O Muse, Unblock me!

By Amy Susan Brown

I am three days late posting this blog, which is symptomatic of my present condition, one that every writer suffers now and again: writer’s block. “You’re just lazy,” my inner critic snarls. “You don’t really want this. You’re not really a writer. Stop fooling yourself. Just write. What’s so hard about that?” Um, I could go down the list of excuses, nasty voice in my head: I am judging a literary competition, which is taking a great deal of my time, more than I ever imagined; I am reading writer friends’ manuscripts and published works as they’ve requested, knowing my own work would also be treated with the same consideration; I am constantly traveling these summer weeks; I have a business report to write for an important client…the list goes on—and on. But even I am sick of my lists and my excuses. So I turned not long ago to my fellow writers in AuthorLab, looking for inspiration or commiseration.

Make it a habit, advises Alexa Padgett: “I think deadlines help, but I also firmly believe in the habit of writing. Whenever you do it, do it at the same time, for the same amount of time, every day. In the same place. How long does it take to form a habit? Ten days? So, for ten days, write FIRST thing in the morning. Nothing else first because somehow the day’s gone and you still haven’t accomplished anything. So write first, with your coffee or tea (caffeine makes my brain snappier).  Write first, write every day and make it a habit. “ And then she threw me a bone: “But I also have three girls home with me until mid-August. My productivity is lower than the basement. ;-(“

Find your happy place to write and jump into an enticing scene, suggests LuAnne Stewart: “I have been struggling with this too. I have been trying to set a schedule in the mornings to write first thing for an hour, but some mornings I get sidetracked. I found that on vacation I had great stretches of writing time sitting outside (although that won’t work in Florida in summer!). Maybe try to think of a particular scene you are eager to write and use that to jump-start you.”

Share your writing goals to hold yourself accountable, says Isabel Dennis-Muir: “I am in the same boat as everyone else,” says Isabel.”  “I had the whole of June set aside to write every day and yes, you guessed it, I did write some of those days, but on other days I managed to find so many other things that just had to be done (all excuses, of course)! …I was really pleased though that at the beginning of the month I created a plan (that’s a first for me) and so now when I write I can look at my plan and just choose one of the scenes to focus on, depending on my mood.  I quite like this approach, rather than having to write sequentially…My own target is to get my first draft completed by September/October and I am trying to put myself under pressure by telling plenty of people that is my goal, so that I will feel very guilty if I don’t achieve it!… it’s great to know that we all struggle with the same demons.”

Get that butt in the chair, warns Alison Burnside: “I have spent so long with my butt in the chair that it has taken on the shape of said butt! But I’ve nearly finished my novel, or at least I’ve got it as far as I can for now before I have a break of a month or so. Have you tried just setting aside a short burst of time for free writing – maybe writing about your novel? I find taking time out is the worst thing because it’s so hard to find the path back in.”

Take a workshop and learn from the pros, shares Patricia Averbach: “I’m currently in Chautauqua, New York, taking a personal essay workshop with Ann Hood. She’s making us write a new personal essay every day. Butt in chair becomes a non-issue when you’re under the gun like that. However, everything’s a trade-off. My butt’s in my chair so much that I’m missing a lot of summer fun. No free lunch ladies. I’m looking forward to next week when I start goofing off again – by which I mean writing only two hours a day.”

Make a pact with another writer, offers Deana Luchia. In a similar boat she gives me an oar so we can paddle together: “I feel exactly the same. I have few other work commitments at the moment but I’m shamefully unproductive. I think deadlines and sticking to the very first ones are the key. Making yourself do the writing before any of the other necessary life/house things like laundry, shopping for food etc. I know this is sad but sometimes I need to schedule my hours each day and stick to them. Do you want to do some mini- deadlines with me?”

Listen to your shrink: In the midst of my rumination on my plight, I listened to an interview with the prolific author Delia Ephron on NPR where she confessed to being afflicted by writer’s bock shortly after her first novel was published. Here’s an excerpt from that interview with Frank Sesno:

Ephron: When I sold my first book, which was “How to Eat Like a Child,” I blocked immediately and got involved with the really, the craziest guy you could find on the planet. And my shrink told me how to get rid of the guy. Very helpful. And then he told me how to become a writer. And he said, you sit down…

Sesno: Your shrink told you how to become a writer?

Ephron: Yeah. Yeah. He said, you sit down in the morning from 2:00 — from 10:00 to 12:00, and you — at your desk, and you don’t have to write but you can’t get up. Okay? You just can’t do anything.

Sesno: You chain yourself to your chair.

Ephron: You can’t make tea. You can’t pet your cat. You can’t do anything, okay? Then at 2:00 to 4:00 you do the same thing. You know, you sit down in front of your computer and you do that. And it’s like — it’s just sheer willpower. You don’t get up and eventually you write. Then, it turns into habit. And then, it turns into love. Okay?

I want to fall in love again, with my characters. They have been patiently waiting for me to resurrect them for far too long. About 10 days ago, Deana and I made a pact to write 1,000 words a day. She’s only missed a day. Bravo! Me? Umm…do I need to repeat the list above? Seriously, I’m quite tired of my non-writing myself. Tomorrow I head to the mountains here in northern Sweden, to our quiet country cottage where there is literally nothing to do but walk, pick berries—and write. I believe my Muse awaits me there. She has the chair pulled out and she intends to pin me down and make me sit there. Deana’s waiting for my words. So am I.




















One thought on “O Muse, Unblock me!

  1. Hey. I think it’s really helpful and encouraging to know that whilst most writers seem to stall every now and again, everyone has a plan on how to get back up and carry on. I have to say that in the ten days or so since I decided I had to write 1000 words away (rather than working on a particular chapter, or working for a set amount of time) I have been so productive. More so than I have been in a long time. I think 1000 words seems to be an optimum number of words for me. It’s not too long that it seems a daunting task and one that I might want to avoid and it’s long enough to get stuck into a scene again. I actually want to get to my desk now and carry on, I remember exactly where I am with my characters and story so there’s none of this what-was-I-actually-writing-about? nonsense which seemed to have plagued me since January, I’m on track to have finished this novel by September, and most importantly, it’s fun again. I also have found that ditching the laptop (which sort or ditched me for a few days by having an unexplained breakdown) and going back to my Mac on my desk in a room that is primed for writing, has also really helped. I used to like to find a TV channel to have on in the background whilst I worked on my laptop with my dogs cuddled up next to me, or I’d wave at neighbours going past my front garden and end up chatting, whereas now I’m in what we call ‘the middle room’ which has less going on. (The dogs are still here, but by my feet). Anyway. It’s all working so far. Let’s see if I can keep it up. Good luck Amy!


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