Radio Free Bard

Curing writer’s block

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 12, 2008

There is a line that a writer crosses when they decide that they want to be a writer, not a hobbyist. The hobbyist can leave their writing for months on end and content themselves with the drudgery of their lives, never picking up a pen and never stressing at the vacuum of inspiration. When someone crosses that line into budding author, they are doomed to feel the invisible ropes of writer’s block tug them backwards from the page or the keys. They must face the hunger of the empty page without the food of inspiration.

This post is born out of writer’s block.

There are many types of writer’s block. In this post I aim to guilt you out of having them.

Symptoms: Unable to translate plan into paragraph. Can’t think of how to start the first page. Constantly crushing the page or deleting what you’ve written.

Cause: Your standards are too high and you’re trying to be Harper Lee on your first draft. Your perfectionism is killing your creativity.

Solution: Be willing to write crap. As Hemingway put it, “The first draft of everything is shit.” If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer, so write. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write it and don’t edit it until you’ve written more than you’re willing to discard. As a writer you have to have faith in what you can do. The day I knew I could become a writer was the day I realised I was supposed to edit my first draft, not publish it.

Symptoms: Constantly distracted, always finding something to do other than writing. Real life keeps getting in the way.

Cause: You’ve forgotten how easy it is to write. You’re either building it up in your mind as something horribly difficult or tedious or even worse, you just don’t care enough to hunger for it. This is made worse by poor organisational skills or thinking that being a writer is any less demanding than any other job.

Solution: Don’t tackle a big project as the first thing you do when you sit down. If you’re writing a novel, write a diary entry or a blog post first. If you don’t feel inspired by your first scheduled task, do the second. Whatever you do, write. If you’re at the point where you aren’t hungering to put down words and you haven’t written anything that day, start thinking about a nine to five job, it’ll either scare you back to your work or be preparation for when you realise you won’t cut it as a writer.

Symptoms: Don’t know what happens next in the story. Unable to ‘feel’ the story or some part of it such as characters. There is no logical next step that you can feel immediately.

Causes: Lack of emotional involvement in your work. Your mind is overloaded.

Solution: Step away from the page or keyboard, lock yourself in a room and just imagine the setting. Don’t think logically or structurally about the work, just get into a deeply mental space and let the parts of your subconscious mind that have been dwelling on this very question speak. Your subconscious knows where to go next, it knows what it wants to write. All story tellers, all writers, all artists have a part of their subconscious that will latch onto an idea and run with it whether you realise it or not. There’s a part of your subconscious for every idea you’ve ever had. Give it a chance to speak. You won’t hear it if your thinking, you’ll drown it out. Listen to some Eckhart Tolle.

Symptoms: Can’t maintain focus on a single project until completion. Started too many projects and can’t devote enough time to them. Always starting never finishing. This is a valid and crippling form of writer’s block.

Cause: Your muse is strong but you lack understanding of your muse and you lack discipline.

Solution: Get your life sorted out. Understand yourself or you’ll never understand what you are trying to say. Understanding what you are trying to say is just as important as understanding what you want to talk about. You may think you want to talk about pirates, space ships and goblins but what you really want to express is discontent at the treatment of women in the workplace. You may think you want to write a marketing blog but what you really want to express is your wonder at the human ability to socialise.

Symptoms: You can’t think of a single thing to write about. No idea about what kind of project, format, style, universe or issue you wish to tackle. You have nothing that needs to be expressed.

Cause: You’ve shut yourself down due to stress.

Solution: You were once a child with a boundless imagination, either a boy with a cowboy hat and a plastic six-shooter or a girl with a box full of mummy’s old clothes with which you would play dress-up. There is no reason for a person to be completely devoid of wonder unless they’ve shut themselves down from stress or fear or pain or any number of grown-up reasons. Chances are you’d be better able to write something pained and dark during these kinds of moods, even if you aren’t aware of the effect stress is having on you.

Go scream at the top of your lungs in an empty field in the middle of nowhere.


12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Assentia said, on November 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Requesting permission to quote you on every single blogging platform I’m involved with.

  2. radiofreebard said, on November 12, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    So long as it’s linked back here, you can quote me as much as you like.

    Just so you know, I greatly appreciate your comment. As a ghost writer it’s rare that I recieve such warm praise.

  3. Assentia said, on November 12, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    One doesn’t have to be Stephen King, or even Elizabeth George, to be able to give solid advice about writing. And if that pesky writer’s block is smashed, most other advice becomes superfluous.

  4. radiofreebard said, on November 12, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    I found it ironic that my solution to my own writer’s block turned out to be this post.

  5. Assentia said, on November 12, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Heh. Physician, heal thyself.

    Be warned, I’ll be stalking you.

  6. Tempyra said, on November 13, 2008 at 3:36 am

    This is really good advice. I’ve been guilty of one or more of these pretty much every time I sit down to work on my NaNo effort.

    Btw, all of the posts on your blog are great – please don’t burn out and start posting crap or even worse, give up on this 🙂

  7. radiofreebard said, on November 13, 2008 at 3:53 am

    If you plan on stalking me, the best way would be to add me on Twitter.

    My profile is

  8. Trevor said, on November 13, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    So what have you sold and for how much?

  9. radiofreebard said, on November 13, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I appreciate the question but the nature of my work precludes me from being specific, ethically and contractually.

    Put it this way: I’m never late to pay the rent.

  10. czar said, on November 15, 2008 at 4:11 am

    Great post, and for all you writers out there, remember:

    Editing. Proofreading. Indexing–three activities writers should not attempt to undertake on their own work. A word to the wise.

  11. thepomegranateblog said, on November 15, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    “All story tellers, all writers, all artists have a part of their subconscious that will latch onto an idea and run with it whether you realise it or not. There’s a part of your subconscious for every idea you’ve ever had.” I LOVE THAT… That was truly beautiful.

  12. […] think your first draft will have any need for polish. I may have mentioned this in my post about curing writer’s block: your internal editor is only going to stop you from writing what you need to […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: