The font of all human knowledge (also known as Wikipedia) defines writer’s block as:
“A condition in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown.”
Writer’s block has been documented since time immemorial. Potential causes are widespread; physical illness, depression, financial pressures, marital breakup or deep seated fear… fear of failure, fear of publishing work which isn’t entirely perfect, fear of the feedback that will be received by your peers… you name it, we can fear it!
But is writer’s block more than just a mentality? Research shows that under stress, the human limbic system starts to override our cerebral ability. As the limbic system is responsible for instinctual, emotional processes such as the ‘fight or flight’ response, one can imagine how easily stress might physiologically inhibit the creative writing process.
Writer’s block fortunately very rarely knocks on my door and I believe my approach is directly responsible for that. To start with, writing is my passion and my creative outlet, not my profession. I am fortunate enough that my ability to pay the bills each month does not rely upon my capacity to produce five thousand words before breakfast; a scenario I imagine would be the very antithesis to creativity. I am therefore not directly associating writing with a pressurised deliverable, but rather a pleasurable activity. This undoubtedly helps keep ‘stress’, and therefore writer’s block, at arm’s length.
Next, I have a large number of story ideas running concurrently. If I look at my documents folder today, I have the outline structure of twelve new books, four of which I am actively writing. In addition, I never write a book chronologically from start to finish but instead tend to skip around, often writing the final scene before earlier chapters have been completed. This means that, should my interest start to wane with one story or I find myself struggling to write one particular scene, my attention can automatically be shifted elsewhere until the issue resolves itself. I find this an infinitely more sensible strategy than banging my head against the proverbial brick wall for weeks at a time; something guaranteed to further increase those stress levels.
I can already hear you asking – what happens if the issue doesn’t resolve itself? Well, in my experience, this is very rare. As with many things in life, one (or several) nights of sleep often finds issues inexplicably resolved the next morning. And if you’re really struggling with a story, I would advise putting it aside for a while. If, after a break, you don’t greet each other like long-lost friends, perhaps the two of you were just not meant to be?
Accepted wisdom, when suffering writer’s block, is to write every day and this may well be helpful to some extent. But don’t forget, writing comes in many forms. And if, for example, you’ve just spent your day at work writing a technical paper or a staff member’s annual report, chances are you may not be in the mood to sit down and write all evening too. Alternatively, if you’re struggling to progress your story, consider shifting to a different type of writing for a short while, perhaps developing your plot, writing a blog, updating your diary or emailing a friend…the options are endless.
Exercise is also a great way to change your perspective and help you push past any blockers. I personally find that my best writing takes place first thing each morning, whilst I’m walking my dog. At this time, my head is clear, my environment is calm and refreshing and the aerobic activity is beneficial. Just make sure you always carry a notepad and pen with you; inspiration can literally strike anywhere. Personally, I sometimes find plots, snippets of dialogue and relevant memories hitting me out of nowhere. Often, I literally can’t write fast enough to capture all the ideas.
My final piece of advice is to embrace your emotions. When feeling hurt, stupid or used, as I have recently, my standard approach in life has always been to suppress those emotions and refuse to think too deeply about them. But actually, we should allow ourselves to feel the full range of human emotions, be that pain, joy or anything in between. For a short while, allow yourself to wallow in those emotions and appreciate how they make you feel; what thoughts they invoke. And then capture them. Although such emotions won’t always be pleasurable, they do provide an incredible source of material.
In conclusion, an awareness of your stress levels may well be a key factor in managing writer’s block. So if you’ve had a tiresome time with your toddler, or a wearisome week at work (or any other form of alliteration), mentally beating yourself up for then failing to progress your written output will only increase the levels of stress you associate with the act of writing. Instead, why don’t you give yourself a break? Have an early night, watch a film or read a book; chances are, during that downtime, another germ of an idea will probably hit you. Just remember to keep that notepad close by!
Fenella Ashworth is a British author of contemporary erotic fiction. All of her stories are available from Amazon and free for those with Kindle Unlimited access. Her best known novels are ‘To Love, Honour and Oh Pay’ and the Daniel Lawson series.
Fenella also releases stories on BooksieSilk, Booksie, Lush Stories and Literotica, and is often visible in the Literotica ‘Erotic Couplings’ Hall of Fame (Top Rated).
For a chance to win copies of her stories in a free monthly prize draw, as well as keeping up to date with news from Fenella, please sign up to her newsletter.