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Writer's Library


The Ideas of March

When I sold my first book, I was ecstatic -- until I hit a writer's block that lasted for a year and a half. Now that I've experienced it, I know that it's both real and painful for a lot of writers. It's not that you can't write -- you show up to the page, you type a few sentences or a few pages, then you look it over and realize there's no story there, no heat, no energy of any kind. You don't know why or how this happens, and the more pressure you put on yourself to jump back up to the level at which you were, the more your talent seems to degrade. After a while, you don't even want to put yourself through the disappointment of trying. At least, that's what happened to me.

There are ways out of it, however. For those of you who feel 'stuck,' I hope this helps.

First of all, be gentle on yourself.

Don't tell yourself that writer's blocks are silly or stupid. Don't look at your favorite prolific writers and say 'they never get writer's block!' (In fact, don't compare yourself to your favorite writers at this point-- not what they're writing, and especially not how much they're making.) Be kind. It's just a phase. You burned out a little -- your creative well is empty, and it'll take some time to get that back. Most of all, be around supportive people. People who are pushing you and who don't believe blocks exist will only make you feel worse.

Encourage your creativity.

The book The Artist's Way is all about getting creatively unblocked. Although it's not for everyone, it does have one interesting suggestion: Once a week, go on an 'Artist's Date.' That's something fun, almost childlike and it has to be alone. You can go browse in a used bookstore, or go to a movie alone, or spend time doodling in a park. Buy glitter and crayons and glue, and fiddle around. The bottom line is, your creative subconscious works best when you give it fuel and then get out of its way.

Try a new approach.

If you're a seat-of-the-pants writer, then you might try outlining: it's sort of like sneaking up on your idea, rather than plunging right into it, and consequently getting stuck in chapter 1, scene 1. Or, if you're a die-hard plotter, don't let the need to get all the details right paralyze you. Go straight for some pages of draft, and see if your subconscious is trying to tell you something.

Give yourself permission to write poorly. This probably seems obvious, but it's valuable. When you're in a writer's block, your perception is all messed up: what you think is the worst drivel in existence is probably not as bad as you think. You just need to get away from it. The important part is getting your writing motor started again. The fine-tuning will come later. One way I've found, which can be a little stressful but worth it, is trying Book-in-a-Week. There is an online group where you sign up for the BIAW, and during the first week of the month, you e-mail what your page count is every day. Number of pages is more important at this point than quality. And you might find that what you're writing is better than you think!

About Cathy Yardley

Cathy Yardley

I didn’t plan to be a writer. But, like the quote says — if you want to be a writer, try being anything else.

My life is a portrait of all the “anything elses” before I came to my senses. I graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a double major in Art History and Mass Communications. I moved to L.A. with the full intention of figuring out what job I wanted to do, doing it until I could retire, and only then seriously considering writing a novel. Why? Because real people didn’t write books for a living. (Stephen King , Nora Roberts, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, they’re not real people. In fact, I don’t think they’re human. Haven’t you wondered?)