Taking on the Beast Called Writers Block

Writer’s Block.

No no, don’t look away, or squeal in fright.  Just look at it.  Stare at it.  Brace yourself.  It can smell your fear.

Writer’s Block.

I spent a moment last night trying to decide how I got over writers block.  It’s not that I was blocked.  I mean, I’m sort of blocked at the moment, but it’s more like a rest, from completing The Dark Days.  At the moment, I’m focusing on other things, like running and getting the blog, twitter, and facebook page appropriately into the limelight.

But oh, I know you, writer’s block. I see you lurking back there.  Some people describe writers block like a big old rock, or a wall in their path, that they’re bashing their head against.

For instance, Michael.

Some people see it as a murky road where their feet get stuck in the mud and they get eaten by bogs (I FOUND AN EXCUSE!).


Personally, writer’s block is much more like a smog.  A big black cloud of ick and meh which descends upon me.  Often, it sings in Tim Curry’s voice.  Sadly, I do not have a dancing tree-growing fairy to help me, but I do have a bit of an arsenal.  Some of it is obvious, some of it not as much.

My Writer's Block is pretty scary.

Music.  Music is an obvious one, in my book, but maybe not so much in other people’s.  While it isn’t exactly the inspiration for much, it is a road on which my words can coast from my brain (where things are awfully loud) to the page (where things are a little quieter).  Think of music as the pensive to my writerly thoughts (except with less creepy white floating stuff).  It gives me a way to concentrate on what I know is already there.

Coffee.  Ok.  I admit.  Coffee is not always a writer’s drink of choice, but I have built coffee to the point of being a classical conditioning signal.  You can do this with any drink/food/snack.  Do you remember in basic psychology when they told you about the guy (Pavlov, that is) who rang a bell and fed the dogs to encourage salivation – and after awhile all he had to do was ring the bell and the dogs would salivate?

Except the bell is coffee and the dog is me.

Please don’t think I’m comparing anyone to a dog here, but if you take your snack of choice, and apply it while saying “It is now time to work” and then you actually work eventually, simply having the snack will let you focus on your work.  Straight black coffee (or, in Korea,an  Americano) does this for me.  So while I am not comparing you to a dog, I am suggesting that you classically condition yourself in a similar manner.  Is that bad?  Sorry.

Outlines.  Some people don’t like outlines.  I’m using outlines in the very vaguest sense of the word.  My outlines have gone from beautiful typed out classical outlines to bullet points in a journal.  Either way, to prevent writers block, write something which gives the general curve of the story.  The point isn’t to tell the story: it’s to make sure you always have a place to go.  Remember, the rainbow doesn’t have to be beautiful the first time around.  It just has to have the colors and a curvy kind of impression.  The second and third draft are for the prettiness.

Bottom image from http://www.create-a-mural.com/catalog/item/1724567/1939334.htm

Remember the rainbows! (*cue the reading rainbow song*)

My Husband.  No, I’m not telling you to go off and get hitched.  Actually, I’m telling you to go find someone you trust.  Now.  Buy them lunch.  That should be enough to earn a few minutes to an hour of a sound board.  They don’t even need to talk, or pay attention.  They just need to look at you earnestly, and maybe nod once in awhile until you can talk yourself out.  Start by telling them where you are.  Then tell them where you’d like to go.  Then tell them the problems with that.  If you are just too shy to to this, then take out a sheet of paper and write it to yourself:  Where am I?  What is everyone doing now?  Where do I need people to be?  What do I need them to be doing?  How do I get them there?  Somewhere in there, you will shake loose an idea.  Occasionally, you will be forced to leave your lunch partner with a hurried “thanksIgottagowritethisdown!”  Blessedly, if your lunch partner is also your writing partner and/or your husband, he will understand.

DO IT ANYWAY.  (If I’ve been spending too much time on the internet, this become significantly more profane.)  Sometimes, and I am sad to say this, you just have to sit down and say “well, shoot.  This is going to suck.  I’m just going to have to wade through.”  Usually, this is after everything else has failed.  I get stuck in this on big fight scenes.  (You remember the K-pop and Rainbows post?  Yeah, that’s what was happening there.)  This is where the bog metaphor is particularly good.  You must put on your galoshes, and just go.  

Bonus if your galoshes have a peacock feather on them.

When plagued by writer’s block, unless it magically goes away, you will despise every word you put to the paper.  You will throw a temper tantrum.  Your rage will be as to a great hurricane of fire riddled with lightning, biting insects, and evil smog that sings like Tim Curry.  But put on your big girl/boy panties, tell yourself you’re a writer and just do it.  No whining.  Yes, even if you lose your shoes and get eaten by the bog.  (Thanks to E.P. Beamount)

(Also, get on twitter and share some Beast-slaying tips!  Hashtag #takingonthebeast – I’ll be there!)

