At a Loss for Words

(Vision 2)

At a Loss for Words
By Vicki McElfresh 
©2001, Vicki McElfresh


Writer's block.  The words send shivers down the spines of many authors, and send others away shaking their heads.   Writer's block is not a living, breathing thing we can summon.  It is not a demon hiding in the shadows.  It is a state of mind that can be conquered.

I have faced major writing blocks -- my latest was just a few months ago  -- and I have somehow managed to overcome them.  How?  I found the source of the block.  I had just finished my third novel, and I nearly shelved that manuscript because writing had become a chore.  The thought of sitting at my computer for hours made me physically ill.  I had been so excited about the novel when I started it, and then halfway through, I lost all interest.  I tried working on other projects, but I had the same lackluster feeling with them.  I couldn't understand why.  There was nothing wrong with my book:  I loved the characters, and though the plot had some holes, they were holes that could be easily fixed in the rewrite.  My daily word count dropped from over 1000 words a day to less than 300.

I found my answer in a writing exercise on the Forward Motion boards.  The exercise was to have a conversation with a character, and so I moaned about my inability to write to Donag, the main character of my book.  He said, "You're trying to force it again.  Just relax, it's there, stop worrying about the words on the page."

My response was, "I can't stop thinking about all the other things that are going on right now.  They're always in the back of my mind.  And it's Sunday, I have to go back to work tomorrow."  I had my answer.  At the time of this particular block, my job had become unbearable, and that tension colored everything else in my life.  I had been looking for another job for months, and when I finally received a wonderful offer, the tension, and my writing block, disappeared.   I no longer felt ill when I sat down to work.

But sometimes, blocks are simply a problem with the story.  After working on a project for a length of time, it begins to lose its sparkle.  The words seem flat.  The plot seems trite.  The characters seem dull and cliché.  In short, the project is going nowhere except a deep, dark place in my desk.  I find this kind of block very easy to banish.  I print out my story, put it in a folder, and set it aside.  Then I open up a blank screen and begin something new, or I'll open a piece that's been waiting for revision and work on that.  I might even work on a piece of fan-fiction.  I try to choose a story completely different from the one that was giving me trouble.  Within a couple of days I'll have fresh ideas.  The sparkle will return, a little dimmer perhaps, but still there, and I'm off and running on my problem piece again.

The only cure for writer's block is simply to write.  Locate the source of the problem, confront the issue, and write some more.  Write five words a day if that's all that will come out.  Write the same five words if necessary.  Writer's block won't go away by sitting in front of the TV, or taking a long walk, or getting a good night's sleep.  Writing is the only cure, or as Donag said in another exercise, "The words aren't gone; you've covered them up.  Let go of something.  Quit your job if you hate it so much.  There are other jobs, but there's only one of you.  Only you can write our stories."