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  • [Making The Leap] No Such Thing As Writer's Block (Maybe You Just Need To Moodle)
[Making The Leap] No Such Thing As Writer's Block (Maybe You Just Need To Moodle)
Contributor
Written by
Julie Luek
September 2013
Contributor
Written by
Julie Luek
September 2013

I admit it. I'm guilty. I have pulled out the notebook or the blank page in Word, stared at it, sighed, typed, backspaced, scratched out and then given up claiming I have a bad case of...writer's block. I can't think. I can't create. My mind is a blank. I guess I'll go eat worms. 

 

But the more I write, the more I'm beginning to believe the dreaded writer's block is a bunch of kerflooey--that's right, you read that made-up word correctly. Here's what I'm really beginning to believe:

 

There is no such thing as writer’s block, there are only blocked writers.

 

In fact, I not only think the concept isn't real, I think there may be a real danger in believing it into existence. We begin to talk about writer’s block as if it’s this external entity, a force we can’t avoid, like a virus swooping into our vulnerable systems at any moment, waiting to paralyze our minds and wreak havoc with our creative flow. I don’t buy it.

 

And yet, as I freely admitted, I am guilty. I find myself complaining to writer friends: “Ugh, I have writer’s block. I need to get an article written, and I can’t come up with a single interesting topic.” Or I procrastinate getting to work because I don’t have any ideas. I start to feel that slight panic that the block has won and my creativity is forever...poof...gone.

 

But when I turn that concept on its head a little, I see things differently. The focus shifts. If I believe I am a blocked artist, I will not passively wait for the block to lift but rather seek out ways to fuel my inner tank. I quit feeling defeated or questioning my calling; instead I recognize that I am running on empty or am over-cluttered. The responsibility shifts. And when I recognize the pattern, instead of moping, I set about unblocking my soul and mind.

Here are a few choices that work for me:

 

Journal—I talked about journaling in a recent post, but I strongly believe if I get the whining and complaints out on the page, even my trivial drivel-- I have a headache today and three loads of laundry to do. Then I got into my car and realized my husband ran it to almost empty. Again!--the clutter and noise simmer down a bit.

 

Do Feed The Artist—I think too often, because of time, responsibilities, money, we hang a big sign on our psyche: No Time To Feed the Artist. And we starve. How do you feed the artist? I think that’s different for all of us. My favorite way is to get out in nature—a hike or picnic, all by myself, by a river. Others sing or play instruments. Still others may opt for a Saturday at the zoo or a day at the museum, soaking in wordless forms of art. Whatever it is, you need to feed your inner artist.

 

Pampering—If I’m over-committed and have too many work/family/assignment obligations, I start to get into a life-manager mode. I become a self-imposed secretary, scheduling and making sure I complete jobs and respond to others' requests and needs. Whoa, no wonder I feel blocked! In times like this I try to remember to pamper myself. Maybe it’s buying a pretty bouquet of flowers, or enjoying a block of chocolate and cup of tea, or a long, hot bath with a glass of wine—just something that takes care of me and isn't about doing.

 

Ask—Everyone has their own idea of divine, God or universe. I happen to believe in God, and in my early morning meditations, I ask to be inspired and, as both Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron suggest, to “get my self out of the way.” Just recognizing I'm a conduit and not the almighty source seems to take some pressure off me. 

 

Maybe I am picking at words. Maybe writer's block and a blocked writer are one in the same. But when I feel stuck, if I tell myself, gently and kindly, Honey, you are blocked. You need to feed your creativity and open the channels again, instead of panicking and wondering if the words will ever come, or giving into the defeat, I treat myself to a little soul, heart, and mind nurturing and almost always, sure enough, the words find their way out again.

 

As one of my all-time favorite writers, Brenda Ueland, says:

So you see, imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.

 

Do you experience writer’s block? Is there a change in your perspective if you think about it as a blocked writer?

How do you open your creative channels again?

 

Keep Moodling,

 

Julie

 

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Comments
  • Julie Luek

    Oh Jana-- you and me both.  I wonder if there's a writer out there who doesn't ever feel that way? Nevermind, I don't want to meet them if they exist. ;)

  • Jana Brynne Sissom

    Thanks to all who keep commenting. It's a joy to read your input. I am working through the no-confidence feeling of writing "poorly" but it's right that we can't be perfect all the time but the writing still gets done. thank you

  • Julie Luek

    Rachel: If you could hear my tone you'd read this with a little "grrr" in my voice: I must turn off internet. Good heavens, it's the biggest drain on my creativity, my time, my self-esteem. So amen, Sistah, on this. 

