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Writers' Block

Guest Article by Owen Jones

Most writers say that they have experienced "writers' block," or "writer's block" at some time or another, but I think that it is true to say that it comes in several different forms. The ones I am thinking of are the "information block", the "fear block" and the "clueless block".

The information block should not really exist any more, since everyone can have access to the Internet and abundant resources of information. It is not like in the old days, when a writer living in a remote village had to wait weeks for a book to come through the post from hundreds of miles away. Except in the case of the most secret of matters, the information block is no longer a truly valid excuse.

The "fear block" is when, you know what to say or what the characters in your novel want to say, but you do not want to write it. This is the only form of writers' block that I have experienced so far. One of the characters was turning into me and I did not want that. It took me a long time, months, to work out a solution and in the end my 'solution' was to just write what the character wanted. In other words, I capitulated.

The "clueless block" is when a writer just cannot organise his or her thoughts well enough to put them down on paper. This is the most common form of writers' block. Some people find that the best way to overcome it is to be methodical. One of the easiest ways to try first of all, is to practice what we were taught when writing essays in school. That is, to make bullet points in random order, as they occur to you, and then number them. Then write your piece point by point.

This may result in stilted prose, but at least you have something on paper that you can edit later, otherwise you have nothing and there has been no progress. I personally like to see progress every day and that is motivational. I cannot bear to have a day when I am not at least one step nearer my goal, whatever that is.

If it's writing a book, 3,000 words a day on paper. If it's editing or proofreading, five chapters a day, et cetera et cetera. Steady advancement towards the goal helps me to stay focused on the task in hand.

If the block is severe, then you may only write a few lines per bullet point, but really, that is far better than nothing and you may have a breakthrough at any moment.

Some people find that playing music helps them, but I find the exact opposite. If you play music while trying to write and do not know for 100% that it is helpful to you, turn it off. It has to be a distraction, doesn't it, really? Part of your brain is trying to write and part keep your body functioning and part listen to the music.

Inspirational views help me, but I know that we don't all have a pretty picture window looking out over the garden. I never did before, but I do now and maybe that is why I appreciate it so much. If you have a nice window, but a jungle for a garden, hire a gardener to put it right for you - resist the temptation to use gardening as an excuse for not writing. Later, when the heavy work has been done, it might be therapeutic to tent your garden and keep it in shape.

Otherwise get a window box or a shelf for potted plants.

Going for a walk to cure long-term writers' block is another excuse. It won't help. If it didn't help the first time, give it up as a bad lot. i go for walks, but there is a point to them. I end up at a cafe, bar or restaurant, sit outside and write. The objective has to be to get you writing again and nothing else. Exercise another time, sure good idea, but not as an excuse for not writing.

Another displacement activity is answering emails. Answer your emails before your writing session starts and after it finishes, but not as an excuse during because you 'don't know what else to do' - you are not fooling anyone but yourself. You are a writer, so write.

Some people have two or three works in progress open at the same time, so that if they get stuck on one, they can drop back onto another. This works, it displays progress, rather dilated, but progress nevertheless. I adopt a similar tactic.

My way, is to see the book as the interior, the front cover and the blurb. The interior has to have priority, but if I get stuck or tired, I will start/continue work on the cover artwork or the blurb as a change of focus. This keeps the main project rolling along.

I will start a new new book, but only in rough, which means that it has to be rethought and typed up, which is double-handling and I don't like costly exercises like that, so it is a last resort.

Don't forget, the object is to get yourself writing again, so like when lighting a campfire with damp kindling, work extra hard at it when you see the faintest of glimmers that the old writer in you is coming back to life.

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