Writer’s Block Revisited

This post is going to be a tad more personal than usual.

I have been struggling with a period of writer’s block of late. As most folks who write know, this is not that unusual. It’s frustrating as hell, maddening even, but not that unusual. Personally, I fight it a couple of times a year, sometimes more.

Writer’s block. So why does it happen? I don’t think anyone really knows for sure. (I don’t think anyone really knows why our minds do most of the things they do). On occasion, we creative types just have to deal with a period—sometimes short, sometimes agonizingly long—when the creativity appears to dry up. Usually, I have so many ideas and images floating around my mind that my primary task is to decide which ones to nurture.

Now, I can’t seem to come up with any worthwhile ideas at all. Or I do find an idea, but cannot come up with any details needed to develop it. Today, my imagination is populated only by the sounds of crickets and the smell of ancient dust.

I have some theories as to why writing blocks occur in my life. Often, they show up when I have just finished a major project like a novel. In that case, I look at it as my creative well having run dry and the block is a way for my subconscious to let it refill. (It also keeps me from writing multiple works that are all essentially copies of the novel in question).

That is relatively rare though. (I haven’t and don’t write that many novels).

Another type of block is a psychological one. It is very difficult to be creative when you are in a state of emotional turmoil, or physical exhaustion. Some people are very good at walling off the creative part of their life and preventing their day-to-day issues from affecting them. Honestly, I’m just not very good at that. If I’m angry or depressed or discouraged, it interferes with my creative process, which seems to work best when I am centered, level-headed, neither overly happy, nor overly sad.

I think that is the type of block I’m working through now. My father passed away at the beginning of July. As his oldest son and executor of his trust, most of the work of settling his estate has fallen on my shoulders. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, the process is emotionally and intellectually draining. You are forced to operate like a business while still going through the grieving process yourself. When I sit down at the end of the day and face my word processor, I have nothing. My mind is as blank as the page.

It is surprising just how much intellectual energy it takes to create something.

So what am I doing about it? Nothing.

You’re kidding, you say. You’re not doing anything to defeat the writer’s block?

Exactly. See, the way I look at it, the worst thing one can do when in the midst of a writer’s block is panic and try to defeat it. You cannot defeat writer’s block any more than you can defeat depression, panic attacks, or the sadness felt when a loved one dies. In each case, it is what it is and the worst thing one can do is pretend it doesn’t exist. The second worst thing you can do is to fight it.

The best thing to do with writer’s block (in my opinion) is to handle it like you would a mild depression: acknowledge it, try to keep it from getting worse, and know that eventually it will end. The best thing you can do is know that it will end. You can and will wait it out.

Sooner or later, the writer’s block will end and my creative well will be full again. All I have to do is wait.

And have some faith.


One thought on “Writer’s Block Revisited

  1. Debby Goehring says:

    Hello, James…I’m sorry I missed you today. I was late (my printer was so slow among other reasons) and when I got there you had left.

    I appreciate your blog. I have been writing for many years, but not with as much focus as I have this summer. Being away from home for the whole summer without the ‘normal’ distractions has given me great freedom (and time) to relax and just ‘do it’. I will make the effort to keep this a priority when I leave here. I have only experienced one ‘writer’s block’ that I can name. And that happened when students in a writing class I was in, made it painfully clear (to me) that any poetry that rhymed was trash. “No rhyming!” seemed to be the mantra. I have been writing poetry since I was about 14 and I knew, of course, that much poetry doesn’t rhyme. No problem. And a worthy style to learn. However, I was so unprepared for the ‘dissing’ of rhymed poetry that it threw me into shut-off mode. I just kinda quit.
    My daughter who is a part-time editor finally said, “Mom, after all….even Shakespeare rhymed!” With that I relaxed. But, the point is, I was thrown for a loop…I felt like some part of my identity was attacked. And I was an older student in the class. I felt I shouldn’t have been so sensitive. They weren’t attacking me, but it felt like it.

    Then I went to a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) conference and we had an opportunity to have an agent read some work aloud (author anonymous) and critique it .The first thing she said was, “I like the rhyme.” I almost fell out of my chair! (That’s a little dramatic.) I felt validated! I could carry on!

    Then, this summer when I read a children’s story, in rhyme, to the group, the first words I heard from a listener were, ‘oh, you’re a poet.’ So, I found myself relaxing and the block fell away. I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m not crouching in bad- writer-land because I rhyme.

    I agree that any stressful emotional time, especially the death of a loved one can be a game changer. I was not and executrix of my mother’s estate, but the whole process was emotionally terrible. I learned things about some relatives that I wish I hadn’t! That has all passed and I believe every writer’s block will pass in time.

    Eva Cassidy sang a great song, “Time is a Healer.” So true. The creativity that is in us creative types can’t stay down for long.


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