Oh God, Could This Be Writers’ Block?

Having prided myself on never having anything remotely resembling the dreaded “writers’ block” that always seemed to me to be the stuff of Hollywood and TV sitcoms, I was two weeks into a total dry period – and by that I mean, little to no writing save what I was doing on Facebook and Google + . The summer months I had determined would see me through the final edit of my novel and the completed full draft of a work of non-fiction, several book reviews and a few blogs a week were now 2/3 gone, and July would pass into early August in a few days. Yes, I had a few more chapters of non-fiction written. Yes, I had finished a blog or two. But the edit wasn’t even begun, and the writing I expected to be well underway had never really fallen into a daily rhythm.

“Oh God,” I thought, “could this be writers’ block?”

I’ve gone through stretches like this before. There have been times when I felt as though I was moving backward, not thinking clearly, needing to sit and stare and think and stare some more….and holy cripes!…this IS writers’ block! Had I known, I would have started to do….well, something, about it. I would, at least, have read for hundreds of hours on line about the cures. I would have talked to other writers and asked their advice. I would have done visualizing exercises around being happily productive at my computer.

Finally having had this realization, I’ve begun thinking back through the summer months that have passed me by, to all the things I DID do which clearly have not helped to increase productivity. It might help others if I compile the list as a “what NOT to do when you have writers’ block” advice blog. So here goes.

1. Don’t sit around in your workout clothes day after day — those raggedy ones you’ve had in your dresser drawer since, well we won’t say for how many years, but let’s say Bill Clinton was still in The White House — telling yourself that you’ll workout someday soon. Get up, take a shower, put on some real clothes, comb your hair, use the toothbrush. From now on, when you put on the workout clothes, actually DO the workout.

2. Don’t eat or drink more than a sane person does. And by this I don’t only mean, “Don’t drink like Hemingway or Fitzgerald,” but don’t drink pots of coffee, or eat entire chocolate layer cakes in one sitting, or hoover 2 lb. containers of wasabi peas. In fact, what I mean here, is don’t eat a lot of your meals alone, squirreled away as if you are on a stake-out. Why? Because it will make you sick, for one thing. You’ll also feel like crap, and probably look like crap. Most important, it effects your ability to think. Send out some texts or emails or whatever form of communication you find most appropriate and make some plans to meet friends, have lunch, go to a happy hour. That will re-boot your eating habits. Next, go grocery shopping for real food, and make normal meals, like a human. No more pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No more running to the corner sandwich shop for cheesesteaks and onion rings. Buy real food – organic if possible, because the agri-business companies don’t care if you die, just so long as they are turning a profit.

3. Turn off the TV. I am a huge Aaron Sorkin fan, but 400 hours of West Wing is overkill. So is watching 48 episodes of Sons & Daughters in three days. The same goes for videogames. Or Facebook. Just stop it. Try music instead. Or silence.

4. Stop keeping erratic hours. Staying up until 4 am isn’t going to help. Sleeping until noon won’t either. Falling asleep on the couch or that big comfy chair while watching all that TV (see #3 above) is going to completely screw up your sense of sleep time vs. work time vs. relaxation time. Change the sheets on your bed, then sleep in it. Set a regular bed time, a regular wake time. Establish better patterns for your day-time and night-tine activities. Assign certain hours of the day as work hours — so that “work” time doesn’t seep into every waking hour. This is especially important when you are blocked, since with that block, “work” time doesn’t end EVER because you aren’t working at ALL. “Work” time becomes “getting ready to work time”, or “trying to work time,” but work never gets done. Write up a chart if you need to, and stick to it. Remember those little red, and silver, and gold stars you got in kindergarten when you achieved something? Buy them and put them on the chart each time you accomplish something. We writers need positive feedback any way we can find it…..keeps us from consoling ourselves with that chocolate cake.

5. Don’t underestimate the healing and inspiration to be found in art. Read some good books. Walk through an art museum. Head out to the theatre. Go to a concert. You’ll be getting yourself away from the TV, away from the chocolate cake and wasabi peas. You’ll be forced to shed the Clinton-era workout clothes, and shower. You might even interact with a few other humans. Refreshed and inspired, you might find that your own desire to create is re-invigorated.

You might not find yourself writing reams of Shakespearean prose immediately, but putting an end to the avoidance, the wallowing, the over-indulgences will help more than you imagine. I’m curious to hear from you: what are some of YOUR methods of getting yourself back on track, of writing steadily? I welcome your comments!


5 comments on “Oh God, Could This Be Writers’ Block?

  1. I hit a dry patch and read books about writing to find an answer. After reading Bird by Bird, I follow the advice of Anne Lamott. I sit in the same chair every day for the same amount of time and write. There’s no avoiding. It doesn’t matter what I write. The only thing that matters is that I write.

  2. I use Morning Pages as directed by the Artist’s Wayby Julia Cameron.

  3. I use Morning Pages as directed by the Artist’s Wayby Julia Cameron.

  4. Great stuff, Debra Leigh.
    I had a similar epiphany about writer’s block; thought it was something to happened only to other people, never to me. My solution was so similar to yours – I summed it up as “get my head out of the cave”. No point fretting about not sitting at the keyboard if sitting at the keyboard means big blanks on both sides of the eyelids. The two things one needs for success (however one chooses to measure success) are: Breathe, and Do something.

  5. My experience is the best killer of a writer’s block is a deadline (not that I usually make them). When the bills pile up and you’re not getting a check until the editor has the novel, that realization usually spurs me on.

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