|obligatory cheesy stock photo….ha, like people still use pen and paper|
I just can’t do it.
There is nothing to come out of me. The experiences that I drew inspiration from have been over-talked, over-analyzed and are simply dried up.
I don’t dream of Los Angeles anymore. I don’t lament in my twenty-something confusion anymore.
I simply live a normal and happy life in Austin, Texas.
This should be something that one can take inspiration from, right? A well-adjusted, healthy, and drama-free life?
Then why do I have writer’s block?
When these sort of times occur in my life, I try to recall a number of steps that help me get out of my rut. Though simple, the exercises below are sure-fire ways to help…and I probably won’t do any of them.
1.) Travel– From the act of getting somewhere to the people and places you see along the way, traveling is always a great way to inspire creativity. Not only do I feel mentally and physically better after getting out of my daily surroundings, but words and stories start circling my head and I can’t wait to get to a computer. If you can’t take a vacation, then get the hell out of town for the weekend. Get lost. Drive to somewhere you’ve never been. Some of my favorite writing was born out of traveling- my drive from Los Angeles to Austin, road trips through West Texas & New Mexico and the Oregon Coast with my mother, and my stint in Chicago. Hell, my trip to Chicago to work for 6 weeks on a TV pilot creatively inspired me so much that I ended up quitting my job in the film business and relocating to Austin. That’s the power of travel. New places create new narratives.
2.) Read– If traveling is not doable in the foreseeable future, then take yourself to another time & place via literature is the next best thing. Not only will reading introduce to new people, places and ideas, but will help you exercise your grammar and spelling skills. I try to read often, but I don’t nearly enough. I typically find that after I read a book, even for a little bit, what I write subsequently is instantly stronger. When I read David Sedaris or Sloane Crosley, I find that my humor is better. After reading a Bret Easton Ellis book, my writing is stark, symbolic, and romantic. There is a reason why literacy is important and we should all be better at taking time to read.
3.) Get Out of Your Comfort Zone– Like sleep overnight in a homeless shelter or drive to the Mexican border at 2AM. Though I don’t encourage you to do anything that will cost you your life, I’ve discovered that harrowing or uncomfortable moments create great storytelling. For me, renting a raw loft in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles kept me lying awake at night in a cold sweat and to deal with my terrors I sat in bed and wrote. Though I would never make the same mistake again, mistakes are made for a reason, and more often then not that is where some of the best writing comes from. Lessons. Without experience where are you as a writer?
4.) Join a Writers’ Group– A writers’ group is a great way to stay committed, have support and a second pair of eyes. Most large cities have writers’ groups of various kinds. In Austin, you can find writers’ group listing in the back of theAustin Chronicle. Craigslist might also be a good place. My best girlfriend in LA heads a screenwriter’s group and though it sounds very strict and disciplined, it’s exactly what some writers need. I know that if I had people every week who expected something from me I might be more prone to finishing my writing goals. Not only are you expected to keep up with your own writing, but you will have to read and give feedback to others. This is a great way to compare and evaluate how others write and what they are writing. Though writing is often a solitary experience, we often forget what the support and encouragement of others can do.
5.) Eliminate fear– Fear is probably the number one reason why people don’t write. I realized that I often don’t write because I feel that I have nothing interesting to say (ex. the intro to this post) or that my writing seems sloppy or forced on a particular day. I also don’t feel strong grammatically yet or that my sentences aren’t flowy and poetic enough. Or that I’m just a hack and that everyone will eventually point out my hackness. Truth be told, some of the posts that I hated writing and thought were crap ended up being some of people’s favorites. In other words- don’t trust your own instincts. They might be wrong because of fear. Don’t let fear take over your dreams. The ones that succeed are the ones that keep trying.
What are your steps to getting rid of writer’s block?
I rarely get writer's block because I'm always working on half a dozen different projects at once. It's funny how branding and copywriting projects feed my creative work. I'd typically tell people to choose one project and work on it until they have finished it, but the cross-pollination works for me. If I do get stuck, then I have several escape routes: live music, young adult fantasy fiction novels (a la Orson Scott Card and Ursula Le Guin), running, and flyfishing. As soon as I stop begging them, the ideas comes. They're like cats that way. Oh, and I always carry a notebook and write down ideas. It's easy to just start at the top of the list.
