Playing solitaire vs. doing some writing

Of all the possible diversionary activities one could engage in to avoid writing, why do so many people choose mind-numbing, pointless games like solitaire? Solitaire and writing are both lonely pursuits, so maybe they attract the same personality types. I’m of the ilk that would happily immerse myself into the most onerous writing assignment to avoid playing a game like solitaire. Each to his or her own.

Maybe I answered my own question with the term “mind-numbing.” Are you more likely to feel sharp pangs of guilt if you do something fun like eating a tub of guacamole and watching a movie? I know that plenty of people do this when they could be writing as well, but I believe the solitaire players must have a good reason for their approach too.

My hunch is that the trance-like dissociation that solitaire provides gives a sense of relief from the feelings that the writing generates. Just enough focus to occupy a brain lobe or two and hypnotize the player into an episode of several stress-free minutes during which consciousness of the writing task fades into obscure nether-regions of the psyche.

If solitaire is your preferred mode of writing avoidance, try playing it after you’ve written rather than before, and see if you spend as much time at it.

Posted in Common Writing Block Problems, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Young Will has the ‘lost my muse blues”

Shakespeare in Love is another good writer’s block movie. Young Will, as played by Joseph Fiennes, starts out the movie with no inspiration, a fickle girlfriend/muse, and plenty of pressure from the theater owner who depends on Shakespeare’s plays to pay the bills.

To top it off, during his session with an Elizabethan shrink it is revealed that his sexual functioning has suffered recently as well. Fortunately, a cross-dressing Gwyneth Paltrow appears and inspires enthusiasm on both the literary and romantic fronts. The play gets written and the show goes on.

It interests me that many writers, and other artists, have a sense that they communicate with something beyond themselves that is Continue reading

Posted in Common Writing Block Problems, Famous writers, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Negative Thinking and Writing Blocks

Debilitating thoughts that plague writers (e.g., “I have no talent,” “I will fail if I attempt this,” or “I am not a writer”) are generally exaggerations and distortions of the truth that have gained too much authority and power due to their endless internal repetition. They are a form of self-inflicted brainwashing in which the struggling writer is both the terrorist and the terrorized.

Dragging these thoughts into the clear light of day and examining them more objectively is one method of freeing yourself from being bullied and controlled by them. They are mental habits we have learned, not immutable  “Truths.” They are also temporary experiences. Sometimes all we have to do is wait them out and they will go away.

If you become more aware of the mental processes connected with your blocks, you will at least have a fighting chance of escaping their control. There are some things you can do to alter your inner experience.

Start by identifying your own particular set of thoughts and feelings about writing. The self-assessments presented in The Blocked Writer’s Book of the Dead should help with this. Most of us have a handful of  negative thought patterns that recur consistently. Try to hear them and make a list. The most common problematic thoughts generate the emotions of fear,  resentment, hopelessness, or overwhelm. Look for these.

If you are only aware of feeling blank or daydreaming, try to Continue reading

Posted in Common Writing Block Problems, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Satan lurks where the Internet perks

Satan tempting a writer to check his Facebook page

The keyboard and screen have been a huge advance and timesaver for writers. The ease of editing, the immediate access to online information and research, the speed of submitting and communicating, all contribute to making our literary lives flow better. And yet, Satan lurks where the Internet perks.

The opportunity to careen off, away from your writing, into any one of an infinite number of beguiling non-productive online expeditions beckons at your fingertips. These off-task cyber distractions may feel more immediately gratifying than your writing project does, and they will call to you sweetly, entreating you to pause in your travails and spend “just a few moments” with them.

Powerful and devious cyber demons like Email, Facebook, Twitter, texting, games and the like must be tamed. These omnipresent time sinks are here to stay and you have to keep them in their place if you are intent on writing.

If you find yourself deeply absorbed in your email correspondences during your writing time, you might rationalize by saying “At least I’m writing!”  Sorry, but actually, you are not. You are avoiding your more important writing.

Helpful rules you can adopt are “Write First” or “Do the Harder Thing First.” Make your other online activities contingent upon having done a prescribed amount of writing each day. If given the choice between online shopping versus writing your book, do the book work first. If you start with the shopping, the odds that you will get back Continue reading

Posted in Common Writing Block Problems, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Is graphorrhea a type of writer’s block?

Michael Douglas has a messy case of graphorrhea in the movie Wonder Boys

Graphorrea (extreme wordiness in writing) would appear to be the antithesis of the constipation known as writer’s block. It’s not, however, if the geyser of words spewing forth does not move you closer toward the completion of your project. You can hide out in graphorrea and convince even yourself that you are doing your job as a writer.

There is a good scene in Wonder Boys when a college student, Katie Holmes, confronts her professor, Michael Douglas, about the excessive wordiness and lack of editorial decision making in his novel in progress. Michael has been in a tailspin after the resounding success of his first novel, and the crippling anxiety he feels about trying to write a worthy second book is expressed by a host of self-sabotaging behaviors and graphorrea.

He simply can’t stop writing or make the decisions required to Continue reading

Posted in Common Writing Block Problems, Famous writers, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oprahphobia: A new diagnostic category for blocked writers

A writer who was completely stalled confessed to me that her difficulties with finishing her book came from a paralyzing fear of being on television. She was convinced that her book (if finished) would be so good that it was highly likely that she would be asked to go on Oprah and discuss it in front of millions of viewers. The thought of being interviewed by Oprah on television terrified her, and brought her writing to a complete stop.

Getting on Oprah is the Holy Grail for writers hoping to make their mark (and a few million dollars), but many writers are also private, introverted and uncomfortable being the center of attention. You may want your writing to be successful, but the public aspect of making that happen is not every writer’s cup of tea.

Public speaking really helps to promote a book, but it is an entirely different skill from writing. In fact, a good percentage of the general population would rather die than have to do it. One writer admitted to me that he was unable to finish his dissertation after eleven years because finishing would mean he was ready to get a job as a professor, and he was terrified of speaking in front of a class.

The good news is that conditions such as Oprahphobia are treatable. A good public speaking class or a few sessions with a qualified therapist can turn these issues around.

If you find you are eventually able to overcome your fears and finish your book, tell Oprah about it and maybe she’ll let you tell your story on TV.

Posted in Common Writing Block Problems, Famous writers, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Go after it with a club!”

Jack London said  “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”  And I’m sure it felt like that for him at times. Jack was one of the founders of the California Writers Club, but I don’t believe he was referring to that kind of club, even though the company of writers can provide a degree of inspiration. I like what Jack London says about not waiting for inspiration. Developing the ability to write in a variety of moods is a huge asset for a writer – including when you’re bored, listless, confused, uncertain, blank, tired, scattered, hungover, angry, depressed, or terrified. Material has a way of coming forth when we pick up the pen, even if we’re not feeling confident or full of ideas. We have to trust in that. Feeling a lack of inspiration can be a convincing excuse not to write. Do we need to be absorbed in a special inner state of inspired passion to create? No. We might feel ‘inspired’, or any number of other things as we prepare to write, and both the quality and quantity of what we put down on the page might not be clearly linked to how inspired we felt. We just have to do it. We could be like Jack London and chase inspiration with a club, or we could just quietly work at our writing day to day. Rain or shine.  

Posted in Common Writing Block Problems, Famous writers, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment