Writer’s Block

26 Jul

by Kat Zhang

Today, folks, we’re going to talk about this.

Yes, that’s right, the dreaded Writer’s Block (yes, it’s important enough to be capitalized). I always thought its name didn’t accurate describe its…well, blockishness. Blocks are cute. They remind me of the primary colored wooden building blocks I had as a kid (no legos for me!). Instead of Writer’s Block, it should be…oh, I don’t know. Writer’s Great Wall of China. Except, you know, less culturally significant.

Some days, you just sit down and nothing happens. You write a sentence or two. You stop. You read over those sentences again. You sigh. You write another word. You pause. Hm…I think I’m hungry. Oh, look, a dust bunny. Have I gotten to the mail yet today?

No, no, focus. Okay. Let’s try again. You write another sentence. Oh, man, this sucks!

You erase everything.

Writer’s block can hit at the beginning of a project, in the middle, or at the very end. All are equally frustrating. So what do you do? First, let’s see what some more famous writers have to say on the subject…

Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Okay, so my takeaway from this is: focus on what you’re doing right this moment. You’re writing. You’re not querying (this project). You’re not selling, and you’re certainly not editing. I know marketability is important, but if worrying about whether or not this project will ever sell or get you an agent or reach the best sellers list is preventing you from even writing the piece in the first place…Well, then don’t think about any of those things. Remember, you can’t fix something that hasn’t been written yet.

Jeffery Deaver: “I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”

Are you stuck on a certain scene? Or maybe your characters need to overcome/get around a certain obstacle, and you just can’t figure out how they’re going to do it. Maybe you’re thinking about it the wrong way. I once spent days re-writing a certain passage, never quite getting it right. Finally, I realized I was doing the literary equivalent of forcing my characters over a mountain when there was a clear path going around it. I’d simply been too bent on doing it this way to see the other possibilities. So if one particular part is giving you trouble, try rethinking it entirely. Talk with your CP. Brainstorm.

J.G. Ballard: “All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day–even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.”

Nicholas Sparks“I write 2,000 words a day when I write. It sometimes takes three hours, it sometimes takes five.”

Set yourself a word count goal for each day–a reasonable one. Then MEET it! No matter what. Once you miss one day, it’s so much easier to miss another, and then another, and another… So try not to break your streak at all. Brag to your friends (the writer ones. the other ones might not care…) about how you’re gone a whole month now with 2000 or 1000 or 500 words a day.

And finally, my own advice? What helps me the most when absolutely nothing wants to stick to the paper? Here it is in list form (because you guys know I love lists).

1. Read an awesome book, preferably in the genre you’re trying to write. This works for me every time. Unfortunately, I’ve been on a YA literary contemp. kick lately, and my WIP is fantasy, but hey, it just means I’m racking up a whole lot of YA literary contemp. short stories…

2. Refocus on why you’re writing. Hopefully, you’re writing because you love to write. Forget about the whole darn publishing business for a while. Reclaim your happy place 😉 Just write. Write whatever you love. Write for yourself. Something is better than nothing. And something, unlike nothing, can edited later.

3. Surround yourself with other writers. If you don’t know many in real life, meet some online! This is yet another reason why critique partners are awesome. Hearing about other people’s writing successes–especially those of people I know personally–always inspires me.

Now get writing!

…you can start by telling us in the comments how YOU overcome Writer’s Block 😀


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She spends most of her free time either querying HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

27 Responses to “Writer’s Block”

  1. jesdavidson July 26, 2010 at 3:59 AM #

    Just strap yourself in and write. There’s no other way. I always have a target number of words I’m heading for. Don’t always make it, sometimes exceed it. Yippee! The trick for me seems to be to drop all thoughts, let my mind go loose and not keep second guessing myself. Worry about rewriting later, just get it down, get to the end.

    One book I’ve found invaluable is Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel. It’s packed with fantastic advice and support to help you through the maze of the creative process. Check out my series on The Creative Process at Free Your Pen..

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 8:25 AM #

      A target number of words helps me a lot, too 😀

  2. Olga July 26, 2010 at 7:30 AM #

    For me, going for a walk or a run or a hike is a Good Thing. Or reading about something utterly unrelated to whatever you’re working on. I have stacks and stacks of textbooks/guides/instruction manuals I’ve picked up at flea markets and thrift stores that have no reasonable value whatsoever.

