Monday, July 20, 2009

Guest editor: Writer’s Block: What to do when you get stuck

Monica Harris is something of a legend. As Senior Editor at Kensington Publishing, she initiated and edited Arabesque, the first African American romance series by a major publisher. There she also edited historical romances, mysteries, women’s mainstream novels and non-fiction. Harris has won a number of important honors, including Waldenbooks Special Achievement Award, New York Chapter of NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2003 Emma Trailblazers’ Award, and is listed in the Who’s Who of African Americans and the Cambridge Who's Who. She now consults with several publishers featuring romance, self-help, commercial women's fiction and Christian fiction.

It happens to every writer, the experienced and the newcomer, those at the beginning of their story or at the end . . . the ideas that were once bursting in your head have faded. It’s only after you’ve stared at your blank page for several unproductive minutes when you realize you have nothing to give. Instead, you have writer’s block.

What to do?

The first thing is to separate yourself physically from the writing and relax. Stand and take a deep breath for five seconds. Then take another breath. Stretch, walk away and take a drink of water. Attempt to clear your head from your writing; the intention is to allow new thoughts to come naturally. You can listen to music, take a walk outside, call a friend, or get a mani-pedi. Give yourself a break but only a break - not a four-day relief. You do want to get back to your writing only with a fresher outlook.

You go back to the computer and still feel uninspired?

Let your imagination roam. Talk out your troubles aloud. When writing fiction, put your voice to your characters and see what they would say to each other. Record the words and play them back. Fool around with your plot and characters; what you brainstorm isn’t written in stone. If your characters are silent? Talk to a fellow writer or someone who is sympathetic to your issue. Bounce ideas off that person even if you think they are silly. The act of hearing your characters’ voice rather than writing them on the page can give you a different perspective.

Now you’re determined; you’re at the computer and you’re staying. Unfortunately, the words are still hard to come by.

Write anything for ten minutes. Just let the words come – whether they make sense or not. Break your writing task into parts, such as write only five pages or for only one half of an hour. You can break up your writing into short periods when you can reward yourself with chocolate or a chore. Once you’ve accomplished your task, then put the work away. You’re done. Look at it tomorrow to see if it’s work you want to keep or toss.

Most of all, keep positive. It happens to everyone and everyone comes out a more experienced writer.

—Monica Harris


KeVin K. said...

Good advice. I often need to take breaks while writing but have learned to do something physical, like go for a walk. Reading a magazine or surfing the net or turning on the TV can kill a whole writing session.

I could not agree more with the free writing advice -- it has gotten me going when inertia was threatening a deadline more than once.

Liane Spicer said...

Separation seems to work for me, whereas forcing myself to write when I'm blocked doesn't.

I tried free writing for the first time a few months ago when I couldn't bring myself to do (what I hoped would be) the final edit of book 2. It didn't work immediately, but I kept at it and then - I just did the edits. I don't know how it worked, but it did.

Stefanie Worth said...

I find that writer's block tends to strike if I haven't separated myself from my "other" life. If I sit down at the keyboard with my mind filled with still-to-do tasks related to the kids, work or the household, I won't get anything written. I need about 30 minutes of down time before I can ramp up and start spinning stories.

Anonymous said...

Here are a few more tips:

* Close down your e-mail client.
* Close all social networking browser windows.
* Turn off the TV (great glass tit, as Stephen King calls it).
* Go outside and shoot the gardener who's using the hedge trimmer.

Okay, maybe not the last one.