Just a couple of writers on a road trip through life. Hop in, hold on, and don’t forget your rain boots.

Monday, November 5, 2012

From Writers' Block to Building Block

I hear it a lot in writing circles. Some believe in this phenomenon, while others don’t buy into it at all. In that sense, it is kind of like the supernatural: either you believe in it or you don’t. Even my fellow Writer Freak doesn’t believe in it, but me…I believe in it because it has happened to me. I’ve experienced it first-hand. I know, I know. You think alien abduction isn’t real. Well, this isn’t that. I’m talking about the infamous writers’ block.
When you have written countless stories, sometimes you hit a creative slump. I attribute this to a writer’s emotions.  When we aren’t feelin’ it, we can’t write it. Those magical words that fill your blank page with beautiful characters and jaw-dropping plot just won’t fall out onto the page when you shake your pen with vigor. Writing is in the emotion and I like to write through my emotions, like so many countless others before me.
So, I go through stages. If I am angry, my poor character has to endure police chases or some sociopath hunting him in the forest like prey. I even imagine I hear some suspenseful music playing when the villain inches closer.  If I am happy, everything is about love. My head is in the clouds, weightless in a perfectly blissful buzz. My character is now in love. He is in love so passionately that he becomes this selfless, perfect example of a man balanced by smoldering features and a protective yet sensitive heart. He can do no wrong. I see him skipping in a field with a bunch of daisies in his hand while whistling the tune from Little House on the Prairie and joyously blowing bubbles with his gum. Okay, maybe I don’t really imagine it just like that, but you get the picture. Needless to say, my mood lends itself to the uniqueness of each of my characters. I have to move through my emotions to create a real character and if I can’t move through those emotions, I get big time writers’ block. So, how do I deal with writers’ block when it happens?
It occurs to me that experience is the essence of human emotion. When we experience, we feel. It might not always be pretty or even comfortable, but it is raw and true. Over the years, I have developed some anti writers’ block techniques that really work, at least for me.
1.)    Watch TV
a.       I know this seems weird, but it works. I had to write this intense scene where a crazed mother chases after her son to hurt him (she’s a piece of work). I flipped the television on to watch episodes of Criminal Minds. It put me in the right panic-stricken frame of mind to write the scene. Now, don’t go overboard like I did once. Suddenly when I went into town, anyone wearing a hoodie was a psychopath waiting to attack and don’t get me started on how afraid I became if they were wearing a hoodie with sunglasses. Too much Criminal Minds can put me in a right-fit state.
2.)     People Watch
a.       I mentioned in an earlier post about a people watching game I play. It is a lot of fun. You need someone to play with you. Your friend points out someone in a crowd. You have to, off the top of your head, come up with who he/she is. Once I pointed to a guy that had a Plexiglas backpack on with a pigeon in it (you see all sorts of things on the BART) to my mom. She said this: He is divorced. His wife left him because of his bird keeping. He keeps his bird on the roof of his apartment in a make-shift aviary. He has lost all sense of who he is because he believes he is a pigeon too. Naturally, he thinks he can talk to them.  The most outrageous plot you can think of wins the game. I could play it for hours and it helps me develop my characters.
3.)    Force Your Feelings
a.       My sister and I have this idiosyncrasy. We laugh and tease eachother about it a lot, but we both do it. We will be happily driving along listening to music from our iPods when a certain classical piece will come on. Oh, the emotion! We feel it! The song plinks and tugs at our heartstrings with such force! No words are needed. It pushes all other emotions down and what bubbles to the surface in surges is pain. We just cry at the melancholy notes, letting them do what they will to our hearts. Now, here’s the kind of sick part; then we listen to it again...and then again. Call it a cathartic release, but we must repeat it over and over again, each time crying to our heart song. We force those feeling up. You can do this with any feeling. Find a song, a scene in a movie, or other thing that you know will pull at your heartstrings in some way. Then, feel it and rush off to the computer to pound out your latest creative brilliance.
4.)    Do Something You Hate
a.       Yup. You heard right. Do something you can’t stand and do it for a long enough period of time that your need and craving to write overpowers your writers’ block. I am currently taking a math class. It SUCKS! I hate it so much and at the end of every day I feel so drained. You would think I would feel so tired that I couldn’t write, but you know what happened? My writer’s brain is on overdrive because I am not using it as much as I want to. The ideas are hitting me one after another in rapid succession. I am writing down ideas in a document to come back to once I am finished with the god-forsaken math class.
5.)    Walk Away
a.      Lastly, just walk away. Remember that there is a season for everything. Sometimes forcing your writing doesn’t end in the best results. If you are unhappy with what you have, stop. It is okay. Take a writing break. Work on another story or something else entirely. It just might not be the right time to finish the story you want to complete. Give yourself up to the process and enjoy it as much as possible. You shouldn’t feel frustrated to the point of tears because you are stuck. Just walk away and eventually you will come back to it someday when both the piece and you are ready.
So get creative and find things that get you revved up. If you can feel it, you can write it. It is kind of like the Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” only with less corn and baseball, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Stephanie D. Birch is an expert ghost identifier, especially when she is in a field of corn. She lends her supernatural talents to anyone who believes because that is where the magic happens. To hear more magical chronicles, contact her at birchwordnerd@yahoo.com


  1. Might I suggest something else? Write something totally unrelated to your current WIP. For example, if you usually write humor, try to write something horrific, or sexy, or whatever. Often that exercise can be enough to get your brain refreshed and ready to get back to your original work.

    1. Great suggestion! I think it is actually really important to write outside of your genre. It streches us as writers and makes our writing that much better. :-)
      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Re No 1 - Know what you mean - I used to watch a lot of 'Alias' with Jennifer Garner when taking a 'writing break' and it did make me want to go out and kick things/people rather than go back and write. So I switched to NCIS and that seemed to work.

    1. Ha! Ha! I can totally relate! Alias makes me want to dress in crazy disguises and I also get the urge to kick things. Something that pulls you into the plot with intensity is great, but too much of a good thing and our creative minds take off. It still can be a fun trip though. lol