    But when your two MCs are stuck in New York and you’re sick to death of the city, their sexual tension, and your own computer, it doesn’t hurt to read up on the Divi Aruba Mega Beach Resort. Nor does it hurt to fiddle with an old project. Revisiting old characters will guilt you into spending more time with the new ones.

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 8:26 AM #

      I love your stacks of non-fiction! I’d never even thought of that before.

      • Olga July 26, 2010 at 8:06 PM #

        I have a photographic history of Las Vegas, a book on Josephine and Napoleon (the last four years), a gourmet poultry cookbook, 100 Best All-Inclusive Resorts of the World, a book of baby names, a faerie encyclopedia, and a pocket guide to the royal bloodlines of the British isles.

        And all that just on my desk within arm’s reach. (there’s also three books of poems, one philosophy, and two fiction novels). For Wirter’s-Block-Bashing, I’d recommend something broken into chunks. Like cook books. Or the resorts one.

        That way you can take a ten-minute breather from your WIP and learn something interesting that may or may not be useful later.

        • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 9:01 PM #

          Wow, sounds like you’ve got quite the arsenal there! I can’t wait to settle into my new room for the coming semester. Then I’ll start building my own fortress against Writer’s Block!

  3. tymcon July 26, 2010 at 9:02 AM #

    I loveeeeeeeeee fantasy. So i’m going to give you some random books. Anyway: Garth Nix is pretty good. And so’s George rr martin, although he’s a bit graphic. Adrian Tchovisky is veryyyyyyy good. I completly misspelled his name, but meh. Just search the Shadow Apt series. Brandon Sanderson is pretty good, just don’t read Elantris, becuase it’s his first book. IT’s just not as good as his later ones. Oh and Robert Jordan (Although his women characters are a bit off). There’s a few more but i don’t want to be a nag. Oh and Kim Harrison. Although that’s urban fantasy. What sort of fantasy are you writing?
    I liked the animation it was funny. I had a recent attack of writers block. I was writing for a short story competition, and it was going really well. Then WHAM I got attacked. Sigh. There was six days left by the time i could write and i was only half way through, and i didn’t type it one computer yet, or edit. So I just stopped and started my current work. (Sigh) Thankfully I didn’t pay:P

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 10:38 AM #

      Thanks for all the suggestions! I love the Sabriel/Lireal/Abhorsen trilogy 😀
      I guess the fantasy I’m currently working on would be considered high fantasy, but it’s a lot more grounded, I think, than most high fantasy. There’s only one, very limited sort of “magic” (it has to do with plants. I know. Sounds lame. But it’s not, I swear!), and there are no epic battles 😛 (By the way, I know not all high fantasy has lots of magic and epic battles…)

      Glad you liked the animation! Writer’s block is a vicious little thing, isn’t it? 😀

      • tymcon July 26, 2010 at 10:53 AM #

        Strangely enough the best books seem to save the epic battles for sequels. Don’t know why. Mind you depends on what you define as epic battles. Like is it numbers, devestation, factions or outcome.
        I love plant magic. I was wriitng a story a while ago (I shelved it because i realised i’m just not good enough to do it justice) where the magic system involved drawing life energy from plants (and animals and humans, but that’s taboo and harder:P), and Kim Harrison has a very nifty plant magic system. I’m kind of ranting but it’s not really lame, you just have to know plants:P
        Well that’s my inane rant over.

  4. Melissa July 26, 2010 at 9:32 AM #

    This is a great post! I agree with Olga. Walking, running, biking, or just moving in general often gets ideas flowing for me. Sometimes it’s as simple as word vomitting anything out, writing about something silly just to get ideas out on paper.

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 10:34 AM #

      I know what you mean 🙂 Sometimes, the “silly” or “dumb” stuff I write just to get something down actually turns out okay–or at least the jumping block for something better!

