some more than others) and that first spark is enough motivation for me to take them further.

Writer's Block? What Writer's Block?

If you still want to believe in writer's block that's fine with me, but I reckon we're all better off looking at everything as inspiration. That way we get to continue writing even when we don't feel like writers.

Be a writer. Write.

Do you believe in Writer's Block?

See results

Writer's Block - Instant Cure

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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This was great Colin, the best hub I have read about that thing...what's it called, you know that some writer's claim to get but doesn't really exist? Great tips and sensible solutions...inspiration is all around us. Thanks for writing this it was a wonderful read. Voted up.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      There's so much tosh talked about writer's block, I thought a more sensible point of view might help to re-balance the argument. Thanks for your comments Jodah, much appreciated.

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 2 years ago

      Fabulous hub. Thank you for sharing. I laughed out loud when I read about the man stuck in the fridge. Voted up.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for reading Julie, much appreciated.

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 23 months ago from Shimla, India

      Very interesting.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 23 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for reading, Akriti - much appreciated.

    • Cyndi Gibson profile image

      Cyndi Gibson 23 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      I appreciated your comment that the only bad writing is no writing. What we write while trying to flesh out ideas may not be brilliant, but the process of throwing the words down on the page is progress. Nothing is finished without a beginning. Thanks for the reminder!

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 23 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Just gotta keep on writing, Cyndi!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 22 months ago from North Texas

      Interesting. I don't have any problem thinking of things to write about. I have lists and lists of things I could write about, but sometimes I just can't get going. Sometimes the time just isn't available. Since this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of paying any bills, the things that do pay the bills or that come a teeny bit closer to contributing to that end, have to come first.

      In any case, I don't call that writer's block, although that phrase is a good shorthand phrase to use in discussion. I'm more likely to say I just don't feel like it or I just can't concentrate right now.

      Still, your suggestions are used successfully for a lot of people. I think the fact that you could whip those paragraphs or beginnings out so easily just for this article speaks to just what a good writer you are.

      Good suggestions to keep in mind.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 22 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I think that like a lot of things in life, writing gets easier the more you practice, though of course it's never going to be so easy that any fool can do it. It's great that you don't acknowledge writer's block, since that's another way of looking at it - from the point of view that it's not actually a problem. Which has to be a good thing. Thanks for reading.

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