Z is for Zilch, Otherwise Known as Writer’s Block

Even my laptop feels the pain of writer’s block.

Some days, no matter how hard you try, you sit down at the keyboard and…nothing happens. Nada. Zilch. You got nothin’. Your muse has hung the “gone fishin'” sign on your brain and your characters have all decided to take the day off. Welcome to the world of writer’s block.

Some writers claim there’s no such thing as writer’s block. They say you can get through any rough patch by simply continuing to write, even if what you write isn’t worth reading to your dog. I don’t agree. I’ve tried this approach and found it to be a waste of time and energy. All it results in is copious tears, cursing and threats to give up writing completely (often simultaneously).

To me, as frustrating as writer’s block is, it’s a signal that our minds need a break. In addition to writing, we’ve got jobs, families, hobbies and obligations, all of which compete with our creative energy for a share of our mental processes. Sometimes the well just runs dry. That’s when it’s best to be kind and give ourselves a break. Step away from your writing for a while and allow the block to pass. If you fight it, it will just get worse.

I’m sure this has all been said before, but here are a few things that have worked for me:

  1. Do something completely mindless. In the episode of The Big Bang Theory called “The Einstein Approximation,” Sheldon goes to work as a bus boy at The Cheesecake Factory in order to help him solve a physics problem he can’t crack. You can apply the same theory. All you have to do is something you don’t consciously need to think about. So clean your house, go for a drive along a familiar route or simply meditate. Rebooting your brain can be as simple as turning it off for a while.
  2. If you can’t stand to be away from your story, re-read what you’ve written (especially the stuff you wrote a while ago), go back to your outline or talk to your characters. Sometimes thinking out loud will do the trick. Or at least try to remember what made you want to write the story in the first place.
  3. Research. It’s not just for the pre-writing stage and you never know where a spark of inspiration may come from.
  4. Read other people’s books. I’ve had the experience where a single word in someone else’s novel was the key to breaking through writer’s block. Plus, every minute you spend reading you’re learning how to be a better writer.
  5. Listen to music. I’ve found movie scores to be very inspirational, especially since they’ve already got the rise and fall of emotions, tension and other elements of storytelling built in.
  6. When all else fails, exercise, then take a shower. I’m serious. You’ll get a rush of endorphins from the physical activity and then be relaxed by the shower. I get some of my best ideas in there; I think it’s the steam. Plus, you’ll have done something positive for your body and be clean and ready to write when you get out.

Well, we’ve reached the end of the alphabet, so this is the last post in the A to Z blogging challenge. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. I have a whole new respect for the bloggers who do it all in a single month. I’ll probably do it again eventually, but for now I’m happy to return to a weekly schedule. We’ll get back on track next Thursday with…well, I’m not sure which topic will be next. You’ll just have to come back next week to find out.

What about you? Do you think writer’s block is real? How do you get past it? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks.

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7 thoughts on “Z is for Zilch, Otherwise Known as Writer’s Block

  1. I don’t know if writer’s block is real or not. It certainly feels real! But I find the thing that blocks my writing most is being distracted, usually by family. Even if I just type out junk for two-hours straight, I consider it a warm-up or writing exercise, and at least I’ve been thinking about my story, and know which way NOT to go, so I don’t consider it a waste of time.

    • Hi Christie,

      Thanks for commenting. I completely agree on the power of distraction to derail your writing. I used to write at home, but I recently went to a coffee shop for the first time and was amazed at how much more I can get done without cats climbing on me, laundry beckoning, etc. Keep writing!

  2. It feels real to me too! I write novels and plan in detail. I get block when a part of the plot or he like doesn’t work. I sit there for ages in a daze, trying to work out how to deal with the sudden hiatus.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I can totally relate! I’m a planner as well, and when that planning goes off track, it takes a while to think of how to rescue it (or how to start over). That’s usually when I get up and do something else. I’m sorry to hear it happens to other people, too, but it’s also nice to not be alone!

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  4. Oh, my gosh – another shower person! Some of my most important thoughts about life, love, and writing projects HAPPEN IN THE SHOWER! For me, I think it’s about stepping into that quasi-sealed room (I have a door on mine instead of a Psycho curtain.)

    And I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the just-keep-writing trick – all I get for my effort is a reminder of the inevitable carpel tunnel and a “crap sandwich” to quote David O’B.

    • Power to the shower people! My shower has a door, too. I’ve never thought about it being semi-sealed off. You’re right. The feeling of seclusion may contribute to the inspiration flow. The Druids used seclusion as one of their methods to induce inspiration (along with darkness, which works for me, too). I actually just got another idea in there tonight!

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