I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writer’s block, by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel.
‘Fallow Times: Dealing With Writer’s Block’
If there is anything a writer fears more than a crashed hard drive, it’s writer’s block. The terror of one day sitting down, poising our fingers over the keyboard, and nothing coming out is enough to send most writers back to bed.
Sometimes, we sabotage ourselves, simply by not sitting down at our computers and putting finger to keyboard. Yesterday, I suddenly decided I just had to retile my bathroom floor; I spent the entire day on the floor, cutting tile, putting it down, fussing to make sure it was laid with the precision of a professional floor tiler. I asked some of my writer friends about their procrastination activities. One said she spent hours ironing her girls’ school uniforms. Another spent hours repainting baseboards. A third invited her grandchildren over for a sleepover so she’d have to focus on them rather than her writing.
That is procrastination, not writer’s block. The cure for that is to schedule a day once a week or so to do projects like these, and the other days, put your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keyboard and write!
But what if you are where you are supposed to be, at your desk, fingers poised, and not one word flows from your brain to the keyboard? What if you really are frozen, unable to write?
Believe it or not, this is okay. In fact, it’s a necessary part of being a writer. I don’t believe in writer’s block. When we can’t tap our ideas, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any. It means they aren’t ripe yet; they aren’t ready for birth. Any organic gardener will tell you fallow times are just as crucial to a good harvest as growing times. The soil needs to rest, to prepare itself for the next growing season. Your creative imagination is exactly the same. It needs to lie fallow and rest between crops of good stories. Winter of the mind is as crucial to a story as winter of the earth is to a good harvest.
That’s all very well and good, you may be thinking, but what if I’ve been in a fallow time for too long? How can I jump-start my ideas?
Different methods work for different people. What one writer swears is the cure for writer’s block, another writer will say doesn’t help at all. This list of suggestions is just that—a list of suggestions. If one trick doesn’t work for you, try another.
- Change your routine. I’m a morning person. I can happily awaken at 5:00 a.m., fix a cup of coffee, and write until noon. Then, at exactly 12:02 p.m., my brain turns to mush and I can’t write any longer. I have writer friends whose schedules are just the opposite. They sleep until noon and write into the wee hours of the night. If you’re blocked, shake up your routine. Try writing in the morning if you’re a night owl, or writing at night if you’re like me, a morning person.
- Write something different. Yes, you’re working on your masterpiece of a novel, the one that is sure to be a best seller. But if you’re blocked, you aren’t working on it, are you? Instead, try writing a poem, a limerick, a haiku. Write a love letter to your partner. Write a song. Don’t worry if it’s good or not. Good isn’t the issue—writing is. It’s very possible that the simple act of putting pen to paper (or keystroke to keyboard) is all you’ll need to jump start your creative imagination.
- Take a walk. Or, go to the gym. Play tennis, or golf. Sometimes our brains don’t work because we’ve spent so many hours hunched over our computers our bodies are turning into piles of mashed potatoes. A little exercise will lift your spirits, tone your body, and give your creativity a jolt.
- Play with toys. Yup, toys. I hereby give you permission to put playthings on your desk. If you don’t have any toys, go to the store and buy some. The reasoning behind this is quite simple. Think for a moment: who are the most creative people you know? Children, of course. Remember as a child casting aside your newly unwrapped holiday presents to turn the box into a spaceship? How many of you made forts from your parents’ dining room chairs? Playing with toys will bring out your inner child. Your creative, inner child. When I taught fiction writing workshops, this was always a favorite assignment of my students: to go out and buy toys for themselves!
- Practice some other creative art. This is similar to the toy thing, and works well for people who are so grown up they can’t find their inner child anymore. (But that isn’t you, is it? I didn’t think so.) Your creative nature is like your health. It needs to be fed and nurtured. Carrots are a healthy food, but your body wouldn’t stay healthy for very long if you ate only carrots, would it? The same is true for your creative nature. Feed it only one food—fiction writing, in most of our cases—and that creative nature will grow unhealthy. To keep it fit, sculpt clay, paint with watercolors, or take up jewelry making. Make a collage. It doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as it is new to you and creative. It doesn’t have to be very good; no one has to see it but you. I am partial to making little statues and figurines out of Sculpey clay, and to making jewelry from semi-precious stones. But sometimes I dabble in watercolors, silk dyeing, and book making. Every time I finish an art project, I feel like I can return to my computer and take on the world.
- Go ahead and write crap. If you really, truly don’t want to do anything other than work on your novel, by all means, sit at your computer and write crap. It is easier to fix bad writing than it is to create something from nothing. It could be that writing crap will wake up your muse enough to make her indignant and come rushing back to help you dig yourself out of that big pile.
All writers experience fallow times at one point or another; anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest with you. If you’re in a fallow time, enjoy it. Make notes about what is going on around you; go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations. Who knows? You may overhear something that you can use. Remember, for writers, everything is research, everything is material for stories.
You will survive your fallow time. In the long run, it just may make you a better writer.
Thank you so much Smoky. I’m off now… to go and write.
Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is the author of two novels, On the Choptank Shores and The Cabin; a recently-released collection of stories,Short Story Collection Vol. 1; and two nonfiction books on writing which have recently been combined into one book, Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. She is the author of Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs celebrating the natural world. All her books are published by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Smoky lives in California with her husband Scott (a college music professor and classical guitarist), her daughter (a college student and actress), and a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains and deserts, splashing in tide pools, and resisting the urge to speak in haiku.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).