Episode Title: How do I deal with this thing called Writer’s Block?
Writer’s Block occurs when you are literally stuck in the writing process and unable to proceed in the advancement of your story. This phenomenon is spoken of so often within the writing community that there is almost a presumption that you must experience it to be a writer. The condition can be brief, lasting only hours, or more problematic, lasting days and even weeks. The symptoms of Writer’s Block vary but include anxiety, stress, self-consciousness, lack of preparedness, lack of interest in the subject matter, and so on. The suggested solutions are just as varied—everything from therapy, to a jog around the track, to a ham sandwich.
Photo by Lucas Bieri
Much of what is written about Writer’s Block presupposes that you are a student or up-and-coming writer. But you are neither—you are a mature adult and, in many cases, at least old enough to be the parent, if not the grandparent, of the younger writer-blocked group. You have finally begun to write your long-considered short story or novel, perhaps after completing decades of a demanding life. You have come to this place as one who is fulfilling a dream that often seemed far away, but is now within your grasp. Unlike many younger writers, you are not writing for a grade, or searching for a field of endeavor, or balancing writing with all of the demands of life that you have already gone through. No, you are focused and, importantly, you want to write.
Image by Brett Sayles
I had read about Writer’s Block before writing Serpent at the Well. So I was more than a bit surprised that I never, not once, found myself in the midst of a debilitating writer’s block during the writing of a 140,000 word novel. On the contrary, my problem was not in thinking of the next thing to write, but in sorting out the story options that came to me, sometimes in Gatling Gun style, in the middle of a paragraph, or at the beginning of a chapter. So a question materializes: How could my experience be so different from the ingrained expectation that I would be doomed to episodes of Writer’s Block?
Consider, if you will, the bright young writers in the act of writing their first novels. Much of their writing is necessarily a fabrication, something not experienced but, rather, conjured within the mind. It is this need to fabricate a substantial part of everything in a novel that, I believe, is the well that will periodically run dry. On the other hand, consider the much deeper well of human experiences an older group of writers has to draw upon. This is the penicillin against Writer’s Block. With your more advance years, comes a greater number of encounters with all that makes us human—everything from marriage and divorce, to birth and death, to the causes of despair or happiness, love and desire, contentment or longing, and so much more.
So, in addition to your absolute desire to write, which will help to keep you highly focused, you also have an abundance of life’s experiences from which to write. You may still hit a roadblock here or there—after all, if your science fiction novel takes you to a black hole or a distant star at the speed of light, you may have periods of constructive challenge. But if you harness the things that make you who you are—the people, the places, the challenges, the successes and failures, the good and the bad—Writer’s Block need not haunt your work.