It happens to the best of us: How to break through the writer’s wall of doom
This is a guest post by Naomi Leadbeater
There is a fine line between having writer’s block and procrastination. There's an even finer, 4H pencil-thin line, between writer’s block, procrastination and the dreaded writer’s Wall of Doom. This post, while it might help you with the block, definitely WON'T help you with procrastination. Admit it: You're procrastinating right now by reading this.
I can safely say that I'll give you some very good reasons to keep reading, as well as a few helpful ideas about how to cure writer’s block. Personally, I find the line between writer’s ‘block’ and procrastination pretty blurry most of the time. I think it's probably safe to say that habitual procrastination is like someone running up to the door in the writer’s Wall of Doom, knocking and running away. I know that in my case, the more I procrastinate, the more likely it is that what I'm writing is difficult emotionally in some manner.
This post, instead of dealing only with the humdrum of writer’s block, will also look more specifically at that dreaded thing I like to refer to as the writer’s Wall of Doom. It's much bigger, made of something almost impenetrable and much harder to either move through, climb over or tear down. In fact, tearing down the Wall of Doom is a feat not to be taken on by the meek. It probably involves dreadful hours of hard work and soul-searching.
Fear not, dear writers! There are ways to overcome the dreaded Wall of Doom.
Let’s deal with the easy things first, though—we all deserve some easy, especially if we have to tackle a Wall of Doom. Writer’s block simply implies that you're stuck at the moment. We tend as writers, I think, to overreact (possibly?) to not being able to get out whatever it is that's in our head and onto a page.
A while back I read a really great post by MJ Wright about cures for writer’s block. What was great about the post was the way it encapsulated all the kinds of writer’s block, and how to solve them.
Writing is a learning process, and so is dealing with the inability to write sometimes. Often I get stuck on a single word because I know what I intend to say but can't think of the exact word I want to use. Often I get distracted and lose my train of thought, which also leaves the paragraph or sentence hanging.
Other times, you might be stuck on an idea, or something larger than just a single word, and then it might be helpful to take a slightly longer break. Above all, I'd recommend that breaks take place AWAY from the computer. If you're anything like me, the world of social media and the Internet in general are too huge a distraction to be useful—unless you're doing research. P.S. Research is NOT writing.
The last easy challenge to help you overcome writer’s block is to figure out EXACTLY what your block is about. Sometimes, like I mentioned above, it's a word. Start asking yourself questions.
Are you stuck on an idea? Here are some things you could do to take your mind off writing that oddly enough will probably give you some inspiration:
- Take a walk, or play with your pets, or take THEM for a walk. Sometimes all you need is a little animal love and fresh air. Sometimes that walk, especially if you live somewhere cold like I do, is all you need to make you remember why you're a writer and NOT a Zamboni driver. (Snow clearing machine used in ice skating rinks/out door skating ponds.)
- Do the dishes, or clean something relatively small that will only take 10–15 minutes. It will give you a chance to recharge and not stare at a blank page or computer screen, but not be long enough to completely derail your progress.
- Eat or cook something, and drink some water—often brain-farts are just a symptom of not actually feeding your brain, or of being dehydrated.
- Do you need to change mediums from a keyboard to a real pen? This works for me sometimes, though not as often as I'd like.
- Would changing your physical setting help? Sometimes, I find writing outside wonderful—other times, I need the quiet space of my pantry/office.
Sometimes, none of that works, and that's when we all need to take a little time and delve a little deeper into why we can't get the words out we know are in there somewhere.
The last time this happened, I used voice dictation software—it worked, but it was still painful, and I don't suggest anyone expect much out of voice dictation if you happen to be a blubbering mess.
You see, I found the dreaded writer’s Wall of Doom, and nothing I did would lift its ominous cloud from above any writing instrument I picked up.
It turns out, sometimes we need to talk it out, or think it out, or just plain scream about it. While asking myself all the basic questions like “Am I stuck on a word, is it the character, do I just need to write a different scene?” I quickly discovered that the answer to all of them was a resounding NO. NO, I am not stuck on a word, a scene, a character or anything else—I just don't want to DEAL with this piece right now.
It happened to be a story that is very close to my heart and still evolving. The emotions attached to it are raw and unsettled, and the story itself may never have an ending (I've given up hope on a good one) in real life. I did finally get that section I was having so much trouble with written, but it took a LONG time.
Here's what I did, and while I can't guarantee it will work for everyone, it did work for me.
I had to talk it out—first to myself in a room where I could let all the crazy out without ramifications, then to someone I trusted. The conversation we had was poignant; they reminded me that I'm not an observer or objective in this case AT ALL. There's not really a way for me to be objective either, but that means that I can now work around my bias and work at detaching myself from the subject. Talking REALLY helped.
Then, I sought out a community of writers online and asked their advice, which is where I got the idea to do voice dictation. Voice dictation worked after I'd calmed down, but it was pretty splotchy and awful while I was still a mess.
The last thing I did? I quit asking WHY. My Wall of Doom centered on not being able to explain WHY something happened. The truth is, as my mother has always told me, bad things happen to good people. There are bad people in the world and there are good people, and sometimes you run into the bad ones, and sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't. My wall is about half down, and the bricks keep crumbling day by day. It's a process that I think all writers go through at some point, and those of us who choose to write nonfiction and stories that are close to our personal lives are well acquainted with it. There's a reason many writers call whatever manuscript we're working on a Work in Progress.
Is this a guaranteed fix to all your writing problems? Maybe, but you'll have to stop procrastinating and give it a try first.
Just remember, we're all a work in progress.
About this post’s author:
Naomi Leadbeater lives in the middle of the continent, on the snowy plains of Manitoba. She is a blogger, writer, artist and musician. She found Novel Publicity just over a year ago, and has made it her online habitat every since–now she works for NP as a marketing assistant. You can find her on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, andGoogle +, as well as a few other places if you dig deep enough into the interwebs. You can also email her at[email protected].