Monday, 1 December 2014

How I Coped with Writer's Block


When it happened, after three years of writing, it took me by surprise. One day I was happily writing away and then the next day... blank. There was absolutely nothing in my head – no ideas, no little seeds to germinate. Just emptiness.

I couldn’t believe it. Surely I hadn’t succumbed to the dreaded writer’s block - I'd thought it was something made up... fictional... like my stories. Not wanting to panic, I pulled out my little book of ideas, knowing that in it would be a wealth of story nuggets that I could mine.

Running my eyes down the list of ideas accrued over many months, I felt a sense of relief and sat down at the keyboard to write... again nothing. I couldn’t form a story out of anything. Never mind, I thought, I’d get out one of my history books and have a browse – many of my historical stories have started this way... again nothing. Just the cursor blinking on my screen.

Since I started writing for magazines (two and a half years ago now), I’ve never had this happen. When people have asked me, Where do you get your ideas? and How do you write so many different stories? I’ve always looked at them in surprise and told them they are just there in my head, bubbling under the surface of my consciousness. Except now they weren’t!

So what is Writer’s Block? It’s simply losing the ability to produce new work and the most common causes for this are:

·         Running out of inspiration

·         Being distracted

·         Adverse life circumstances

·         Pressure to produce work

·         Feeling intimidated by precious successes

I put on my psychologist’s hat (yes, that was my degree many years ago) and thought about which of the above might apply to me. I realised that it was the last two and I'll explain why. 

I believe that bringing out my romantic short story collection Room in Your Heart, and having such lovely reviews for it, has made me worry that I will never be able to produce work like that again. This, along with the pressure I've put on myself to keep up my output of short stories, has caused the big freeze.

So what did I do about it? Well, I decided to give myself a complete break from writing short stories for a bit and concentrated instead on my serial, as I knew where that was going. I completed the fourth instalment and then gave myself permission to switch off. It was such a relief.
Then one day last week, while at my mum’s house, I was sitting looking out at the willow tree in her wonderful garden when out of the blue, a story came to me - just like that! Not only that but it was fully formed (unheard of for me). I wrote it up as soon as I got home and sent it.

I hope the magazine likes it but, if not, I won’t mind because I’ve learnt a valuable lesson: to be kind to myself.
My ideas had not gone, they were just resting.

* UPDATE* I sold the story!

31 comments:

  1. I think these difficult patches hit writers from time to time. Giving yourself permission to take a break is the key and look what happened when you did that. Good for you, Wendy. Wishing you lots of luck with your new story. And listen to your brain - sometimes that needs a good ole rest too :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll have to remember that, in case it happens again (which I'm sure it will). At least next time it won't come as such a shock.

      Delete
    2. I'm glad you've bounced back so quickly, Wendy. Of course, now I want to hear about your mum's willow tree and her beautiful garden.

      Delete
    3. You can read about my mum's garden here, Natalie. http://wendyswritingnow.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/not-made-in-chelsea.html

      Delete
  2. I think we all go through patches of creativity. Like our moods, these vary. Writers' block is horrible, but as you have found, not incurable

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...my iPad refused to go as far as to finish with well done for finding your own solution!

      Delete
    2. You are right, Frances - thankfully!

      Delete
  3. Definitely need to replenish the well at times. Well done for getting through it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Replenishing the well' - now that's a good description, Kath.

      Delete
  4. This comment was left on Face Book by Awen Thornbar I have writers block quite a bit. I can be writing and know the plot etc then the next day ... Nothing.. Not even recalling the plot or where my idea threads were going, despite having written them down. Re reading plot notes doesn't jog the memory and spur me on either, it's as if the idea had never been born. I know what it is now, and although I don't fret over the 'block' I do however feel useless as a writer and useless generally. Fibromyalgia 'fogs' the brain. when Fog strikes I can't think of the simplest of words, remember the simplest of home tasks, or form any sort of coherent thought. I have learnt to step back and wait for it to pass. It is so frustrating , it can be gone within hours or linger for days. I pray it never appears if I ever have an editors deadline. X

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This goes to show how all people's situations are different. Like me, Awen gives herself permission to leave writing until a time when her body tells her it is right.

      Delete
  5. I don't think I've ever had writer's block. There have been times when I didn't feel like writing, and some days I write rubbish, or I've got distracted by something else I wantedto do, but I don't think that's the same thing.

    It must be very scary to want to write, to be ready to do so and find you can't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was horrible, Patsy, and something I never thought would happen to me. At least now I know what to do if it happens again.

      Delete
  6. I guess when you started you had years of pent-up stories within you! But life and other distractions do get in the way and creativity is usually the better for some time off. I've been writing for about twenty years now, (really?!), but had a huge gap in the middle of a few years when there was simply too much life happening to be able to consider fiction! But when the time was right, I started again. It's always there under the surface, just waiting for you.
    Kate Hardstaff

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think 'when the time us right' is the key, Kate.

      Delete
  7. Glad your story muse has returned recharged, Wendy - you probably need a break after putting the collection together and you did the right thing. Like Patsy, I don't think I've been blocked but I sometimes don't want to get on with a piece - that's partly why I turn to different types of writing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely worth having different types of writing on the go, isn't it, Rosemary.

      Delete
  8. Isn't there an even happier ending to this story, Wendy ... you sold the new story didn't you?
    Trust in you subconscious to deliver the goods - not always easy, but I swear it works if left to rest a while :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Tracy. The Willow Tree was sold this morning!

      Delete
  9. It's heartening to read you blog and the comments. I've had a long term writer's block mainly related to after effects of medical treatment and lack of energy. Working takes all I have and to my surprise , although I find creative writing relaxing, it still takes lots of energy! The above gives me hope that it won't last forever! Good news about today's sale.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is no magic cure, Lindsay - I think that we just need to learn to be kind to ourselves. And yes, writing can be surprisingly tiring.

      Delete
  10. Thank you for sharing that. I think we can all identify with it and glad to hear that your story has had a happy ending!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A happy - and very unexpected - ending!

      Delete
  11. I've found that once I've made myself sit down and write then I can nearly always produce something, especially if there is a deadline. But there is always something else that I need to do first!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, Maggie, procrastination - now that's another story!

      Delete
  12. And if you're really stuck, just move it all to Norway ...! I'm wondering where I can relocate my current piece of work now, which is meandering a little!
    Kate Hardstaff

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah yes, Kate - the infamous Norway story!

      Delete
  13. Thanks for sharing your psychologist's view and listing the common causes. I'll refer to that the next time it happens to me. Congratulations on the sale.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you for sharing this Wendy. I'm usually okay once I get an idea (sigh) and I'm green with envy that you usually have all these ideas bubbling!! Not having an abundance of ideas isn't the same as writer's block though and that sounds really, really scary.
    I think in life whenever we want to do something there is a 'right time.'
    If we listen, our bodies usually tell us what to do don't they.
    Congratulations on the happy ending in the sale. Brilliant xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we should all learn to listen to our bodies a bit more, Sue... and thank you.

      Delete