The Block

For this post I wanted to talk about "writer's block." People normally picture writer's block with a writer sitting by him or herself, pulling their hair out for days or weeks because they can't think of how to finish a scene. Typically in this motif there is a wire trash can sitting on the floor overflowing with crumpled up sheets of paper with failed scenes on them. Or maybe there's one of those little basketball hoops above the trash can and the failed scenes are littering the floor all around it (because presumably writers are not good basketball players).

In reality, unless you are a full time writer (and write out your scenes on paper), this does not represent reality. Of course I can't speak for everyone, but when I get writer's block, that's not what it looks like at all. That's for several reasons: 1) I have several full time jobs. 2) I don't write on paper. And 3) My attention span is really short.

When I don't know how to resolve a scene and I'm sitting in front of the computer, what I've found is that my mind starts to wander. I find anything to do but write. I start checking the news, or my email, or *gasp* log on to do work. That's how I really know I have writer's block, if I start doing work as an excuse not to write.

”Writer’s Block” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by Sharon Drummond

When I recognize this in myself, I have learned not to force it. And that would by my recommendation to you as well. Unless you have a non-self-imposed deadline to finish (I say that because all of my deadlines are self-imposed and it's helpful to remind myself of that once in a while) then just go about your normal life for a while.

If you're anything like me, the scene will be almost continuously percolating through your head while you're not actively engaged in some other activity. If you give it time, the answer will eventually come to you. It's funny, but I have very specific memories of where I was when I worked out some particularly difficult scenes (like walking over gravel in a parking lot on my way to the VA for a shift on a brisk Winter morning). And now that place is associated with that scene in my mind and when I'm there, that particular scene always comes to mind.

That's the benefit of writing on the side: you can always shift your attention back to your "normal" life for a while when you're stuck on something. My other method for minimizing writer's block is fairly detailed planning ahead of time. I think I talk about that in another post, but the more you plan, the less likely you are to get stuck and not know how to finish a scene. That being said, sometimes the scenes you planned out don't work in practice and you have to write something on the fly, so it's not entirely unavoidable.

But at the end of the day, just remember that you're doing this for fun (most of us are, anyway). So if you're pulling your hair out, that's a pretty good sign that you need to take a step back and reevaluate.