Writer’s Block Equals Writer’s Fear

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think of it more accurately as writers’ fear, with an affect similar to any other phobia.

I have acrophobia, the fear of heights. I first realized this when I was perhaps in fourth grade. My family spent some time up in the mountains during the summer, and one of our activities was to hike to a nearby manned fire tower.

At the time forest rangers lived on site during the months of highest fire danger. To encourage fire safety they gave out Junior Fire Ranger member cards to kids making the trek to a fire tower.

Hiking to the tower was the easy part for me. The hard part was climbing the steps to the enclosed platform at the top. We were already at the summit of the mountain, but the steps took us higher.

I knew better than to look down, but in between the steps I could see … sky! Now that was truly frightening. So much so that I was immobilized. I couldn’t make myself keep going.

That’s the sensation of writer’s block. Immobilization. But what’s to fear?

I suppose in part it’s a fear of failure, but it might also be a kind of performance anxiety. I’m reminded of a Charlie Brown monologue some of my English students performed during our speech unit.

Supposedly at school, on the playground during lunch, Charlie Brown is detailing why lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for him. Eventually he muses about the Little Redhead Girl he’s got a crush on. At one point he wonders why she never looks at him. He thinks he should go over to her and sit and ask her to have lunch with him. He stands up, realizes he’s standing up, then sits down. He declares he’s a coward.

Still he doesn’t know why she doesn’t look at him. He says he never remembers a time when she looked at him. He gets worked up, even a little indignant, and says

Is she so great and I’m so small, that she can’t spare one single moment just to … She’s looking at me. She’s looking at me! SHE’S LOOKING AT ME!

With that, he pops his lunch bag over his head, then says,

Lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for me. If that Little Redhead Girl is looking at me with this stupid bag over my head she must think I’m the biggest dork alive.

Poor Charlie Brown. He wanted to have courage. He wanted the Little Redhead Girl to like him or talk to him or at least look at him—until she did. Then he froze. And worse, he did something stupid.

I think writers, because we operate in a public arena, are afraid we might write something stupid and we’re wondering if readers are out there pointing and laughing while we sit with our lunch bags over our heads, hoping to go unnoticed by the very people we want to talk to.

No one ever said writers are rational! 😉

Published in: on May 25, 2010 at 11:20 am  Comments (1)  
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Committing to a Writing Project

On Tuesday I came clean about my version of writer’s block—too afraid to write. I started yesterday by tackling some of the jobs that have been hanging over me and cluttering my brain. As I eased out from under the load, I felt less paralyzed, but honestly, I considered backing out of going to the conference. Except, I’ve already paid.

OK, so I’m going. I prayed. I know others did too. And a friend of mine reminded me about writing during my optimum thinking time. For me, that’s morning—usually my blogging time.

Today I switched that and worked on one of the projects I’d hoped to take with me to the conference. Except, I still don’t know. I sent off some pages to another writer for some feedback with the idea that if it’s no good, maybe I’ll can the idea.

Then I read a part of Randy Ingermanson’s blog post about goals. He said there are two necessary things if you want to complete a project: define it and commit to it.

The “commit” part seemed applicable to my circumstances. Here’s the pertinent passage:

Second, you commit to writing that particular book. Commitment means that you won’t quit when things get hard (they will). You won’t quit when your critique buddies find flaws (they will). You won’t quit when the agents say they’re not interested in that particular book (they will). You won’t quit when the editors say no (they will). You won’t quit when the substantive editorial letter comes back with 20 pages of requested revisions (it will). Commitment means that you’re in all the way. Commitment means that you work on the book until one of two things happen — either you realize that the book is fatally flawed, or you finish the book.

My question is, How do you know when a book is “fatally flawed”? If I can’t finish, have I quit or have I recognized it is fatally flawed? And who’s to say it is fatally flawed? Not agents or crit buddies or editors, it would seem.

And if it’s up to me, how will I know? I can’t judge by it being too hard or because I’m not getting the responses I hoped. So what should be my the measure I use to judge “fatally flawed”?

Unless … Maybe there should be only one thing—I’m all in until I finish. Not, until I finish or …

Something to think about.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm  Comments (8)  
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Does Writer’s Block Exist?

I read an interesting post yesterday by Brandilyn Collins. In it she decried writers who deny the existence of writer’s blog. She has it, she says, but it’s not the usual “I just can’t make myself get started” kind of thing. In fact she has tweaked the term a bit, calling it “plotter’s block” instead.

What she said reminded me so much of posts Karen Hancock has written about the same thing.

I can relate to what they say. In essence it is the problem of trying to write when you don’t have a real idea about what should be happening in your story. Brandilyn calls herself a planner. Karen says she simply writes scenes that she envisions, not in a sequential order.

In my own writing, I plan generally but must plan specifically before I can write. When I get stalled, I’ve learned this is a sign I don’t really have a grip on what’s to happen next.

For me the answer is to figure out what is to happen. I’ve learned to ask question which I start to answer in an open ended way—in other words, with as many answers as I can dream up. Eventually I choose one. But I’ve had instances, in the book I’m working on, for instance, in which I locked onto an answer, wrote the scenes, then on rewrite realized I’d gone in the wrong direction.

I rewrote the section that was off, this time with a much better answer, but it means there are things to change from here on. I’d forgotten just how many. Some days I’m not so excited about plowing ahead, trying to right the listing ship. That borders on the old notion of writer’s block. I’m basically saying, It’s too hard, not fun, not quick.

Well, yeah! Writing does fall into the work category, so there are times it’s hard. I pretty much have to accept that. But then there are days like Saturday when the words seemed to flow and when I stopped for lunch, I thought, I just love to write!

Maybe it was because the alternative was to do the laundry. 😀

You writers, what are your experiences? Do you deal with writer’s block, or have you learned some way of heading it off?

Published in: on June 4, 2008 at 11:25 am  Comments (8)  
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