I've hit writer's block recently very hard. I'm happy for once in a long time but yeah now I'm like oh crap what do I write about. I used to be in a writer's group and it was great for a long while. It really gives you different views and it's a profitable experience. I try to do events so I have stuff to write about and getting out of my comfort zone too. I would love to drive to the mexican border at 2am just to say I did that. =P
I don't know if this is the kind of answer you're looking for, but when I get blocked I have to remind myself that taking a few days off to recharge is OK, and won't mean that no one will read my blog anymore.
Sometimes writing through a block helps, but sometimes you need to take a step back and stop trying to force it. Usually a few days to a week off will get you itching to write again.
I am examining this issue after more than six months of being unable to continue writing in my blog. So many things contributed to my decision to give it a break..my emotional instability, who wants to read about that? Ongoing efforts to find a job. Boring. Then I got a job, then i got thrown under the bus by my boss and laid off. Can't write about that. I have buried myself in books (my drug of choice) for the past month of unemployment, reading one great book after another (bliss) and while that has been great, I am still not inspired. Thanks for this post, I am looking forward to the comments here to help 'fix my flat tire' ..and get my proverbial bus back on the road.
@Austin- Good for you! That's wonderful. I guess maybe staying in a constant state of creating is helpful. You never get burned out?
@Melanie- Yep, that sounds exactly like me? Why did you leave the writer's group?
@Sassy- I think you're right. I'm still dealing with feeling guilty for not writing every day. It's getting better though. Thanks for sharing! Makes me feel better! 🙂
@Rose- Damn, Rose! I'd say that's pretty stressful. I have a hard time writing when I'm under a lot of life stress too. Have you even thought about writing with someone?
love love love love love this post… and this blog in general. long late night drives & cole porter standards tend to help with my WB… and/or reaching into my old shoebox (yes, literally a shoebox) of handwritten ideas on scrap pieces of paper. silly, but it works.
kisses from the girls at Pink Kisses!
Don't worry that your sentences aren't flowy and poetic. Everyone writes that way. I hate it. It comes across as contrived and sappy. Your own voice is good enough.
massive quantities of adderall and caffeine?
I've been getting some pretty bad post-SXSW writers block lately. Sometimes it takes waiting up until late at night when there are no other distractions, but mostly the way I attempt to beat it is to open up the word document or new blog post form and just write something. It's always easier to go back and edit. Just put down a sentence or two that you know you want to say and work around it. Or, you could just post about writers block and kill two birds with one stone.
AS A POET, THE ONLY RECOMMENDATION I CAN MAKE IS TO GO ON A LONG WALK. IN MY EXPERIENCE, IF THAT DOESN'T WORK, ALMOST NOTHING WILL & YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT IT OUT.
@Amy- Love Pink Kisses!
@Carol- Thanks, Carol. You're always my number one supporter. 😀
@CupcakeGlitter- But then I wouldn't be able to sit still long enough to write!!!
@Zach- Ha. That's what I ended up doing last night. Was writing, "I can't do this…I can't do this…" over and over and then was like, "I'm going to turn this into a post."
I actually teach writing sometimes and as far as I can tell, the answer is cut-ups. William S. Burroughs FTW.
I think "normal", "healthy" and "happy" are definitely inspiration killers. Anything that I get ready to write about seems so mundane and cheery compared to what I used to write about. I'm trying to dig up things I used to for inspiration, but… eh. For awhile, I felt awful for taking time away from the blog, but I quickly got over that. I like your suggestions for overcoming writer's block. Short of sinking back into deep depression mode (my source of material), I've got no ideas to offer. Best of luck!
I think writer's block only comes when you feel you HAVE to write something. Usually, if I can't write, I don't bother. Or, as one other commenter said, write a few different things at a time. Getting a different mind set can really help. It's great being a musician in some respects because, if I feel I can't work on one of my manuscripts (I try to have a couple going at once), then I'll write a song. And sometimes, that song will help me write something else. But really, there's no shame in not writing. You know you'll come back to it and it'll be stronger than ever.
honestly…i play with my boobs. also i think its my dream to one day make it on to your blog list.