    I like music too but find lyrics distracting so I usually put on some kind of meditative non-tune. Not sure what that says about me, but I think I'm going to look into the couple you suggested. Thanks!

  • Rachel Thompson

    Part of working at home is distraction. One way I tune it all out is by turning off social media, shutting my door, putting in my earbuds and listening to some moody music, especially by talented singer songwriters like Imogen Heap, Tori Amos, Poe, and even Joni Mitchell. 

    Lyrics inspire my creative side, and music gets me going. Even if you can't write while music is on, it's at least a way to refocus. Journaling is a wonderful suggestion, Julie. we can't be brilliant all the time ;). Sometimes journaling gives us just a spark, and that's all we need. 

  • Julie Luek

    Nancy-- Boy, I can relate to this Nancy. I have to remind myself I write for the joy and the journey, not just the destination. Otherwise, I too get too caught up in striving for perfection. 

    Hi Jenny-- I really, really try to remember the conduit piece, but sometimes I get stuck in the striving. Grrr.. frustrates me when I do that. 

  • nancy iovino

    Hi Julie, it's taken me years to conquer writers block. if that is what is it. for me, it is changing my perspective from having to write it right the first time around-or at least close to it. i put a lot of pressure on myself, now i allow thoughts and feelings to gear toward enjoyment, not work, having a good time, not a pressured negative approach. not self critical but, belief that i can write and enjoy the process. 

  • Julie Luek

    Barbara-- I wish we had "like" buttons on comments!

    Jana--Sounds like you have a lot to dig into and pull out and that writing may be therapeutic for you. All the best to you. I agree. Both are definitely worth talking about. 

  • Jana Brynne Sissom

    I read from the emptiness and fear of depression and bi-polar recovery sort of stuff. You have a husband and I have never married, much less dated. I'm trying to figure out an approach back to life which may or may not include piecing together a novel I haven't writtren on or about in 3 years. Husband? childrend? It's beyond me how the dating thing happens. It didn't happen anywhere near this keyboard. Abandonment of a life I didn't care about anyway. My brother a doctor, says suicide is also a topic to write about. Recovery from it and try to keep living. THis is the most productive and satisfying moodling I have done since I talked with my brother about sucide and life. Both are worth talking about.

  • Barbara Shoff

    When you write all the things that won't happen and ask yourself, "Why not?", sometimes you discover what couldn't happen does and that breaks your block.

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Barbara, Oh this is such a great idea.. I love the idea of allowing yourself to think of everything you absolutely wouldn't write. Very creative!

  • Olga Godim

    What an interesting approach, Barbara. I should try it.

  • Barbara Shoff

    When writer's block happens to me (and it does), I think of a stopped up sink and pull out my plunger. This works especially well with my fiction writing. I begin writing scenes that would absolutely NOT take place in the manuscript. I set a timer at twenty minutes for each scene and stay seated until I hammer our three scenes. This gives me a new perspective, clears the drain.

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Margo, I like that idea for fiction. Hmm-- tucking that away in my idea box. Thanks for sharing. 

  • Julie Luek

    Cynthia, Oh I can so relate to the quilting visual. I had an article recently that pulled from three different experts and yes, finding a way to piece it cohesively together was quite a trick. Not editing as you write is good advice. 

    Hi Amy, thanks. I love Julia Cameron and she, Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg have taught me to be kinder to myself as a writer. 

  • Julie Luek

    Mary,  I did an article on WOW (Women on Writing) and that's the exact advice a coach gave me as well. She suggested doing something with our non-dominant hand to loosen the creative flow. 

    Olga, I just read something similar about just writing one paragraph a day or 500 words or something like that. I like the 3 sentence approach too. 

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Susie :), Yeah that fear of running out of ideas-- yeesh-- that can be paralyzing and turn into a circle. Good point. 

    Gale-- Oh very very good point. Yes, sometimes those self-imposed requirements can stifle the creative flow. I'll have to keep that in mind. 

  • Julie Luek

    Diane-- That's a good point- to look inside and see if there's an emotional reason for the block. I definitely find that it's usually a fear-based or care-based reason. 

    Delin-- I think that's what I was getting at too. If I see this Block as some kind of alien entity, then I'm a victim. If I see myself as blocked, then I begin to dig and find out why. And, at least for me, sometimes I do just have to write through it too. 

