View Full Version : "Mental Blocks/Barriers/Writer's Block"

06-03-2009, 10:57 PM
Based on the title alone, I'm certain there is a more appropriate forum for this but I'm new to the site so I decided to put it here. And with good reason.

In 2005-2008 I experienced a series of life altering tragedies, none of which I will explore in too much detail here among relative strangers on the internet, however in the aftermath of these events I became disconnected with my "muse stream". When I sit down to write, it can often take me up to an hour to type a single page of my manuscript. There is a block, or barricade of sorts, that is inhibiting the flow of free thought. I purchased an excellent book entitled "The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write" by Mark David Gerson and it has some very useful tips and strategies for people who are unable to closely connect with their own inner muses (for whatever various reasons) as well as some great positive reinforcements and affirmations.

While the book is certainly a step in the right direction, I am curious about any advice that some of you might have for overcoming these mental blocks that we erect within our minds that inhibit us of from invoking freely flowing words; that inner critic which makes us hesistant to take up our pens (or keyboards) and write; that devious part of our own consciences which often holds the key to our own creative flood gates and laughs at us as we try vainly to pry them open just to obtain a trickle.

What tactics and strategies do the rest of you use to conquer this inner demon of many guises? This "writer's block"?

Thanks in advance for your responses! I'll continue to browse around and see if there is another more suitable forum for this inquiry.

06-04-2009, 12:03 AM
I'm very sorry to hear of your tragedies. From your post, it sounds like you're struggling with what to write rather than whether to write. If it's the latter, I don't know that I have anything to offer. However, if it's a question of wrestling with the Muse, I think many here would tell you to write without any expectations. Just write. That seems to be the single most prescribed (and possibly most effective) remedy. Somewhere in the Learn Writing with Uncle Jim thread (under Novels) UJ has even posted a link to a "Permission to Write Badly" certificate. Get it. Print it. Use it. Rewrites and edits will help you make lemonade out of those lemons. Just get the basket full of lemons first.

If you can allow yourself the freedom to write without judging what comes out, you're well on your way to uncovering something usable. It's been my (limited) experience that the Muse doesn't drag me off the couch, toss me in the car and tell me where to go to find a great story. It is only when I'm already in the car and driving around that She materializes in the passenger seat giving me brief glimpses of a tattered treasure map. I'm mixing metaphors there, but I think you get the drift.

It's my belief that in the end, this thing we call the Muse is much like Dumbo's magic feather. It is much easier to do things if we believe the power comes from somewhere else. But in reality, at least with regard to creativity and writing, all the tools we'll ever need are already inside us.

I hope that a) what I wrote above made any sense at all, b) you find something useful in it, and c) that you continue your climb back out of the pit from your life-changing tragedies.

06-04-2009, 12:09 AM
What tactics and strategies do the rest of you use to conquer this inner demon of many guises? This "writer's block"?

I make writing a routine. Every day I sit down, put my hands on the keyboard, and do the same thing: pound out words. It doesn't matter if they're not perfect; I can fix that. Sometimes the words have nothing to do with my main work. That's ok too. Sometimes I jot down the bones of a later scene. It doesn't matter; the act of writing is firmly entrenched in my routine because I do it every single day.

ETA: I think some people try to sound writerly. Don't. Just let it go and find your own natural rhythm and voice. It'll happen with enough practice. I found it a lot easier to produce once I began to relax and just let go.

06-04-2009, 12:35 AM
I know there are a couple of books that offer writing prompts. Try some of those just to get you in the flow again.

I also suggest finding a writer's group you're comfortable with. I've been lazy recently when it comes to writing but knowing I have to go to my writer's group every month makes me feel accountable, if only to myself. So I try and sit down a couple nights a week and get something on the page. Word count watching also helps, at least for me. Just seeing the number of words go up makes me feel productive, even if I do go in the next day or so and rip part of them out because what I put in the night before doesn't work for where I'm going now. Sort of getting a walking start as I gear up to write. Most of the time it's just a couple hundred words from where I left off last just to remind me of where I was heading.

06-04-2009, 01:40 AM
If you're looking for ideas this forum has a writing challenge on Sundays. It's called the Flash Fiction (FF) challenge. At 9pm on Sunday (Eastern time) a prompt is posted and you have 90 minutes from the moment you read the prompt to come up with a short story. It can be as short as you want but I wouldn't make it a mini novel if you want others to read it! It can be fun and in the course of doing this you might come up with an idea to explore for a novel. I did with one!

Here's the link. Look for it this sunday if you like.


Kitty Pryde
06-04-2009, 01:51 AM
Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird' has a lot of great advice on the subject. It's very grounded in the real world, whereas I think some other books about 'the muse' tend to go a bit in the direction of woo-woo. Anyways. I will paraphrase a few of her most helpful tidbits of advice:

The title of the book comes from an episode of her childhood. Her brother had a really long time to do a big report for school on a bunch of different local birds, but he had procrastinated and it was due in a day or so. He had the big book of birds at the table, and he was in tears at the immensity of the task before, not knowing what to do. So their dad says, "Bird by bird, son. Just take it bird by bird." Yay!

The other really helpful bit of advice she has is to personify all of your critical or doubting voices in your head. You've got your mom, looking over your shoulder, shaking her head and saying you'll never make a living of it. You've got your freshman comp teacher, telling you that this stuff is going to need major editing cause it sucks. The girl who tormented you in fifth grade, laughing and saying you'll never be cool like the cool kids. Your own whiny self-doubt. Etc. Then you picture yourself shrinking all these people down, and putting them in a glass jar. Then you let their voices rise to a crescendo, to where you can barely stand it, and then you put the lid on the jar. You can still see them, but you can't hear a peep from them! The inside of your head has become silent. Now you are free to write without interference from all your critical voices.

The Lonely One
06-04-2009, 02:42 AM
There are things such as personal tragedy which are so insurmountable that "being in the zone" or "chasing the muse" or whatever other silly thing you want to call it becomes a hurtle too high to jump.

And maybe the wrong one to be jumping at that time?

I'm sorry for whatever it is you've experienced. But sometimes the only thing you can do is heal. Don't expect the writing to take any sort of priority during that time, but run with it if it does.

That is my advice.

(I think the "inner editor" writer's block is much easier conquered than the consequences of tragedy on the mind. That, to me, is not writer's block. It's being inescapably human.)

06-04-2009, 03:26 AM
Just in case other writers' experiences and suggestions help, take a peek at Outwitting Writer's Block (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=50) forum under Exercises, Prompts, and Games. (This thread might end up there eventually.)