I'm actually going through somewhat of a writer's block now. Happens every now and then. Nothing's going on for me to write about. I really like your last one. Eliminate your fears. I too am extremely conscious as a writer. It's to the point where I get scared to see my stuff because I think there's gonna be a bunch of errors. Traveling can definitely help. Works for me.
Writer's block is a lot like depression… it's self-perpetuating. It's easy to get sort of sucked down by the idea of writer's block, at least for me, like somehow it means I'm not good at what I do, that I'm not clever, I'm not interesting, that I don't deserve to do what I do. Because there's this idea that if you're good at something, you're always good at it, so when it doesn't come, it really be like quicksand [no one mentions quicksand anymore], where the more you struggle against it, the deeper and the faster you sink. A lot about writer's block is mental… you sort of have to let yourself off the hook. You have to realize not being inspired doesn't necessarily speak to your skill. I think a writer has a much better chance of getting unblocked if they don't let the block be something they have to overcome too.
Not everyone can wait, and I get that. Sometimes you have to produce. The writer's collective thing you mentioned, I've never really had the pleasure of being a part of one of those, never had one around, but I have some people I trust to read my stuff, who want to, not as many as I like, really, but a lot of them are college holdovers. People I had workshops with, who I know they know their stuff. A lot of times what follows is the "House M.D." method of writing, fielding ideas, shooting some stuff down [I guess it's probably not as much fun for other people], but just hearing what other people like or don't like about what I'm working on, hearing it talked about, it gets me working again. The project feels more real, pressing, exciting. Helps a lot.
I also have a tendency to dig up old work. It's hard for me, because though I try to do exercises everyday, I don't usually save that kind of stuff, maybe a line here or there, but most of it is pretty repetitive, and not worth keeping. But paper notes, or stuff that I started and kept for various reasons, things unfinished, close to finished, old projects that were committed to but never edited… sometimes going back to those, tweaking and fine tuning will get me in the right mindset to work on new things. And if not, at worst, I wind up with something old finally finished. So it's pretty helpful.
I don't know a lot about being happy… but I do think it's hasty to label happy times, drama-free times, times of contentment as a cause of writer's block. I think a lot of folks see that obsessiveness, that discontented nature a lot of writers have, and so being depressed or upset or unsettled about something become these obligatory things people feel they have to have to be good writers. But I think… I hope that it's possible to have a special someone in your life, to feel safe, to find some measure of success, and still be good at what you do, still be able to write. And that the discontent we relate to that mindset we feel we have to have to write, it's just that driven feeling, that dedication to improve, to be the best at what you do, to do the best by the thing you're writing that fosters that discontent.
Walks helps too. They've been suggested already, but they really do.
I had noticed a gradual evolution away from your earlier post-punk Dorthy-in-really-frikkin-weird-Oz themes toward bemused observations of life, the universe and everything. Not a bad thing. Just an indicator of something else emerging.
I write so much IRL – but all mundane techie crap – I couldn't maintain any consistency in blogging… until I embraced my love of the absurd and began writing about things I love but which I also find maddeningly absurd.
I've participated in writers groups before but never found them motivating for me (other than unavoidable editorial meetings).
But what does motivate me is listening to other people's experiences and incorporating their stories into blurred factional narratives. So far, so good. We'll see if I can maintain it as long as you have.
@Hipstercrite I certainly get stuck sometimes, but the writer's bloc that I used to encouter, in which I had no idea how to move forward and all the words in my mind evaporated like puddles on a hot day, well, I have been very intentional about establishing a writing rhythm that is robust and flexible enough to respond to those dry spells with a creative diversion.
Phew. That was a long sentence.
I think we have this notion that happiness is boring.
There is some truth to it. People love to watch a train wreck.
I've been struggling the last few days because I think I am going to get really boring if I just keep telling people I am happy here with The Aussie and love Melbourne. One day I wrote six posts before I had one I was willing to click "publish" on.