8th Day, Write or Wrong: Writer's Block

HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
edited January 28 in Limbo
Although not creative writing in the normal sense, I do write for a living. Not to get into details (because I am a shy hedgehog) but I do legal writing.

And today I am struggling with writer's block. I know generally what I want to say, I know where I want it to go, but I spent the better part of the afternoon staring at the screen trying to get the words to fall into place. Of course, part of that may be that the new Ship has launched and I'd rather be playing on the brand new shuffleboard court...but I suspect I am using that as an excuse.

So how do you all battle writer's block?

Comments

  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    I find the power of a deadline inspiring - that, and my need to earn a living.

    There was a science fiction writer (Niven? Pournelle?) who used to do his writing on a bare-bones computer in a room with no distractions, including no internet connection. Some days it feels as though that's what's needed. And when I'm really having a hard time concentrating on writing, I turn off my phone and put it in another room. (Get thee behind me, Words with Friends.)

    Rossweisse // I'm not dead yet
  • In 2013 I committed to writing a saint-a-day on my blog which had hundreds of followers hanging on my every word. Well, they liked reading the stories of the saints, anyway. I set myself a goal of 800 words, and did not let myself go to sleep until the next day's entry was written. These stories required doing some decent (online, mostly) research, and weren't just imagination pieces. After a year of that, writer's block seems like a quaint indulgence. Nothing like having a real deadline, even if self-imposed, to spur the ol' juices. My deadline had teeth because people I knew and respected, and hundreds of others, were counting on me. I could have thrown in the towel at any point along the way, I suppose, but I felt duty bound to give them what they wanted. And that's how I overcame writer's block.
    .
    I did something very similar this past Autumn writing a spoof of the Hobbit and serializing it on my Facebook page. I was writing about 1/4 a chapter a day, and maybe I skipped a day or two, but had to keep coming back to it. People kept writing, "More!" so I kept going.
  • SimonSimon Editor
    Thanks for starting this, Hedgehog. My chief cure for writer's block is to take my unwritten text out for a walk. My dog and I head for the park and as I walk I think about the structure of what I'm trying to write, or work out what the writing is meant to achieve, or try a few ideas out by talking them out loud. These days, I have an iPhone with me and record myself if I'm generating more ideas than I can carry home in my head. This works for me almost every time. I pretty much never come home without having solved some sort of problem. I don't know why, but walking and writing seem to go together.
  • My first real job was in an office in the National Press Building, in Washington DC. Fourteen stories packed full of writers pounding it out to meet a deadline. Surrounded by writers, it was natural for me to write every day, and so I have done it all my life.
    If you're stuck -with a given work- then there are a couple tricks to try. Taking a new angle on it -- a different viewpoint, a different character -- is often helpful. Or a different form -- could it be a sonnet? An invoice? (I did this once.) Sometimes a quite elementary change, like resetting the font in the word processor, kicks it loose. Everything looks different in Goudy or Arial Light.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    As a non-professional writer, I have to set aside time to write, and I sometimes find that this helps - when I have just a short period which I have set aside for writing. It is similar to the deadlines others have talked about, in terms of the self-induced pressure, but is less intense.

    Personally, I struggle with deadlines. I need to have things done plenty before them, because they often make me freeze (My PhD thesis is on hold, partly because I have adeadline for the latest changes).

    I also find a writers group can be helpful. Informed, encouraging commentary, with (often) ideas for how I might need to change the current section, and how I might them move it to the next stage.
  • I write very slowly and revise as I go. When I feel stuck or unsure what to do, it helps to take a break from the work-in-progress and write flash fiction pieces that I can finish in a few days and send off. Micro-fictions often keep me writing and connected without distracting me for too long from the longer works.
  • I also find a writers group can be helpful. Informed, encouraging commentary, with (often) ideas for how I might need to change the current section, and how I might them move it to the next stage.

    You're a better cat than I am. I found the few writer's groups I have belonged to to be singularly worthless.
  • You need to select your writers group with care. It needs to be people of about your level, who are writing the sort of thing you are writing. Your nature poetry will not go over well in that military-fiction writing group. The great innovation which saves tons of time and stress is the online crit group. You no longer have to actually get dressed and drive somewhere, you can read and be read on your own computer while drinking a cup of coffee. There are groups and boards, some of them quite large and well-known, for anything you care to write.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    And yes, I do realise that my writing group is wonderful. There is another one in my city that I would not find as positive.

