Friday, June 22, 2007

Michele Cagan on Writer's Block

Michele Cagan
Streetwise Incorporating Your Business
Publisher: Adams Media
Pub date: June 2007
Agent: Jacky Sach



(Click to Buy)


Author Web site: http://hsi.sharpseo.com/

Writer’s Block

As I sat down to write this article, I came down with a severe case of writer’s block. I sat here for a while, alternately glaring at the blank screen and filling it with a long-running solitaire game.

I got up, threw in some wash. Did a little vacuuming. Unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. Tidied up the action figures littering the living room. I’ll say this, writer’s block is my very best cleaning supply—better than the Swiffer any day (and I do truly love my Swiffer).

Next stop, cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer of any food I may have missed during my last bout of blockitis. After all that emotional eating, I feel obligated to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood. This serves a double purpose: burning up calories, and as a thinly disguised pathetic attempt to run into a neighbor and avoid my blank screen for even longer.

Today there was no one outside, probably because it’s raining. I do my exercise/guilt lap and head back down to the dungeon of gloom and doom—a.k.a. my office on days that the writing just won’t come. That’s a lot of days, more than I ever realized there would be when I threw in the towel on “real” jobs and threw my hat into the full-time writing ring. I used to be terrified by it, but no more.

Writer’s block is frustrating, disappointing, intimidating, and scary. And not so bad…

Once you surrender to the block, you can use that time to do virtually anything other than write. I used to fight it. I tried all the tricks: writing gibberish, retyping something I’d already written, making idea lists. The truth is that none of those things work for me, nothing really does. So rather than let myself feel desperate, frustrated, and hollow, I just surrender. I walk away and do something else, trusting that at some point the words will come back.

Now that I’ve accepted that it just happens sometimes, writer’s block doesn’t scare me quite so much anymore. And my kitchen floor looks really, really clean.

*

Feel free to ask Michele questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.

To learn more about Michele Cagan, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

11 comments:

Reid said...

I'm the same way with trying to sleep sometimes. If I can't sleep, it's useless to fight it. I go with it, get up and go do somthing else. I read, write, watch TV, do whatever I can to not think about sleep. Then, after a period of productivity, I can finally snooze.

Does it seem to you that writer's block is more likely to strike when you actually have time to write? When I'm frantic and busy, it seems like I've got more ideas than I can write down.

I get an evening to myself to sit down and write, and my mind is as vacant as a Houston high-rise.

Kimber An said...

Interesting. I rarely get Writer's Block. When it happens, I know it's because I'm really depressed. I get to work solving the depression problem and the Writer's Block magically disappears!

Kate Douglas said...

For me, it's a drive in the country. Since I live in the mountains, even a trip to the grocery store can get the juices flowing again. I think it has to do with the part of my brain that has to drive the car leaving the more primitive, creative part of my brain alone to create...the "lizard brain," so to speak. Once my lizard is free to bask and think, the ideas always come back!

J.L. Murphey said...

Michelle, Like you...I have REALLY Clean floor. Staring at a blank screen can drive you nuts. WTG on finding something that works.

Anonymous said...

But what happens when you can't break the writer's block? I think my months-long writer's block is due to my stressful job and life lately, but there's not much I can do (other than what I'm doing already) to fix that.

How am I going to get my writing mojo back?

mbg said...

Writer's block -- in part, at least -- has something to do with how you come to writing in the first place. Many writers who come by way of journalism, particularly newspapers, learn to just get something on paper. Fiction/creative types who come at writing without having to deal with those demands are more likely to suffer writer's block. I liken it to a stopped up fountain pen -- to unclog it, you shake it or, better yet, dip it in a glass of water or put it on a wet napkin. Then the ink starts flowing. The 'wet napkin' I use to overcome WB, is to go to another type of writing for a spell. After a novel, I may shift to short stories or poetry or nonfiction or even letters to a friend. Anything to keep the ink flowing.

Michele Cagan said...

Reid,

I have the same sleep - really, non-sleep - issue. And I deal with it pretty much the same way, though my way often involves B&J's Vermonty Python.

My WB is definitely more likely to strike when I have a distant or soft deadline. It's been like that for me since high school. Pressure seems to put the words right back in my head. Huge blocks of free writing time can leave me devoid of a single focused thought - hence, the super clean floors.

Michele Cagan said...

There are definitely times that the block overwhelms me. Luckily, not for longer than a couple of days.

I'm also lucky that I have multiple projects going. Usually block in one doesn't impact the others, so I can switch back and forth. However, I have had periods of days - twice it was weeks - where I couldn't write a single sentence. I was terrified, since I'd put all of my income-earning eggs into a single freelance writer basket. What helped me overcome that was my super-supportive sister and several boxes of "emergency" chocolate.

It makes sense to me that fiction writing is much harder and much more prone to blocks than non-fiction. At least with non-fiction, you can research facts and other people's opinions and kind of rehash them in your own words to get the writing flowing.

FIONA said...

My cure for writer's block, or any frustration, is weeding. You can tell my mood just by looking at the state of the flower beds.

If the weather is not cooperating, then I dive into some sudoku. I pick a hard one that requires total concentration, then try to write. If that doesn't work, I surf the blogs.

You can guess how bad my block is today. :-)

Tina said...

I'm just impressed you like your Swiffer. I bought one last week (the wet mop kind). I swipe it across my tile twice and it dries out. I guess it's back to the mop and bucket...

Anonymous said...

I suffered from writers' block for 7 yrs. Before that, I wrote (and had published) 6 mysteries that seemed to flow out of me. I couldn't understand how anyone could be blocked until it happened. In my case, the problem stemmed primarily from having read negative reader reviews on Amazon.com and letting them get to me. Every time I wrote something, I'd hear a reader/reviewer say it was crap, etc, etc and I'd throw it away. I never actually stopped writing. I just couldn't accept anything I wrote as acceptable. I recovered from it (though still struggle) by using positive affirmations, believe it or not. Every night before I went to bed, I'd tell myself, over and over, that I was a good writer. Same thing every morning before I got out of bed, and all thru the day. I managed, after 7 yrs, to write an entire novel. It took me three yrs and more than 25 rewrites. Here's the weird part, though: I've decided it's unfixable, has so many flaws that I can't rescue it without literally writing a different book (which I'd already done 3 times during the 3 yrs). B/c I'd been so afraid I'd once more lose my ability to write, I just wrote whatever came to mind every time I sat down to write, thinking I could "fix" it later. Of course, that, in a sense, is how a first draft should be approached, but in my case, I took the idea to extremes. No point in explaining further, just warning others that this may not be a useful approach.