Sunday, January 17, 2010

Writer's Block Disease

It happens to the best of us – writer’s block, the complete and total inability to make any sort of progress in our writing. This horrible affliction is like a debilitating disease, destroying your inspiration and eating away at your sanity until you’re left as nothing more than an empty husk of a writer. Fear and doubt start to creep into your every waking thought. Is there a finite amount of inspiration within you? Have you used it all up? Were you even a writer to begin with? Was this all some delusional state of believing you could write, or a dream that is slowly turning into a nightmare?

I’ve been diagnosed with this dreaded affliction more than a few times, and one case was so fatal, it took me years to recover. I felt adrift, abandoned by my muse to float lost and alone in a sea of despair, wondering if this dream of becoming a published writer was an unattainable fantasy. Depression ruled me and seeped into every aspect of my life, which affected my relationships to the people around me in unhealthy ways. I went from being a reclusive writer to simply a recluse, wearing my angst and drama like a thick cloak, wrapped tight enough to smother me.

Writer’s block is no fun, kids.

So how does one treat the Writer’s Block Disease? First, you’ll have to shut down the computer, step away from the keyboard, and get out. Go somewhere, anywhere, and do something. It could be as simple as going down to the corner store to pick up something to drink or as elaborate as taking a trip to see a place you’ve never been before. Go skiing, surfing, biking, hiking. Watch whatever blockbuster movie is in theaters, or take in a play. Buy a DVD or CD… or better yet, buy a book. Visit friends, walk through the park, or check out the latest roller derby bout. Whatever you do, you need to do it away from your writing.

To some, this advice will no doubt appear antithetical to what a writer is supposed to do. Writers write, right? Yes, but your writing will suffer if you don’t get out there and back up those words with life experience. Sure, you can try to use someone else’s experience to create a narrative, but borrowing from another’s life will not ring as true as if it came from your own hard-earned experience. Despite what some people think, writers aren’t fabricators of lies put to print, we take the truth and wrap it in fantasy and allegory. This truth must be personal, or your most vital connection to your readers will be lost. Make them feel what you feel. Live, love, lose, then come back to the word processor or notebook and get it all down.

What if you’ve stepped away from the computer, “lived and loved” and all that, and you still have writer’s block when you come back to the writing? At that point, I’d probably switch gears to something else that I’ve been meaning to work on and leave the other project on the mental backburner for a bit. Sometimes the brain just gets stuck on something and needs a new creative avenue to travel down. I go back and forth between my trilogy and other projects every so often, and even this blog lets me write freely so my subconscious can mull over the other projects I’m working on. If you’re not feeling it, don’t feel guilty for wanting to switch gears to something else. This may be just what you need to move around that mental block.

What if you’ve done all of the above, and you still can’t get any further on the project you want to work on? Well, all is not lost. Maybe you just need to sleep on it and let your dreams sort out how to get past your writer’s block. My ski instructor years ago taught me that the subconscious will help you learn and grow just as much as any class or instruction you might take. Maybe you need someone to bounce ideas off of, just to get them out of your head. Speaking aloud the problem you’re facing in your writing can sometimes trigger a breakthrough that you wouldn’t reach by internalizing the issue. Maybe your solution isn’t anything discussed here, but something you stumble across on your own. The creative process isn’t something you can codify, as much as other writers (myself included) might lead you to believe. What works for one of us won’t necessarily work for you. Sometimes we have to forge our own path as creators to discover what resonates best for us.

Do you have a preferred way to cure the writer’s block disease? Post it in the comment section and share them with your fellow writers!

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