Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 7, 2023

What to Do When Writer’s Block Shifts Shapes

by Stefan Emunds

Note: To avoid confusing readers, the author of these articles avoided the alternation of she and her and he and him. Instead, he uses the nonexclusive she and her to mean writer and reader.

This is the sixth and last article of the article series The Yin and Yang Relationship Between Psychology and StorytellingThe first article is about reader investment and reader engagement. The second article explains how to create story experiences that feel real to life. The third article shows how to tap into your readers' subconsciousness and engage them in your story. The fourth article dives into characters’ goals, motivations, wants, needs, and objects of desires. The fifth article covers psychological engineering, aka characterization.

This article has a closer look at the writer’s block, which can haunt writers in different shapes and forms.

A Shapeshifting Block

The writer’s block can appear in different shapes and forms. Often, it feels like a wall that blocks the author’s creative pursuit. That’s where it got its name from. But it is also the void of a blank page that grins at the author. Or a cul-de-sac — when an author wrote herself into a tight corner. Or a scarecrow.

This article covers the following shapes of writer’s block:

  • Lack of inspiration
  • The resistance of the writing crafts
  • Lack of energy
  • Inner demons
  • Distractions

A) How to Deal with a Lack of Inspiration

Does the Muse sometimes ignore your pleas for inspiration? First thing: Don’t panic. Sometimes, the Muse plays hard to get.

The thing is, we can’t hunt down inspirations. It’s a fishing business. So, cast your creative fishing rod into the deep sea of your mind, sit back, relax, have a tea, and wait.

Cultivating the Muse

Inspirations like to appear at odd times, e.g., during a walk or under the shower. That’s because our mind relaxes at such times, our thoughts calm down, and the Muse has a chance to voice herself.

Did you know that the ancient Greek worshipped nine Muses? The most famous Muse is Calliope, the oldest and wisest. She presides over eloquence and epic poetry. She is the Muse of the eighth writing craft: Prose.

On Mount Helicon in Boeotia, the Greek worshiped three Muses: Melete (meditation), Mneme (memory) and Aoede (lyrics).

We need to relax and wait for inspirations, but there are a few helpful fishing techniques. Inspirations come more frequently, if we write every day, read and research, go for a walk, and meditate.

Finding Ways to Meditate

The common purpose of meditation is to fish for spiritual revelations, but we can use it for writing too.

Here is the formula for creative meditation:

Creative meditation = relaxation + focus + receptivity.

Simultaneous focus on a writing task and receptivity to the Muse is a skill. Why don’t you try this out? Sit comfortably, relax, breathe deeply, and close your eyes. Focus on your writing task at hand and ask the Muse to inspire you.

The more poignant the focus, the better. A question is a poignant focus, like What hook should I put at the end of this chapter?

The longer you work with Melete and practice creative meditation, the easier and more frequent ideas will come to you. A great time to fish for inspirations is the morning — between waking up and breakfast.

Other Ways to Get to a Meditative State of Mind

Walking can put the mind into a semi-meditative state, but depending on the environment, it may be difficult to focus on a particular question. In this case, it’s easier to just let thoughts and images stream in. Bring a smartphone to make notes, inspirations can be as fleeting as dreams.

Try this too: Write for thirty minutes and walk up and down your office. Your mind will continue to come up with ideas, images, and thoughts related to your writing session.

Reading and research can open the mind to inspirations too. That’s where the Muse Mneme (memory) comes in.

Last but not least, writing every day appeals to the Muse. Steven Pressfield said, “This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

Do you want to try out a meditation that gets you into the writing flow? Check out this YouTube video.

B) How to Deal With the Resistance of the Writing Crafts

We just dealt with the creative block, now we deal with the craft block.

Crafting is not creativity, crafting is formation. Musicians are craftsmen, composer are creators. Only composers bring something new into this world.

You’re both a creator (an author) and a craftsman (a writer).

Crafting is tedious, for example, outlining a story, designing a climax, profiling a character, and inventing a magic system. If you struggle with a particular writing craft, why don’t you practice that craft? Read how-to books, take courses, and plough through novels that excel at the writing craft you wish to hone.

