"A Block By Any
By Kristi Holl
A Rose is a Rose is a Rose...
If you've been writing any length of time at all, you've experienced writer's
block. You may have read articles about it, following different authors'
recommendations to blast through your block. Did the solution you tried do the
trick? If not, the reason could be that you applied the wrong answer to your
Aspirin Or Band-Aid?
If you go to a physician, he doesn't doctor you with a one-medicine-fits-all or
one-treatment-fits-all solution. Instead, there are specific treatments for
specific ailments: the broken arm gets a cast, the cut gets stitched, the fever
gets an antibiotic. Only when you identify the specific ailment can the right
treatment be given, or a cure found. The same is true for writer's block.
A Multitude of Sources
Reading an article on writer's block might help you if you happen to stumble
across a suggestion that truly corresponds to your problem. However, twenty
years of writing and fifteen years of teaching the craft of writing have led me
to believe that is no one type of writer's block.
If you can't identify the origin of your block, treating it is impossible. Have
you stopped writing because you can't face any more rejection slips, or your
spouse (or a parent) is/was overly critical, or you're disillusioned with having
to shape your writing for the market? Are you blocked because you drink too
much, or you're just plain exhausted from waitressing while raising four small
Take time to get to know your own blocks. Until you do, until you identify
specific sources of blockage, you won't be able to apply suitable remedies that
Possible Causes Of Writer's Block
1. Critical childhood voices: those voices from the past who tell you that
you're not good enough, you're not creative, you're untalented, or lazy. They
might have originated with parents, grandparents, caretakers, teachers or
siblings. While you no longer may hear actual voices in your head, you've
incorporated their views of you somewhere along the way, and these views (or
self-beliefs) crop up at the worst times for your writing. The feelings of anger
and self-doubt that result produce confusion, sap your motivation and makes you
wonder if you should even proceed.
2. Personality style: passive or aggressive, outgoing or shy, rigid or
flexible, courageous or fearful. An outgoing person may be great at book
signings and marketing his work, yet block when it's time to sit
down--alone--and write for three hours. The flexible person may have numerous
ideas that flow effortlessly from him, and he may be able to juggle a number of
different projects, yet he may block when it's time to choose just one idea and
get to work. The insecure person may write fluidly and happily alone, yet block
when nearing the end of her story because she's too afraid of rejection to
submit a finished product.
Your past may have produced defense mechanisms that can also cause you to block.
If you have been rejected by parents as a child, you may tend to reject others
before they can reject you as an adult. You may quit your critique group,
rejecting them before they can reject your work, and end up blocked in your
writing. Get to know the quirks--both positive and negative--of your own
3. Self-criticism: harsh and self-punishing judgments on our work and marketing
efforts. Even when our criticism is well founded and accurate, harsh criticism
defeats and blocks us before we can get started. Self-esteem plummets, courage
then fails, and we shut off the computer and head to the refrigerator. We're
afraid we're deluding ourselves both about the viability of the project we're
working on, as well as our basic ability to tell a good story. This can
certainly stop our writing in its tracks.
4. Marketplace blues: delays and rejection. After a few months or years of
nothing but rejection slips, it can become harder and harder to keep pouring
your heart into your work. Sometimes, after enough "near misses" and
"almost sales," writers can come to mistrust editors, agents, even the
writers in their critique group, wondering if they have hidden agendas. After
being rejected enough, the writer may feel unable to face another editorial
comment, bad review, "lost" manuscript, payment that never arrives and
stories that don't get published. In other words, he's blocked.
5. Regular life: finding time and energy to write while attending to the ongoing
demands of life. All the pressures we human beings face--family and financial
needs, inner compulsions, leaky faucets, illnesses, rebellious teens--make us
sometimes feel that we can't have both a writing life and a regular life.
(Regular life means different things to different people: children, single
friends, volunteer work and hobbies, going out for dinner, being active in
sports, etc.) When we're busy writing, we feel guilty for taking time from the
family and friends, yet when we're socializing, we can feel guilty for not
writing. This inner push/pull can eventually cause us to block.
