Bashing the Myth of Writers’ Block

Greetings, PennWriters!

I’m happy to be here, and I hope to give you a lot of worthwhile information in this blog that you can put to immediate use whether you write fiction or nonfiction. (I’m presently immersed in fiction. I’ve wanted to write a novel most of my life, but true stories kept interrupting. Now, I’m having fun making up all the characters and killing them off at will. Something most people frown on in real life .

I plan to address many of the issues that often keep us writers up nights: Time management (do I have to get up at 4 in the morning to squeeze in my writing?). Story development (conflict, conflict, conflict). Characterization (why are the characters going in the opposite direction that I had planned for them?). Plotting (now what?). Setting (should my story take place in the big city, the suburbs, the country . . . and what era? 1940s, 2010?). Research (should I believe everything I read? Maybe I should talk to some experts). And, when I’m working on my own personal stories, how much should I reveal? Must I change names to protect the guilty?. . . .

And so on. 

I’m sure you all can relate.

But first, I’d like to nip something in the bud (forgive the cliché!). I get a little nuts whenever I hear that common misconception about writers: that all writers experience Writers’ Block. That well-worn image of the frustrated writer bent over the keyboard staring mindless at the blank piece of paper—or nowadays, computer screen—is still engraved in minds as part of the pain of being a struggling writer.

Hogwash.

I personally don’t believe there is such a thing as writers’ block and I’ll tell you why. A true writer “writes” all the time in their mind. When you’re working on a story, you think about it while driving, or potty-training your little one, or lying on the beach, and sometimes, even in your dreams. So many times we get these great ideas when we’re not at the keyboard. So write it down, or carry a little recorder and enter it as soon as possible. Because those great thoughts oftentimes will not magically reappear.  You may think, oh that’s exactly how I want to phrase it, it’s so good, I know I’ll remember it. You won’t. Not always. Trust me on that. So when you do find—no, make—time to write, you’ll already have those notes and recordings at the ready.

So that’s the first way to banish that writers’ myth and abandon the silly notion forever. Here are more:

Preparation is Key

If you prepare for your work, you will never experience writers’ block. You will have recorded your ideas that came during your lunch hour, or rush hour, or those middle-of-the-night hours when you lied awake while your mind created complete scenes for your novel.

You will have at your writing desk, an updated dictionary and thesaurus (sure your computer has those, but the books offer much broader selections), as well as educational writing books and magazines that are wonderful resources.

And sure, there will be days you won’t feel like writing. That’s the perfect time to read a good book. Read not just for entertainment, but to learn how the author put the story together. How he developed his characters so well, you feel you know each one. How she managed to keep you interested page after page, chapter after chapter, then finished by successfully wrapping up all the loose ends to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Have Literary Heroes

These are your mentors. You cannot be a great writer, or even a good one, without reading great works. So learn from the best. How did that author get you involved from the first sentence on? How did he use backstory to fill in details? How did she use dialogue to further the story? All of this, and more, is important for nonfiction and memoirs as well. (More on that another time.)

If you’re working on a mystery novel, you should have a list of favorite mystery writers. Same for romance, memoirs, etc. Let them be your guides. Highlight their perfect sentences, write notes on the pages of their books. Let them teach you how it’s done.

Dreams vs. Goals

What’s this have to do with writers’ block? If you simply dream it, it won’t get on the page. You have to do the work. That means setting goals.

There is a distinct difference between a Dream and a Goal. Dreams are purely illusionary. Goals are concrete plans for the future. And we really can’t have one without the other. Dreams are what first provide us the inspiration and vision for what we ultimately want. Goals, in turn, gives us a sense of direction, motivation, and, if accomplished, a wonderful sense of satisfaction, and success!

 Norman Vincent Peale said: “The greatest power we have is the power of choice.”  Right now you are living your past choices. Where you are today—at this very moment—is the result of your past decisions.

Think about it. The decisions you make today will be your experiences tomorrow.

Here are just a few examples of people who worked hard at their Goals to become the successful writer of their Dreams:

Novelist John Grisham began by subscribing to Writers’ Digest, then wrote chapters of his first novel while riding each morning on the subway to his job as a lawyer.

Novelist Elizabeth Berg was a nurse and mother of small children in 1984 when she began writing for her small town newspaper. Soon after, she submitted an essay to Parents magazine – and won $500! She started publishing regularly in national magazines, then went on to write her first of many successful novels.

Prolific novelist Nora Roberts was “one of the worst secretaries ever!” But she always loved stories and soon found she had a knack. A simple act of nature—a snowstorm—prompted her first book, published in 1981. Since then, she has written more than 50 novels, some under the name, J. D. Robb.  

Mary Karr had a childhood that certainly didn’t lend itself to a successful life, yet wrote a memoir so brilliantly that her first book, The Liars’ Club, became the bar in which creative nonfiction writers aspire to.

Anne Lamott was a clerk/typist who wrote every night for an hour and received her share of rejections (as did other greats like J.K.Rowling), along with terrible reviews on her first book. But she persevered and today is mentioned among all the other great writers of this century.

If you are unfamiliar with the works of these authors, go to the library, get their books, read and study their work.

Till next month, remember: This is the First Day of the Rest of Your Writing Life. 

So write something today! 

Deanna R. Adams is a freelance writer, award-winning essayist, and  author of three books. She is an instructor at Lakeland Community College, and director of The Western Reserve Writers Conferences, and Women Writers’ Winter Retreat. Her website is www.deannaadams.com

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3 Responses

  1. Deanna,

    Considering all the tecniques out there for beating writier’s block, I’m tending to agree with you that there is no such thing, that it’s as simple a being organized. I just never conisdered all the voices floating around in my head as writing.
    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Hi Deanna,

    Thanks for drawing attention to all the behind-the-scenes development that we writers do. Dreams are one of the best places where I work out ideas for stories and poetry, and when I get stuck on a tricky piece of copy I usually just have to step away and scrub the kitchen or something, and before I know it the wordage solution will surface!

    Looking forward to hearing more from you next month.

    Cheers,
    JLB

  3. Many good points made. I do believe there is a writer’s ‘hesitation’ in that we reach a point where we hesitate to put anything down because it seems so lame. That’s the time to take a break, water the plants, play around on the Internet. Our confidence will return when we sit down again at the keyboard.

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