by Diana Stout, MFA, PhD
The day started out like any other. I sat at the computer prepared to continue writing a first draft for a new book, but that day turned out to be unlike any other.
That day, writer's block paralyzed me for 10 ½ straight hours, the screen blinking at me the entire time. Taunting me. But, I wasn't about to quit. I couldn't. I was on deadline.
Many times, writer’s block had ruled my life. In those times, I would file, organize, clean, or perform any of the usual writer's block avoidance activities. This time, however, I just sat there. Avoidance that day wasn't allowed.
Thus, my ability to stare turned into an art form.
Until that time, I never doubted the existence of writer's block. I had always called it by name. Notable authors wrote about it. Nearly every month, the two most popular writing magazines would feature an article about how to avoid writer's block. If these experts were writing about it, it had to exist, right?
By the end of that horrible day, I vowed writer's block would be gone, never to show its ugliness again.
The next day, I sat down facing that same blank page. Minutes later, I decided to skip over it. I'd write the next scene instead. And, I did. Quickly and easily.
By the end of the day, having written a healthy pile of pages, I knew something magical had just occurred. But what? I began questioning the existence of writer's block and started researching it.
After World War II, psychiatry became a popular and prestige topic. Edmund Bergler, a New York City Austrian psychiatrist, termed writer's block in 1947. Within the field of psychiatry, writer's block is tied to depression, anxiety, a sense of failure, pressure, a lack of inspiration, illness, and other common debilitating factors. Some theories that arose from the psychiatry field tied writer's block to perfectionism or the lack of ideas, even the loss of self-confidence. Sometimes alcohol was involved as a reason.
Also, procrastination became part of the discussion with added reasons for writer's block: finances and life-changing events, such as war, births, moving, deaths, weather-related disasters, divorce, marriage, and so forth.
Basically, writer's block and procrastination were deemed as either a physical or emotional issue.
The more common excuses of writer's block that I hear writers using today are:
In the past, I've written in a closet, busy airports, bus terminals, restaurants, playgrounds, where temperatures were so cold, I was blowing on my fingers, or so hot, I put a cold washcloth on the back of my neck to cool off.
I've written piles of pages during all kinds of life-changing effects. Writing was a stress release, a pressure valve where I could let go of my feelings and thoughts. Sometimes, I was doing nothing more than journaling, performing a stream of consciousness writing with no idea of where I'd use the work.
So, if I'd been able to write during those life-changing events, what was the real reason for that 10.5-hour day of no writing?
That's the day, I realized that writer’s block is a myth. Writer's block is nothing more than being stuck.
Skipping where I had been stuck allowed me to continue writing with renewed passion and motivation for the project.
The real aha, eye-opening moment occurred when I got to the end of that first draft. That's when I knew exactly what the skipped scene needed.
That book taught me, too, that inspiration and motivation occur after I've started typing. The more I typed, the more passionate I became about the project.
Getting unstuck requires action. Let me repeat that.
Getting unstuck requires action!
Here are some suggestions:
Getting stuck isn't about where you're writing, what tools you're using, or if your writing style is as a panster or plotter.
You're stuck because you need to learn more, to dig down deep on either or both. Do that and you'll be on the writing road again, happily pounding the keys.
Have you ever experienced writer's block? What did you do to overcome it?
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Dr. Diana Stout is an award-winning writer in multiple genres, a screenwriter, author, blogger, and writing coach who travels with a crowd: characters who each want their voice and folks giving voice from the other side.
Stuck for a few years on her novella series after publishing the first one, Shattered Dreams, last year three were published, one so far this year, with the last two soon to come.
So, she won't get stuck later, she's plotting out a historical Gothic romance due later this summer, and completing a writer's resource book so many have been asking for. Fortunately, since she's taught the subject in the past, there's no getting stuck on that project. You can learn more about Dr. Stout at her website, Sharpened Pencils Productions.
Do you struggle with procrastination? Check out her June 5-16, 2023 Master Class: Using (& Avoiding) Procrastination, limited to 25 people. Procrastinate on signing up and you could lose out!
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