6. Fatigue: physically worn out. You could be tired from the writing and
marketing of your work, from wrestling with plot or character problems that seem
insurmountable. Your block at this point may feel like you've disconnected from
your work and especially from the passion for it. Each step in the creative
process requires energy, and frequently after working a day job to put food on
the table, car pooling the kids to activities, and giving a dinner party for
your partner's boss, there simply isn't any energy left. You may still want to
write, truly want to, but be blocked because your mind is simply too exhausted
to cough up a creative idea.
7. Environmental blocks: too much noise and chaos in your surroundings. Writers
who can't write at home--who swear they're totally blocked--have been able to
write easily and prolifically when transported to a cabin in the mountains or an
isolated seaside retreat. Why? They were removed from the noise of city streets,
roommates' stereos, toddlers' crying or whatever was keeping them too distracted
and on edge to write. Freed from the noise and chaos, then surrounded by peace
and quiet, these blocked writers often find they're not blocked at all.
8. Information-specific blocks: when you can't answer or solve a particular
question in your writing. Perhaps it's your first mystery novel, a private eye
whodunit, but you realize you don't know how this should differ from a police
procedural. You're blocked, but it's because you lack specific knowledge about
how a private eye operates. These types of blocks can be taken care of easily,
as soon as you identify what it is you need to know.
9. Skill deficiency block: when you simply don't have the skill needed to
proceed with your work. Perhaps you're blocked in finishing your biography of
the first woman astronaut because you don't know how to write for permissions
for the photos you found. Or maybe you want to do a photo essay about beaches,
and you have the writing all done, yet you're blocked from finishing because you
don't know enough about cameras and lighting and film speeds. These are physical
skills you need to acquire before you can unblock.
10. Anxiety and/or depression blocks: nerves, doubts, worries, fears, and panic.
This may be the first sign of any kind of block, and the foremost symptom to
deal with. Sometimes our worries are realistic. Can we afford to spend time
writing stories that might never sell? On the other hand, if we sell a book,
will our insecure spouse walk away? If we write that "coming of age"
novel, will our parents or siblings recognized themselves in our work and
abandon us? Anxiety can produce a restless energy that keeps us from being able
to sit still long enough to write. On the other hand, depression can leave us
too lethargic to get up off the couch and make it to our desk.
A Tailor-Made Solution
Different blocks require different solutions. A few days of peace at a seaside
cottage wouldn't help the blocked writer who didn't know how private eyes
operate (but it could work wonders for the mother of triplets). Taking an
assertiveness training/confidence building course won't help the postal employee
exhausted from trekking twenty miles a day from house to house (but it could
work miracles for the shy, retiring writer with a drawer full of manuscripts
he's afraid to submit).
So take the time to get to know yourself. If you're blocked, find out why. Then
outline and implement a step-by-step plan for blasting through your block. Read
excellent books on the subject, like If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel
Saltzman, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Deep Writing by Eric Maisel, and
Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. Help is available if you want to break through
your personal blocks and create the writing life of your dreams.
(Excerpt from FIRST AID FOR WRITERS--see below.)
ABOUT FIRST AID FOR WRITERS:
Does life ("what happens when you've made other plans") often
threaten to derail your writing dreams? Kristi Holl has been a published author
for over twenty years, writing despite a dozen surgeries, divorce, raising
children alone, numerous moves, and extreme cash flow crunches. After teaching
writing for fifteen years and encouraging hundreds of writing students through
these same trials and crises, she published a series of articles that expanded
into weekly writing for two web sites. After numerous requests from both writing
students and published authors for previously published articles, she gathered
60 of her most popular articles into FIRST AID FOR WRITERS.
The book has six sections for easy reference: Create the Writing Life You Want,
Getting Started, Work Habits That Work for You, Family Challenges,
Money Challenges, and Health & Self-Care, with ten articles on each topic.
They range from the very practical (in the work habits and money challenges
sections) to inspirational and challenging (in the sections on self-care and
creating the writing life you want). Articles in FIRST AID FOR WRITERS fit the
busy writer: long enough to be helpful, yet short enough to read in a refreshing
"Think of FIRST AID FOR WRITERS as a medicine chest," Kristi says,
"full of good things for what ails many of us. Medicine chests contain
items that kill pain, bind up wounds, bring restoration, and increase vitality.
May this volume of FIRST AID FOR WRITERS be each of those things to you."
For more information and to read six free chapters, go to www.KristiHoll.com
and to order the book directly and receive a free email excerpt of three
articles, click here: http://www.booklocker.com/books/779.html