All writers get it, but what is writer’s block?
The term makes it sound like a cork stopper is jammed into the channel of the brain that allows free-following thought. Much has been written on the subject, some by writers, some by psychologists and psychiatrists. Writers want to know how to overcome it. PhDs and MDs are more interested in the neuroses that cause writer’s block to occur.
As a writer, I find my encounters with writer’s block occur when I’m distracted by life. Some of these distractions are good, such as vacations, visiting with friends and family, or getting a new pet. Unexpected home maintenance, health issues, family drama, or the dog chewing a hole in your leather recliner fall into the not-so-good category. Whatever the distractions may be, they take time and focus away from freewheeling creativity and putting pen to paper.
Doctors have arrived at a medical explanation for this. It appears during periods of stress or distraction, the brain’s limbic system takes control from the cerebral cortex. The limbic system controls instinctual “fight or flight” reactions, whereas the cerebral cortex is vital to the creative process. The more stress, the less creativity. Writers under a deadline may experience a negative feedback loop. The more they stress over meeting the publisher’s or editor’s deadline, the less creative they become.
I also find some writing projects just lose steam. It has nothing to do with personal distractions or my brain shifting from one side to the other, but more to do with my writing ability. It might be my original idea for a book or story isn’t well thought, or maybe I’m just not smart enough to finish what I started. Whatever it is, it’s led to many uncompleted writing projects. I have a Word file labeled “Elephant Graveyard” filled with the carcasses of dead novels and short stories. I occasionally visit the file and kick the bones. Every so often, one of the elephants comes back to life.
So, what do you do about writer’s block? Not being under deadlines, I have the freedom to wait it out, and that’s what I do. I’m not big into mental manipulation or word games to free my thoughts. These techniques may work for some, but I find putting my project(s) on the back burner for a few days and coming back fresh is the best approach.
Starting a new writing project can also help. If I hit a dead spot while working on a novel, putting it to the side and writing a blog entry or starting a new short story can jumpstart creative juices. In fact, that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve been working on the third book in the Miles Stevens time-travel action-adventure series and needed a break.
I think I’ll grab a cup of coffee and get back to seeing what Miles is up to.