Part of crafting is to make decisions, e.g., what genre and narrative frame to choose. We don’t like to make decisions. Decisions make us accountable. But unmade decisions can turn into writing blocks. Take your time to make decisions, but make them.

Advanced writer tip: When you struggle to craft a scene, change irrelevant items, such as the setting, the time, the location, or the weather. Or add a character and see if she adds conflict or other dynamics.

C) Why Authors Need to be Physically and Mentally Fit

The mind is a muscle. Writing is a muscle.

  • We build muscles through habitual actions. For instance, we build up biceps by lifting weights.
  • Habits are fly wheels. Once established, they get a life on their own. That’s why many writers swear by writing a set number of hours a day at the same time.
  • The eyes and the visual cortex are the writer's Achilles’ heel. We use them for many things, to write, read, watch TV, and do other activities that require the visual sense. What about unburdening your eyes? For instance, you can use a text-to-speech app to read a text to you, rather than reading it yourself.  

The Importance of a Healthy Mind-Body Connection

Mens sana in corpore sano. — A Roman saying

This saying means healthy mind in a healthy body. It does not imply a causality. Mind and body have their own energies, and we need to keep them fit on their own terms.

We all know how to keep our bodies fit, but what about our minds? Meditation takes the mind to the gym, in particular, focus meditation.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to treat our minds like professional marathon runners treat their bodies.

And we need to give our minds time to relax and regenerate. Five to ten-minute mindful meditations scattered throughout the day work wonders.

D) The Writers’ Inner Demons

Emotions can block writers. Fear is the most common blocker, the fear of failure, the fear of critique, and, the worst of all: the fear of mediocrity.

Tips for Reading Reviews

To overcome the fear of critique, we better grow a thick skin and/or avoid reading reviews.

What about finding friendly reviewers? They will point out your manuscript’s weaknesses without putting you down. You can get such hedged feedbackfrom other writers, beta readers, and editors.

Tips for Your Inner Critic

Do you have that critical voice in your head, which is in the business of belittling you? Many writers suffer from that inner demon. And according to famous writers, success doesn’t silence that jerk.

Confidence defeats the critical voice. We gain confidence through accomplishments. Why don’t you become a hunter and gatherer of accomplishments? Every accomplishment, however small — like completing a scene — grows confidence and pacifies that critical voice.

E) Distractions

The enemies of the Muses are the Sirens. Sirens are humanlike beings with charming voices, who lure travelers into their deaths.

The sirens of writers are distractions, which they encounter on the long journeys of their minds. A writer’s death is procrastination.

Mind distraction is the opposite of focus, which we gain through the practice of creating meditation. Practicing creative meditation keeps the Sirens away. 

The Eight Crafts of Writing

This article is written with the eight writing crafts in mind. The eight writing crafts are:

  • Big Idea (aka theme)
  • Genre
  • Narrative
  • Story Outline (aka plotting)
  • Characterization
  • World Building
  • Scene Structure
  • Prose (aka line-by-line writing)

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I hope you enjoyed this article about the shapeshifting writer’s block. Please share the ways and shapes that describe how writer’s block appeared to you?

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About Stephan


Stefan Emunds is the author of The Eight Crafts of Writing. He writes inspirational non-fiction and visionary fiction stories and runs an online inspiration and enlightenment workshop. Stefan was born in Germany and enjoyed two years backpacking in Australia, New Zealand, and South-East Asia in his early twenties. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as a business development manager in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. At the moment, he lives with his son in the Philippines.

8 comments on “What to Do When Writer’s Block Shifts Shapes”

  1. This was a timely blog for me as I am creatively blocked for several of these reasons: inner critic and fear of mediocrity. I'm going to bookmark this and explore the meditation and other tips for coping. I am too good at filling my time with "other necessary tasks."

  2. Thank you, Stefan!
    I especially appreciate your suggestion to make changes to the setting, time, location, weather, or add a character when struggling with a scene. Fantastic idea.

  3. Hi Stefan,
    I appreciate this post on self-care and keeping our top writing tool (ourselves) in good shape. It's always a good time to check in with our writerly selves.

    Thanks!
    Kris

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