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Writer's Block -- What's the Big Deal? -- by John Berkowitz


People will tell you writing is work, you must treat writing like a job, no serious writing ever came from treating it as a hobby. Basically, you have to commit.

Okay, sure. There are merits to those viewpoints. But never forget writing is an art, an act of creativity, a process of love and tears. You can't force it. For many people (myself included) the secret to good writing is like the secret to catching a soap bubble: you can't pluck it out of the air, you have to let it land.

To be sure, you can learn how to judge the falling bubble, note the prevailing wind, and know when and where to place your hand for the best chance to capture the bubble intact.  You're still going to miss occasionally, and some days it's too windy or there are no bubbles at all.  But you will eventually learn to catch more bubbles and keep them alive longer before they pop.

Here's the thing about that: you can't consider yourself a failure if there are no bubbles, or if they don't blow your way for a period of time.  Everyone has dry spells -- fishermen, farmers, actors, lawyers.  We writers think ourselves special and give it our own name; WRITER'S BLOCK.

Made you cringe, didn't it?  Like a cat just walked over your grave.  Yeah, I know.  It's how we're trained.  Like avoiding walking in the woods alone in the dark.  It becomes ingrained on a subconscious level.  But I think pauses are an integral and vital part of the writing process. Since it is a creative endeavor, it is naturally tied to your mood or your state of mind, and sometimes your state of mind is like a turbulent wind sending all of the bubbles away.  Don't panic.  You're not failing.

Writer's block is like a forest fire.  Sometimes it's best to let the fire burn itself out.  In places like Yosemite people went to a lot of trouble to put out naturally-occurring forest fires to "save" them, but we have since realized that naturally-occurring forest fires have been burning unchecked for precisely as long as there have been nature, forests, and fire.  Nature adapts; fires are part of the process, letting new growth access to sunlight and other arboreal sciencey things.  It's the whole Circle of Life jazz.  Interfering with it just futzes it up.

Same with writer's block.  It will pass, and in most cases take with it whatever was gumming up the works.  I talked about forcing yourself to write in an earlier post.  Unless you are a journalist or you make your whole living from putting words on paper, just let the forest burn.  New growth will come.  Trust it.  If you put out the fire every time, you will do long-lasting damage to the forest.

I got to a rough patch in chapter two of my second book, and ended up not writing anything meaningful for about three months.  It felt like I would never write again, like the whole forest was burning down.  And then I started writing again, and started happily churning out pages again, working late into the night instead of turning in early, and even pulling up my manuscript at work during my lunch hour.  The new growth was lush and inviting, and has a real chance to grow into a might forest since all of that old wood is gone.

So, if you are experiencing writer's block, do what I do: embrace it and let it happen; find some other outlet for awhile and don't beat yourself up. The desire to write will come back to you in its own time. You can't nab it out of the air, you have to let it land.



John R Berkowitz

Am I Doing This Right?
Writing the middle grade novel and living to tell about it.

Posted by John Berkowitz 23 Feb at 00:58
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Responses to this blog

Amberzade 24 Feb at 21:13  
The writers block where someone stares at the page and doesn't type a word baffles me. I almost don't think that type of writers block is real, although I'm sure plenty of people will tell me it is. And I think it's a little unkind of me to not be empathetic about the white screen version of writer's block.

The kind of writer's block I get is more like writer's avoidance - or procrastination. I have difficulty finishing my work. But I avoid finishing it by starting something new. Maybe it could be Squirrel Writer's Block.

The best cure for writer's block are Julia Cameron's books. She wrote The Artist's Way. Many of her books help people be more creative. I really recommend them whether you do or do not have any version of writer's block.

Interesting blog. Thanks.
Hepcyzug 25 Feb at 11:17  
I'm with you. I have story in me busting to get out. Sometimes I don't know where to start, so I just jump in with whatever part is most compelling to me. The closest I get to writer's block is when things don't take shape the way I expect and I have to scrap the whole thing.
Cspark 3 Mar at 13:14  
Here's the thing with writer's block. Sometimes it can manifest as a paralyzed nothing when you look at a page, but I think there's another, more frustrating type. That second type is what I personally call writer's cotton. The words come, and they come in droves, but they're muffled. There's no feeling in them. They don't run in sequence, and the subject means nothing. You're writing, but it's mechanical. The story is running around in little circles and the characters are caught doing things they would never do just because you want to make it go somewhere. All the while, your brain is still going hard at the story. It's got ideas like nobody's business... now if only it could figure out how to make those ideas happen...
I call this more frustrating because at least if you've got writer's block, there's nothing there. When you've got writer's cotton, you can see how awesome it could be, if you could just take a long, creative drink to clear your brain's throat.
Cetienne 10 Mar at 19:58  
I don't consider myself a creative writer. I write to survive, not to put food on the table sort of way, but to help me solve life conflicts and to overcome social adversity. Consequently, I don't believe in the term "writer's block". Instead, I go through periods when I am overwhelmed and beat up by the thoughts of experiences from the past, and as much as I want to, I find myself too emotional to write them down with any art. So I take breaks until I can face recalling the events again without my emotions getting in the way of the art of writing.
Grimraven 10 Mar at 22:25  
If I get writer's block and can't continue writing on a current story then I usually move on to another story until I get back in the groove of the other. Or I may make outlines and build characters instead. If I have complete writer's block like you mentioned, not being able to write anything and just end up staring at the screen, I take a break. It sucks, I know, but it allows me to think about my story and also allows me to do anything else I'm not able to do when I'm writing, like play a good videogame or read a book. I don't "cure" my writer's block, when it happens I just let it take its course. Before long I'm back to writing. I don't like forcing myself to write. Nothing good comes of it. I think everyone tackles their writer's block different.

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