Wednesday, July 1, 2015


by Clare O'Donohue

Q: We all hit writers’ block at some point in time. What do you do to get out of it and move the story forward?

Writer's Block - the Loch Ness Monster of writing. Some insist it's real. Others, equally certain, say it's fantasy and indulgence.

I used to think it was nonsense, but I've had a sighting or two in recent years, and I've become convinced there's some truth to it. I've had stories that I wrote right into a brick wall, and nothing seemed to get me over it. Not the usual, "write badly" or even "skip a scene and pick up somewhere that interests you"... nope, not forcing a routine, or getting hopped up on caffeine, or even (surprisingly) threatening my laptop with bodily harm unless it somehow typed out the words for me.

Sure I had a busy schedule, with work and family, board commitments, blogs, my ongoing need for food and sleep... but it wasn't a lack of time. I still had time to Netflix and Hulu. I still managed to read other people's books. I was still catching myself staring off into space. It wasn't time. It was, I realized, too much stuff in my brain.

My life was busy, and my head was chock full of all kinds of stuff.

The trouble is, writing isn't just typing words as they come to you, it's imagining people, in places, doing things. Imagining takes room in your brain. It takes emptiness and quiet, at least for me. Not physical quiet. I could write in the middle of a Motorhead concert if my brain was empty. What I need is space so my imagination can stretch out and have a little fun.

And sometimes there isn't space. Sometimes life is a toddler, noisy and demanding, and ready at any moment to break something valuable. And when that happens, you have to pay attention to it. I don't make it worse by berating myself for writer's block or thinking "real writers write no matter what." I'm not a tough love kind of gal.

But I also don't indulge in it. If I'm overwhelmed to the point where my imagination has dried up, I try to do a little spring cleaning. I meditate to distance myself from things that don't really matter. I find it a very helpful tool for all kinds of stress, writer's block among them.

I recognize that there are frustrations I can't solve, at least not today, and there are things I have no control over. There's old arguments with people no longer in my life I don't need to replay. There are events happening months from now that I don't need to stress about this instant. I can turn off the news, or the Facebook feed. I'm never going to like the ending to Dexter, so at some point I'm going to have to stop re-writing it in my head.

I let go of the mental clutter and focus on the few things that require immediate attention. Sometimes that means taking a day, or a week, away from writing. I used to think that was laziness, but now I realize there's a sanity to recognizing when to step back.

Once I feel mentally decluttered, I let myself settle into a nice quiet space. I start small, by rereading what I've already written, and then I work my way back up to the 1000 words a day I write when things are humming. If all goes well, hopefully, my imagination comes out for a little playtime.

1 comment:

Meredith Cole said...

I used to give myself a hard time for taking "breaks" from writing. But I think they're really necessary as you say to "declutter" the brain.