  • Margo L. Dill

    Julie: I agree with you, but what I think writer's block often is...for novelists anyway...you have written yourself into a corner and you can't get yourself out. I do think when this happens instead of scrapping the project, one thing you can do is assume the voice of your main character or even villain--on a separate document or even in a journal--write a diary entry or two about the plot point you are stuck on in the voice of the character. Sometimes, you just need them to talk to you. . .I also agree that you need to sometimes get away from the computer and go walk, take your child to the park, or even WATCH TV! Often times, just taking a shower helps. :) Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

  • Amy Lloyd

    I likes to borrow the advice from Julia Cameron. She speaks about coaxing our inner child and that really works for me. I believe in treats, rewards, and bribery. At heart I have never progressed beyond the second grade, so the same things that motivated me to practice my piano lessons motivate me to sit down and write- something! (If I write for an hour and half I can go watch the food network/buy totally impractical supersexy shoes / eat something bad for me, etc.) I have also found that I if I remind myself to simply write something, even if it is all sorts of bad, just the act of starting somehow gets the machine operating. Quite a load of stupid writing proceeds my good work and I am willing to splatter the page with unfortunate nonsense until something opens up. It always does.

    Love your post, by the way. Thank you for sharing.

  • Cynthia Simmons

    I just wrote a little newsletter article (300 words) for a club I belong to, about a new business in town. I didn't see how the notes from the phone interview would come together, so I just went at it like piecing a quilt. A couple of sentences belonged together, I could see what would be at the end, etc. It was slow going and I wasn't enthusiastic, but now that it's done I like it. Some writing (especially non-fiction) is like that.

    I haven't written a lot of fiction, so I need to keep moving forward and practicing my writing muscles. Fiction is harder. I have a bunch of stories started, but not finished.

    I'm starting to understand my own self-editing process. After I write something. Not as I write it.

  • Olga Godim

    Great post, Julie, although I'm not sure I agree with some of the comments. I think writer's block is real. When no inspiration comes, you have nothing to write about. That's where writer's discipline comes in. Your ways to deal with the writer's block are creative and realistic. I'd like to add one of mine.

    When I started writing 10 years ago, I didn't have any writer's blocks. My words flowed. My imagination exploded with stories. For several years, I was a writing addict. I couldn't stop. But as my skill level progressed, the flow slowed down. I wanted not only to write but to make it good on the page: you know that proverbial internal critic. A nasty bugger. Sometimes I couldn't write for days at a time. And then I read an advice from one famous writer: write 3 sentences a day. I followed that advice, and it spurred my writing again, got me out of the rut. Sometimes, I can't go above 3 or 5 sentences, but more often, the 3 three sentences expand into pages of writing. It really helps - 3 sentences a day. They grow into stories.  

  • Carole Avila

    Good point, Diane. As I stated, I think beginner writers have that mental block due to fear of what others think, but for those who have been writing longer, we hit those crossroads that Delin mentioned. And I agree that it is a matter of changing our perspective of being at a dead end as opposed to a crossroads. When we consciously choose to press through our fear and emotional pains, we work through a different kind of fear--not a fear of what other people think of our writing, but of what we fear about ourselves. (That's why 1 page of poetry is harder for me to write than a 300 page novel!) When we have loved ourselves enough to see our life, our personality, our behaviors in a new light---when we stop judging ourselves, then we can move beyond our own self-generated fears and do what we love --Write!

  • Mary L. Holden

    Block = the Lock of B.

    When blocked, put your non-dominant hand into service. Give it a pen and put some paper on it and see how it writes--or draws. Then, when you've shifted into the difference, you shift out and find that ...

    ???

    Whatever!

    Mystery solved!

  • Gale Massey

    Solid observations and suggestions. Everyone has a different process, right? And every story has a unique problem to solve. What works for me is not expecting it to always be easy. If I connect with a story a lttle each day and have patience along with perserverence it helps me find the solution. It's when I demand a certain word count or number of hours per day at the keyboard that my creativity gets bottlenecked.

  • Susie Klein

    This is great insight Julie. It makes such a difference in how we talk to ourselves and others about our situation. The dreaded fear that we will never have a good idea again...I think THAT is what makes us call it "writers block" and then we could be making it happen because we feed that fear with our words. And around and around we go! Thanks for this.
    Susie