A.M. Holmes, Amy Tan, Ann Cummins, blank page, break through writer's block, creative writing, fiction, fiction writing, Francisco Goldman, how to write, inspiration, Jennifer Egan, novel writing, Stephen King, Susan Minot, T. Cooper, writer, writer's blank, writer's block, writer's life, writing, writing advice, writing process
After my last blog on dealing with losing confidence in one’s skills as a writer, I looked for how more experienced and successful writers dealt with these periods. As I suspected, it doesn’t matter if you are a published author or not. Take a look at what a few well-known authors do to break through writers block:
I am usually a bit like an air traffic controller: I have lots of things in the pipeline, art books, articles, films, plays, so when I am stuck, I simply shift to another format, another project. Long story short, I can’t afford to be blocked, on any level. That said, I think there’s a thing called writer’s blank, which is different from a block. The blank means that in the depths of one’s brain the soup is not soup yet, it’s not ready to happen; writing novels is a process and to do it well you have to dig deep and it takes a while for that material to be ready and available for use-not that it’s personal material, but just processing and preparing one’s thoughts – A.M. Homes
There are many different ways. One is to put on some music I had on when I was last working on the scene. Music is hypnotic. It aligns all the other senses of the imagination. So that takes me there. Another way is for me to go into my journals. In there are all kinds of observations and ideas that might prompt me or are exciting and get me thinking. Sometimes I wake up at two in the morning and that’s when I write furiously and write ten pages. And when I wake up, I don’t recognize the writing but sometimes I look back and say, Oh, this is good, this needs to go into the novel. And there are other ways-including having someone that’s whipping you with a deadline. Deadlines are very effective. –Amy Tan
Lately – go out into the park and pace around and go to the next place with a table and coffee. – Francisco Goldman
Go for more walks. Don’t take a book. Throw my mind on its own resources – Stephen King
Painfully, helplessly, dismally, doggedly, despairingly, hopefully. I keep chipping away at it, or banging the dead horse, or screaming into the darkness, or however you might put it. Something moves eventually. Blocks are really loss of touch…you have to work to find it. – Susan Minot
Running or hiking is very important to my writing process. When I get stymied in my daily writing, I go for a run and can usually come back with a few ideas. I don’t know that I had writer’s block, as in “no ideas.” I’ve certainly looked at work and found absolutely no merit in it. Sometimes I’ll see merit when I return to it; sometimes not. I have had periods when I didn’t have the stomach for writing-when I told myself I was done with it. I’ve gone as long as a year without writing. In retrospect, it was good. I didn’t spend the year looking for material or anything. Maybe I was trying to feel a sense of wonder, the kind of wonder I felt when I discovered writing. It’s good to remember that the act of writing, itself, can become deadingly routine. – Ann Cummins
Reading some nonfiction material that pertains to my work usually jump-starts my brain into a different gear. I’ll get excited about some small detail and then motivated to work it into somewhere else in the manuscript that wasn’t blocking me. Looking at books of photographs also helps, or even opening a favorite novel to a random page and reading for a few minutes. – T. Cooper
I decide that I will write really, really badly for as long as it takes. My working title for The Keep was “A Short, Bad Novel“. I was writing dreadfully, and I continued to for many months. But even amid that dreadful material, there were some helpful impulses, which ultimately guided me through the novel. Being “blocked,” for me, is about being unwilling to write awful stuff. If I can persuade myself that it’s okay to write crap, then the block seems to disappear. And sometimes that crap seems to clear the way for better writing. – Jennifer Egan
It’s reassuring to see that even best-selling authors are not immune to writer’s block. It seems the difference between those would-be writers who give up and those who stick with it is that the latter have accepted these periods as part of their writing process rather than a reflection of their abilities as a writer. But the key to their breaking though writer’s block is that they have figured out their own methods of getting out of their heads and back into writing.
What about you? What do you do when hit with writer’s block or writer’s blank? And what is it that brings you back to writing? Is it a burning idea or theme, a scene that you keep replaying in your mind, or maybe a character who won’t leave you alone? I’d love to hear from my fellow writers out there.
(Author quotes are from The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook, a collection of Q&A from seminars put on by 826 Valencia. Questions were posed to a panel of published authors to aspiring writers. The book categorizes these Q&A sessions by creative writing topics, such as reading influences, structure and plot, character and scene, writing and revision.)