Friday, April 13, 2012

Fighting Writer's Block

Lately I have writer's block. Every time I sit down at the keyboard, I feel paralyzed. It doesn't immobilize me, but it does restrict my range of motion, dooming me to write the same stupid sentence over and over again. With modifiers. Without modifiers. Eventually the sentence just becomes a heap of words that I wouldn't waste wood pulp on. Oh, this feeling is bad. But I've been here before and I know what to do.

I have started to re-read Brenda Ueland's IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE AND SPIRIT. Brenda first published this book, which I consider to be the best one of its kind, in 1938. She based it on her experiences teaching writing classes in Minneapolis, after returning home from some wild Bohemian years as a freelance writer in New York City.

I discovered IF YOU WANT TO WRITE in the late 1980s by accident, as a staff pick in the now-defunct Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore on the Upper West Side, and it was the single thing that helped me through my first and worst writer's block, the one that lasted for years after college.

Here's just one of my favorite quotes from Brenda: "Inspiration doesn't come like a bolt, nor is it a kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes to us slowly and quietly and all the time...I learned that when writing you should not feel like Lord Byron on a mountaintop but like a child stringing beads in a kindergarten--happy, absorbed and putting one bead on after another."
What are your weapons agains writer's block? And do you have a favorite writer on writing?


  1. One of my first writing books, and one that really inspired me was Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird.' In essence, it always reminds me not to get overwhelmed by the whole project (like describing every bird in the northeast), just take one piece, one bird, at a time.

    I also keep a few writer's quote gadgets on my Google homepage -- such as the Gotham Writers Workshop Quotes, and Daily Literary Quotes. Sometimes a nugget from these will lift my spirits just enough to boost me into a better writing space.

  2. Next time you've got Writer's Block
    Take a walk around the block.
    Feed a pigeon, chase a cat.
    Stop a squirrel for a chat.
    Love a leaf or hug a rock
    Next time you've got Writer's Block

  3. Yes, I agree that it helps to focus on small things. If you work hard on just one sentence and create a beautiful one, then all can't be lost.

  4. Focus on the small things or as Anne Lamott says, don't be afraid to write s%^##y first drafts. The way I look at it, it's only writer's block if you don't write. If you write crap, you're not blocked, you're just writing crap. And there might be one nugget of gold in that crap. That nugget is worth your time.

    After reading about Save the Cat from so many other writers, I just purchased it and am ready to dig in.

  5. First of all, my favorite weapon against writer's block is working on multiple projects at once. This works well for me because I can "goof off" on one by working on another. (The toughest writer's block that occurred for me in recent memory was when I actually managed to finish all the projects I had been working on at once. I just didn't know what to do with myself. :o) )

    Second of all-- Oh my goodness, Douglas Florian just posted on our blog! An awesome poem about writer's block! Yes, I admit it, I'm completely star struck! Or is it "poet struck"? And I agree, there are times when taking a walk around the block (or doing something else interesting) can provide me with the needed inspiration to get writing again. Thanks so much for visiting and for posting, Mr. Florian!

  6. I try not to give writer's block too much power - I know this is from some writing book (perhaps Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird!) - whenever I'm blocked it is usually because "the well has run dry" - when this happens, I allow myself to play!