Writing is hard. Anybody who tells you something different is either lying or they’ve managed to find something that they could sell for millions.
Writers’ block is a bitch. You hit a wall. It’s a soul crushing experience that I hope never happens to you. It’s happened to me; it’s still happening to me. I once wrote a forty thousand word first draft in a day. Over the following few days I rewrote it from scratch into a sixty odd thousand-word novel. I’ve been working on my latest novel on and off for over three years now and I have a little over a thousand words. You don’t need me to tell you that that’s a pretty significant drop. Why has this happened?
The concept of writers’ block has been around for a while now and nobody is safe from it. F. Scott Fitzgerald; writer of the Great Gatsby suffered from it, George Orwell wrote about it in his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It’s not known exactly why it happens, many debate whether it’s even a real thing or not, but there are some ideas as to what could cause it. Circumstances in your life that affect your ability to focus on your writing, such as financial stress, a sense of failure, or depression, can be a cause. It’s been suggested that, when under stress, our bodies change the way that they function. When our fight or flight response is engaged during stress there are numerous changes that happen in our brain. One of the unfortunate side effects is that we stop engaging the creative parts of our brain in favour of our instincts. That’s a theory anyway. I don’t have the answers as to why, but it happens and I can share with you what I’ve tried over the years.
1. Admit that it’s happening
Whether you agree that writers’ block is real or not, if you are finding that your writing is blocked, something has gone wrong. If you’re struggling, admit that you are. You don’t have to scream it from the top of a mountain or print it in the newspaper; you just have to admit it to yourself.
2. Try and figure out why it’s happening
If you can, tall to others about the struggles that you’re having and have a look at what’s going on in your life that might be the cause. It could be that you’re having a stressful week in your life or something that’s temporary. Take a step back, deal with life first and, when that has passed, return to creating that magic I know you can.
3. You’ve found out why, but you can’t fix it
You’ve identified the problem and it’s something that’s out of your control or something that can’t be fixed. Your job is stressful, you have family commitments that you can’t say no to, like children, or you some other stressor that you can’t just wait out or cull. This is where the real problems are. If these stresses are causing it and you can’t stop the stressors, what do you do? I don’t know, in all honesty. I’m still trying to figure this one out. What I can tell you, however, is that there is light at the end of this dark, dark tunnel. You have to try and push through it. Do things that you find relaxing. Work on reducing your stress levels first and then think about your writing. A common mistake is to just sit in front of blank screen screaming at yourself to write. This isn’t healthy and really doesn’t help matters; it makes it worse. But keep at it. It’ll happen.
4. Do something else
This is the thing that I’ve found has helped me a great deal. Writing these essays for Thanet Writers and a few different short stories has helped to free my mind to work on my novel. I’ve done more in the last few months than I have in three years.
5. Listen to yourself
When I used to write, the words formed in my mind and moved to my fingers on their own. My books essentially wrote themselves. I gave my mind an idea and it did all of the work for me. Recently, this skill has waned. I tried an exercise to see if that still worked. I shut off my conscious mind and allowed my fingers and mind to write what it wanted to write. This is what it came up with; I called it Rambley McRambleson:
He didn’t know what he was crafting, but he was enjoying himself. And, that’s something that he forgets to do. He enjoyed writing back in the day. And now most days when he sits down to write, misery floods through his body. Misery and doubt.
He took a break to get some coffee. While the kettle boiled, his mind started crafting the next sentences for him. He decided to let it work its magic, he tried them out.
His mind. Always his worst enemy. Growing up, there were times when his mind was all that he had to rely on. Years of conditioning had rendered him almost incapable of asking for help. Maybe this was his way of trying to find the help. He didn’t know.
As my mind spoke to me, Rambley McRambleson literally became my mind sending me a message.
I think I can help him. The muse that fills his every cell is alive and well. He’s just forgotten how to talk to me. It used to be so easy for us to work together. Somewhere along the way he stopped listening to me. He thought he and I were one. We aren’t. He has to work with me if he ever wants to produce something he’s proud of again. He’s done it before. When we were young he created so many things. Looking back now, we can both see how bad they were, but they each had their nuggets of goodness. He just needs to learn to shut his doubts out and listen to me. I can help him through this if I let him in. He’s allowed us to speak together again. And it’s glorious. There is nothing that can’t be achieved when we work together. Muse and Musee working together at last.
I won’t be here forever, if he doesn’t nurture me, if he doesn’t keep me going, I will wither away. He’s done it before and I’ve been close to being lost. He’s always managed to pull me back before the last minute. One day he might be quick enough.
I hope he remembers me.
I hope that, if you’re experiencing writers’ block, this has helped you. If you aren’t, and you do one day, remember these tips. If you have any others, share them down in the comments below. I look forward to reading them.
© 2016 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.