How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: writer’s block


HTWB angry manWelcome to Part Seventeen of this popular series. I was particularly interested to see how Lucy deals with the dreaded writer’s block, as it’s such a prize pain for anyone who wants and/or has to write! You may remember that I wrote an article about it a few months ago. But when it comes to this dreaded topic the more ideas the merrier and Lucy’s complement my own, so we’re building up a useful armory… Sz.

For all the articles in the series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Dealing with writer’s block

Inevitably I have found this post a hard one to get written!

Why do we sometimes find it impossible to start, or continue, our story; to see the way forward from a particular point in our plot; to identify the right actions and dialogue to develop a character; to get our thoughts to flow and find the right words to express them?

Of course there are myriad reasons, probably as many as there are writers, but some common situations exist in which many of us experience writers’ block. I am hoping that, if you have come thus far with me on this Fiction Writing course, you are not stuck at the primary level of writers’ block: the ‘I want to write a story, but I can’t come up with the right idea’ stage. Even if you are, though, doggedly working through the initial steps of outlining your story, developing your characters, defining your theme and clarifying your setting, this structured approach should get you moving.

 “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Mary Heaton Vorse

When you do feel stuck at the start of a project, your most critical task is to establish a writing schedule. Form the habit of writing at the same time every day (or as regularly as possible), in the same place and with the same routine and props – for instance a specific mug of coffee. The more frequently repeated elements you can get your brain to associate with the act of writing, the more habituated it will become to working creatively on cue.

 “Authors with a mortgage never get writers’ block.” Mavis Cheek

Along with establishing the habit of regular writing, cultivating the attitude of writing as a job of work, with projects, targets, reviews and deadlines, also mitigates against the mindset that allows you to get stuck in your story. Most working people do not have the luxury of being unproductive: journalists, speechwriters, business writers and other professional scribes would lose their livelihood if they allowed themselves to succumb to writers’ block. Even if you aren’t being paid for your writing at this stage, and don’t have an external deadline, think and behave as if you are and have.

 “Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote the bigger it got.” Philip José Farmer

When you first start writing, stamina may be an issue, and if you can’t focus for long periods, your story may falter too. The only answer to this is to treat writing as you might an exercise programme: schedule regular short sessions at first, write what comes easily, and slowly build up the quantity and quality of your output. Congratulate yourself on your achievements and don’t knock yourself for not achieving your targets. Just keep going and don’t give up.

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem.” Hilary Mantel

I won’t presume to improve on the words of multi-award-winning Ms Mantel, but I will explain that intermittent writers’ block can occur when your conscious brain gets overloaded with material – information, options, thoughts, emotions – and won’t function creatively until you let it process and file some of this data. Just as sleeping allows the day’s experiences to be processed into the subconscious, and you often awake with a solution to a problem that seemed intractable the day before, so a change of activity, especially from mental to physical, gives time and space for story processing.

small__7676579466Some authors swear by the efficacy of a session of vigorous exercise to divert them for sufficient time, and get their re-oxygenated brains firing again. Even stepping away from your screen for long enough to put a load in the washing machine can break the grip of writers’ block, and provide a ‘reboot’ to the creative function. Walking (especially in natural surroundings) and meditation, though, seem especially beneficial to many writers. Both activities, though gently physical, allow the mind to enter a creative state where thoughts and emotions can surface in a free-flowing and seemingly automatic way.

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Lord Byron

This is because the conscious mind is limited by what it can hold in short-term memory and the slow progression of rational thought. The subconscious, by contrast, holds a lifetime of experiences and emotions, and makes connections in a far more nimble and esoteric fashion. Writers have to learn to use both mental states: accessing the subconscious for inspiration and working the conscious for the ‘perspiration’ of story-making. Developing a facility to flip between these states is the long-term cure to writers’ block. Being able to combine these states can lead to ‘flow’ – the ultimate creative state.

But in the short term, and when writers’ block strikes out of the blue, take tips from and be inspired by others who have overcome it. They all, essentially, say the same thing:

Get started.

“A lot of people talk about writing. The secret is to write, not talk” Jackie Collins
“You don’t need to wait for inspiration to write. It’s easier to be inspired while writing than while not writing…” Josip Novakovich
“Prescription for writer’s block: begin.” Cynthia Ozick

Write. Write anything.

“The beautiful part of writing is you don’t have to get it right first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” Robert Cormier
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad but it’s the only way you’ll do anything good.” William Faulkner

Keep writing.

“Writers write while dreamers procrastinate.” Beza Kosova
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Bach

Next week, we’ll look at how to write a scene…don’t miss it!

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD now available!
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here
photo credit: RelaxingMusic via photopin cc




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