    Online groups are also good. The aim is to find others to support you (mutually), and different groups and people will work differently.
  • Hedgehog wrote: »
    And today I am struggling with writer's block. I know generally what I want to say, I know where I want it to go, but I spent the better part of the afternoon staring at the screen trying to get the words to fall into place.

    I resemble that remark. Writing is the part of my job that I am worst at (by quite a long way) - and this covers everything from meeting minutes and short emails to journal articles.

    At off-the-cuff responses, even written ones in emails, I'm fine, but once I stop to think, I start second-guessing what I'm saying, and replanning, and then generally finding excuses to do something else more pressing.

    My solution, in so much as I have one, is to try and just start writing. Accept that what I'm writing is rough, and I'll probably come back and fix it, and the pressure to get each turn of phrase right is gone. So I just write something, and then write something else, and once I've got the bulk of the document roughed out like that, I can go back and add in the steps that are missing from a logical presentation of my argument.

  • This may help. This is the advice that Robert Pirsig gave in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: don't try simultaneously to decide what to say, AND the order in which to say it. Get the words out, then go back and order them. His son (in the book) was trying to figure out what to say first, and it was hanging him up, because there were so many things he wanted to say, but couldn't decide what to say first, so he couldn't write at all.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    "Just write" is a good response. It doesn't matter whether it is good or not (some of the stuff I write first off is rubbish). But it helps to just write.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    I echo SC. As well, write in haste, revise at leisure. I worked in a Writing Centre for four years working with student writers. They often had to give themselves permission to write a bad first draft.
  • There are some nifty tools to help you "just-write", chief of which may be the National Novel Writing Month project. You covenant with all the other attendees to write 50,000 words or so (I forget the actual number, but it's about 1660 words a day) in November. There's a website to sign up on, a boatload of groups, twitter apps, etc to remind and encourage you, all kinds of support stuff. If you do this then you develop the ability to not overthink or even think at all, but just crank it out. It may not be very good, but by Heaven you do have massive copy, which you can then rewrite, crunch, and recast to your obsessive-compulsive heart's content. And you learn that you can just turn it off at need, and turn it on again.
  • I'm another one saying just write. Just start. I don't really know what I am going to say, though I may think I do, until I start to write it.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    Brenda - or someone - do you want to start a new thread on NaNoWriMo and similar? I think there is probably an interesting discussion about these.
  • BrendaCloughBrendaClough Shipmate
    edited March 2018
    I've never done it myself, not being the main target of the project, but I know many young writers have derived benefit from it. Maybe someone who has actually done it should start a thread and answer the questions? Here's the web site, which tells you all about it.
  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    Sorry I have not been participating, but I was spending today getting my w*rk done! :relieved:

    With my legal writing, part of it consists of summarizing the evidence and I seldom have a block with that. It consists of "just" documenting what was said in depositions or oral testimony. It is not very creative, although value judgments need to be made as to what is relevant to the dispute in issue. Nevertheless, while sometimes I am bored to tears, it is easy to write. My problems come in the more creative portion, when I am taking those facts and forming an argument.

    Now that limits some of the "Block Breaker" techniques--I cannot really change characters, viewpoints or formats. It's a legal document. I can work on another project (my desk is stacked with them) but in the past I have found that counterproductive: I find that I need to keep the facts of one case in mind. Mingling cases can result in embarrassing situations. Like the time I happily wrote how persuasive Dr. Quack was--even though Dr. Quack did not testify in the matter and I actually meant Dr. Charlatan.

    But walking does help clear my mind (although pacing the hallways has its limits). If I have a particularly tricky problem to work out, I do take walks outside to great benefit. But that is more for cases when I do not know where I want to go with the writing. "Just write" works for that situation, too. I just start weighing the evidence and see what turns up, knowing that massive editing will be needed later.

