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Archive for February, 2012

Writer’s Block

Copyright 2012 by Sherry Garland

Someone once asked me what I did to prevent writer’s block and I said I never had that ailment.  But later I began to think about it and realized that there are really two kinds of writer’s block.  The first kind is what I call “True” writer’s block.  The writer sits in front of the computer/typewriter/notepad all ready to work, but nothing comes out.  The page stays blank. That kind of writer’s block I have never had.  In fact, I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head that it would be impossible to write novels or picture books about all of them.  I have never had a “blank page” incident.

Then it occurred to me that there is a second kind of writer’s block, one in which the author wants to work on the project, but a million and one things get in the way.  Procrastination of the project, distraction by things like cleaning house, kids’ school projects, reading research books, checking e-mails, checking Facebook, making bookmarks or promotional items, revising your website, writing a blog and on and on.  Now, this is the kind of writer’s block that affects me every day.  Right now I am cleaning my office under the excuse that some distant relative may be in town next week and may actually peek into my room here. All I really need to do is close the door, but I’ve convinced myself that a clean office is more important than working on that novel.  I’m not exactly “blocked” but the end result is the same — a blank page.

Thirty-five years ago when I first started writing all I had to do was sit at the typewriter and write.  It was pure joy!  My only interruptions were phone calls and there was always the option of letting the answering machine take the call.  Computers are a great invention, but I swear, it now takes me three times longer to write a novel.  As soon as I turn on the computer I have to check e-mails, many of which are spam. Then I have to respond to crucial ones related to work, fan mail, author visit queries, check my website, work on the blog, etc.  This can take hours. Of course, I have to play a few video games to loosen up my fingers, right?

So, what can you do about writer’s block of either variety?  Here are some suggestions:

1) Acknowledge that you have a problem. If you are just dabbling at being a writer, it’s a part-time hobby, or you don’t really care if you ever get a book published, then you’re okay, you’ll write when you feel like it.  But if you are serious about having your book published or if you are already a published author, not being able to complete your manuscript is a serious problem.

2) Define the source for your writer’s block.  Depression is one of the most common causes. If you are severely depressed, everything you write looks like a piece of crap, you lose the ability to judge good from bad, you lose interest, have a fear of failure and the inability to concentrate.  Experts say that writers and artists in general are more prone to mental health issues than any other occupational group.  Even if you can’t seek professional care, don’t hold it in, talk to someone.  That’s why writers’ groups are great.

3) Correct your goals.  Some writers set unrealistic goals and when they can’t achieve them, they give up.  Writing a novel is hard, tedious work. It takes me one year or more to research and write a typical YA novel.  Most authors only write a few hours a day before the brain goes numb.   Several pages a day is a good output, especially if you have short chapters.  But fifty pages a day or three long chapters a day is almost impossible.   Yes, some authors are lean, mean writing machines, but others are slow plodders.  Allow yourself to work at your own pace, not that of some other author you’ve heard about. Maybe one page a day works best for you.  Start by making yourself sit down and write on your work in progress for five minutes a day at first, then build it up to a comfortable level. And when I say write, I do not include e-mails, blogs, or any other non-writing projects.

4) Correct your attitude.  You may feel that your first draft has to be perfect.  Wrong!  The first draft has been called “vomit on paper” for a good reason. It’s okay to spew out garbage for the first draft, knowing that it will be fixed with later revisions.  You may get stuck because you want your novel to win the next Pulitzer prize.  Nothing wrong with that goal, but be realistic.  Ask yourself if it’s better to write a good, readable novel that may not win major awards or whether it’s better to stare at the blank page because you don’t have “greatness” in you.

5) Change your plot or characters.  This is a true story: I started my career writing novels for adults.  After two published novels, I realized that I was not happy with the genre, so I quit writing about four years.  When I got back into writing, I rewrote one of my adult novel projects as a YA and it sold.  I switched to the YA and children’s genre and never looked back.  It was a much better fit for me.  So, if you’ve really lost interest in what you’re writing, try telling the same story from a different character’s point of view, from a different age category.  Make it a mystery or a thriller — do something to shake it up.  If you still can’t draw yourself into the story, maybe it’s time to put it aside and start something new.

Now stop reading blogs, and get back to your great American novel!!

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