About Kaitlin

Kaitlin and Michael are co-authors of The Athele Series. They met in summer of 2006 and married in fall of 2009. They both teach English in South Korea. In his free time, Michael writes, plays video games, plays DnD, and idly contemplates world domination. In her free time, Kaitlin writes, runs, dances, and feeds her 'oo-shiny!' complex.

25 thoughts on “Taking on the Beast Called Writers Block

  1. alphawriter says:

    Writer’s block is no fun. I had it for nearly 8 months. Mine was to the point where I sat down to writer and fell asleep in about 1 minute. To get over it I would do one word. Then another the next day until I was doing a page. Now I do about 10 to 12 pages within an hour. Book is almost done, but needs heavy editing. But I am writing.

    I think ‘don’t quote me on this’ to get over writing just write. Everything else will follow.

  2. subtlekate says:

    I can’t say I’ve had a block as such, but I suppose I give myself a by pass before I get there. I get out of the house, go to a cafe, watch people moving around, listen to them talking and write about it and then something comes of it and I can go home and settle in again. Until the next time.
    Great post :)

  3. junglemonkee says:

    When I’m stuck, I take a couple of my characters (preferably two who hate each other) and put them into a room together. What do they have to say? What are they not saying? Do they pretend to be nice to each other while seething, or do they start duking it out? Sometimes I’m surprised at how they behave, and it takes the story I should be writing to somewhere new & cool.

  4. Why am I all of a sudden salivating? Seriously nice ideas and funny:)

  5. I like the Pavlov Writer idea. I need to get hooked on coffee ASAP!

    My current method to fighting writer’s block is pretty passive. I think it out. In the shower, while reading something else, while trying to count sheep at night. Sometimes an actual writing break (just contemplating) works, and sometimes it takes far too long…in that case it might be time for coffee!

    You mentioned Tim Curry and this popped into my head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmG80v473AI

    I apologize in advance.

  6. Bethie says:

    Okay, so all I got from this was:
    -I need a husband.
    -Reaaaading raaaainboooow!

    I jest. :P But those were the two main things. ;)

  7. Sonia Lal says:

    I like the smog analogy. And the bog one, too. The bog one works best for me; I can see the path, but get stuck along the way. It’s not fun.

  8. mj monaghan says:

    Really nicely written, Kaitlin!

  9. Hey, Kaitlin, thanks for commenting over at my blog! Love yours: mutual admiration society, hey! Judging by the length of this post, writers block is not a problem for you! Just saying…! :-)
    And I’m on twitter and I need me some tweeps (and follow back!) so here you go: @lisemcclendon. See you in the ether!

    • Kaitlin says:

      I’ll admit, I don’t have *too* much trouble with writer’s block. It’s just a matter of getting down to it and doing it these days, with all the other insanity!

  10. [...] of the blogs I follow did a post on tackling writer’s block. It was a great post, and I suggest you read it if you’ve ever had writer’s block. [...]

  11. kathils says:

    Great post. Coffee is a staple of life, of course we need that! Try to take my coffee, I will bite. :) When I’m stuck I tend to pace, and talk to myself, and sometimes fall into acting out the scene I’m stuck on. Which makes me grateful we don’t have neighbors close by.

  12. Great post thanks. I really enjoyed it very much.

    Love writing? We would love for you to join us!

    Writers Wanted

  13. Love this. Very well executed. I have always thought “writer’s block” was more of too many contending emotions and ideas battling to the point that you cannot draw focus to just ONE… The battle ensues such extremities that it is as intense as a bog… Thus the need to draw the musings like a charmer draws the snake from the basket. You pointed out all but one of my tricks for charming my ideas. One of my favorites is to pop in a movie. It either has to be one known to evoke strong emotion or a newbie that is critically acclaimed. Either way I always seem to write pages of things after. I also steal songs from those movies and loop on my laptop to keep the charm going till done. That is just me, to each their own!

  14. Novel Girl says:

    I love this take on writer’s block. This must be the most popular topic for writing blogs (I admit, I’m guilty), but you make it sound fresh.

    I promise I won’t steal anyone’s husband, but I do follow some of the tips you list:
    - I love tea/coffee; it’s always with me when I’m writing. let’s hope I don’t OD
    - I love breaking up my writing with music. Sometimes the tone, the words and/or the melody inspire me or put me in the right frame of mind if I have been too stressed out.
    - I do outline at some point. If a new idea has hit me, I might launch into it, but when I slow down, or at some other point, I like to plan/outline so that I don’t lose my way

    Thanks for listening to my rant. I might go now.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Great list, and thanks for dropping by! Hey, want to help me start a trend on twitter? :) Off hand I can’t remember if you’ve got one, but I’ll check you out and add you!

  15. epbeaumont says:

    Thank you for the tribute! PS where is that bog located? It’s gorgeous.

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