    This most recent block was caused more by a lack of concentration. I didn't have any knotty bits to unravel: I knew exactly where I was going. I just could not focus because there were other workplace issues wanting my attention, which is why I said the Ship Launch was more of an excuse: I took refuge in the Ship to try to shake off thinking about the other problems.

    But today I chose doing a brief "mindfulness meditation" to clear my head. I brought myself back to concentrating just on breathing and settling my stray thoughts. Once I felt settled, then I turned back to my draft and was able to finish it.
  • I did NaNoWriMo in 2010. I highly recommend it. Now I have a 60,000 word manuscript just dying to be thrashed into a novel. And it sits on my computer and pouts.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    I'm lucky in that I've never experienced writers' block, though I've certainly suffered from Doing anything else rather than write syndrome - which is odd, as I actually love the process of writing, and can even edit what I've written without too much pain.

    I find that the best place to get ideas going is in the bath; that's where I do most of my 'writing'. Then I write it down at the computer. Other folk go for long walks, or make cakes, or knit, or dream up their ideas when they're asleep. And some people find an Outliner program useful; Douglas Adams apparently did, though he still had trouble actually getting his ideas down on paper unless forcibly sat down to write.

    No doubt composers and painters have similar problems and develop their own dodges to get round them. Eric Coates, I've read somewhere, couldn't compose unless he was sitting at his desk and wearing a three-piece suit.
  • The other way to think about it is as fashion. When you sit down to write, you have to make a fashion decision. Is today the day for the writer hat? Then don't get distracted by copyediting issues. Leap into the story, and go! Or the right sartorial choice might be the secretary chapeau. Time to get those mss out into the mail! The secretary does not look at the ms and decide to rewrite, that's not her job. Her job is to slam those things out into email as attached files. The critique cap is too often the default choice, but sometimes you need to go through and fix the illogicalities, the place where the character lit a cigarette twice in one paragraph (what, is he holding one in each hand?) and all those niggly little bits.

    Never mix up your hats! You only can wear one at a time. They are all necessary, but piling them all onto your head at once just gives you a headache.
  • One suggestion I have heard is to auto-write for ten minutes. Throw whatever you wrote in the bin and then sit down to the real stuff.

    Never tried it, my own trick is to write often. If I am not writing then it is harder to start but if I have just written things then words seem to come more easily.

    Jengie
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    Yes, Anything But Write Syndrome is an issue. The one thing that can drive me to the computer when I'm not in the mood is the prospect of tidying up the stacks of papers.
  • LibsLibs Shipmate
    Rossweisse wrote: »
    Yes, Anything But Write Syndrome is an issue. The one thing that can drive me to the computer when I'm not in the mood is the prospect of tidying up the stacks of papers.
    i can relate to that. I get plenty of ideas, but I can't maintain focus enough to keep it up consistently. Partly that's because I'm still working (almost full-time) but if I was really passionate about it, I would try harder, wouldn't I?

    (formerly known as QLib)
  • AmyAmy Shipmate
    I get writers block when I've got an awesome idea, but I feel that my words can never do it justice.

    I usually try to work through it by just writing a tiny bit at a time. It's a lot easier to make a a tiny bit "good enough" to satisfy my internal critic, than it is to try and churn out loads of material at once!
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    I have a tendency to rework my lede until I'm satisfied with it; that can be time-consuming, but the rest of the piece usually flows much more quickly and easily after that.

    Of course, sometimes I just have to slap down something and come back to fix it later.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    I can't find a place here in the 8th Day to ask this question. Are these discussions about writing fiction or does it also cover those of us who write academically?
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    Caissa, feel free to open a new thread to ask questions!

    I'm a journalist, so I'd say it's open to anyone who writes.

  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    Definately. The majority is about fiction or creative writing, but not exclusively.

    It is jsut that more people write creatively than academically.
  • anoesisanoesis Shipmate
    My solution, in so much as I have one, is to try and just start writing. Accept that what I'm writing is rough, and I'll probably come back and fix it, and the pressure to get each turn of phrase right is gone. So I just write something, and then write something else, and once I've got the bulk of the document roughed out like that, I can go back and add in the steps that are missing from a logical presentation of my argument.

    I so agree with this. I know it works. I would advise others to try it. And yet, I'm frequently too obstinate/stupid to try it myself.
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