  5. Victoria Dixon July 26, 2010 at 12:20 PM #

    Thanks, Kat! Your Deaver quote helps me a bit right now. I have spoken with my cps about a few ideas I have, but never enough that I’ve sat down and mapped out “WHAT I SHALL DO.” I did do that last time, now that I think about that long night fifteen years ago, so maybe that’s the trick. Right now, my mind’s swimming with too much crud to focus, but if I can find someone willing to help, that might do it. Thanks again!

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 12:35 PM #

      Glad you found it helpful! 😀

  6. Launo July 26, 2010 at 2:52 PM #

    I think WordPress ate my last comment. Anyways, this article was really helpful and encouraging! I get writer’s blocks so often that it’s ridiculous. I’ve found that writing a page in the morning before doing anything else really helps. The quotes were inspiring 😀
    Great blog & keep it up.

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 5:13 PM #

      I love quotes–from interviews, from nonfiction books, from novels. Especially from novels! (but that’s a topic for another day) My point was, I’m glad you found these quotes as inspiring as I did 🙂

  7. Madeleine July 26, 2010 at 4:36 PM #

    This is a fantastic post! (I’m going to tweet it.)

    How do I get through Writer’s Block/Great Wall of China? I set a goal, I meet it. What comes out might be crap, it might be more brilliant than I realize. But it’s there. On the page. In the book.

    I’m fourteen. I don’t have to go to work, but I have mornings just like everyone else. Write 500 words BEFORE work if you have no other gaps in your day. Whatever comes out, it’s there. That’s key.

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 5:17 PM #

      Thanks for tweeting it, Madeleine! And being fourteen by no means equals having more free time. Just because you’re not worrying about tax return forms yet doesn’t mean you don’t have a million other things to do!

      Yay for meeting all your goals 😀

  8. asacredwork July 26, 2010 at 5:46 PM #

    Amazing, life-changing post! And so well-timed for me to read. Thank you!

    • Kat Zhang July 26, 2010 at 7:32 PM #

      You’re welcome 😀

  9. Mary July 27, 2010 at 10:19 AM #

    When I had my worst go round with writer’s block, it wasn’t lack of ideas. It was trying to get it perfect on the first try. Perfectionism is ugly and it had me unable to do more than the most basic writing tasks for more than six months.
    So, now, my best strategies are to give myself permission to suck (it can be edited later) and to use a timer (usually for 5-10 minutes) – this doesn’t give me time to agonize over every word.

    • Kat Zhang July 27, 2010 at 4:48 PM #

      Perfectionism is a real problem for me sometimes, too. The timer method sounds great! I know I used to have word count races with people on the Nanowrimo forums way back when. Those were always fun and productive!

  10. Vanessa July 27, 2010 at 10:33 AM #

    Kat, I LOVE all the quotes you included!!!!

    • Kat Zhang July 27, 2010 at 4:48 PM #

      Thanks, Vanessa!

  11. A. Barone July 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM #

    Most of the time for me I find that when I get writer’s block and I can’t write a single word I have to switch mediums. If I’m typing then I handwrite for a little while and usually that helps to jump start my muse again.

    It doesn’t ALWAYS work however and sometimes I just need to bounce from project to project until something sticks.

    • Kat Zhang July 28, 2010 at 9:40 AM #

      Handwriting does help turn off my inner editor. However, sometimes I get lazy typing up the pages…:P

  12. Gabriela Da Silva July 28, 2010 at 12:40 PM #

    I’m terribly late to the party, but I’ll still comment 😉

    This was such a great post Kat! I loved the quotes you had… I find new respect for Ballard too. Writing while hungover? Now that’s a role model.

    I once had a writing teacher who told his students that, when they were unable to write, they should try to write BAD stuff in purpose, like the worse kind of writing you can do. Eventually, you’ll end up laughing your ass out at just hoow crappy it is, and that’ll help the actually good writing come through.

    Perhaps it’s a way of looking at your own mistakes from a comedic POV, but I’ve tried and it’s worked… a few times 😛

    For the moment, setting a daily word count goal is a marvelous idea, which I’m implementing *now*.

    • Kat Zhang July 28, 2010 at 1:07 PM #

      Never too late for this party, Gaby! 😀 Welcome in. I’m glad you enjoyed the posts and the quotes. Your teacher had a pretty cool idea 😛

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