Face Off Friday: Writer's Block


Writer's block.  Whether you believe if it truly exists or not, most of us can't deny that there are times when the inspiration isn't coming and the words aren't flowing.  Many say that the block is just fear or insecurity playing with our minds.  I kind of subscribe to that belief, but also know that sometimes my brain simply shuts down.


I have a pattern.  For two weeks, I'm in the zone.  My fingertips fly over the keyboard, pages rack up, and I have trouble falling asleep because the scenes keep writing themselves in my head.  Then I hit the end of the two weeks and everything comes to a screeching halt.  For the next two weeks, I struggle to write and feel like the creative neurons in my brain are trying to fire through peanut butter.  I get frustrated, grumpy, and feel ready to give up on the project entirely.  (And no, I'm not bipolar.  I've just accepted that this is my process.  I'm not entirely unconvinced that this isn't tied to the cycles of the moon or some hormonal shift.)

But anyway, the question I have is: what do you do when the words aren't coming?

There are two schools of thought from what I can tell.  In the first camp are the "write anyway" people.  This means that even when you aren't inspired, you just put words on the page because eventually it will spark something for you.  This is the "write or die", NanoWriMo mentality.

The other side would say that if the muse isn't speaking then take a break.  Walk away for a few minutes, hours, days.  Let your mind relax out of it's "oh crap, I'm on the way to an epic fail" state of mind.  When we're not concentrating so hard, our mind can wander and often hit on solutions or ideas for our story.

So which path should we take if we hit a wall?  Here's the breakdown:


The "Write, No Matter What" Side


  • You keep yourself in the habit of writing daily even if the words aren't going to be used later on.
  • You may be able to write your way around the block.
  • You keep the story fresh in your head.
  • You're developing a good work ethic.  If you eventually write under deadline, you don't have the luxury of taking long breaks.


  • You may write a lot of words you'll have to scrap or write yourself into a corner.  How many people finish Nano and say "Hey, got my 50k words, but they're all crap"?
  • You may end up meandering--I'm convinced that saggy middle is due to the fact that many of us hit a block somewhere in the heart of that.
  • You can end up so frustrated and put so much pressure on yourself, that the creative part of your brain just shuts down.
  • You run the risk of turning something you enjoy into something you hate.


The "Take a Break" Argument


  • When you take some of the pressure off, your mind can relax and work on the story issues.  How many times does the answer to a block arrive while you're driving or showering?
  • You can use the time to re-energize yourself--read, take a walk, enjoy something that has fallen by the wayside because of your writing.
  • You won't be a miserable cuss during the block.
  • You won't waste your time writing pages and pages that you'll never use.


  • When you take a break, it can be easy to not go back to the project because you've gotten out of the habit.
  • If you take too long of a break, you'll have to reorient yourself to the story once you return
  • All that free thinking time may lead to SNI (shiny new idea) syndrome and you may be tempted to move onto another project instead of finishing the other one.

So what to do?  I think a combination works best for me.  I know that for my two inspired weeks, I need to milk it for all it's worth.  Then during the other half the month, I give myself permission to take breaks and don't put a daily word count goal over my head.  But I do try to look at the story at least once a day and see if it sparks anything.  If not, I read through and do some editing on what I already have.


So what's your process?  Does your muse have a pattern?  Which method do you use to get past a stuck point?


**Today's Theme Song**
"Brain Stew" - Green Day
(player in sidebar, take a listen)