Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rx for Writer's Block

I’ve been doing some research on writer’s block because I seem to be suffering from a bout of it at the moment.  The web is teeming with suggestions of how to get unblocked and start writing again.  So many, in fact, that it made me wonder if this is the subject writers write about when they’re stuck.  The solutions ranged from step away and do something else, to chain yourself to the chair and write your way over, under, around or through it.  One of my favorites was from a site ( that quoted twelve famous authors and how they dealt with blockage.  Three of my favorite authors were cited:  Hemmingway, Steinbeck and Bradbury.  Of the twelve, Orson Scott Card had the answer that agreed most with my own personal diagnosis: 

“Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on.”

Or more concisely stated: if you don’t like the solution, change the problem.

While doing this research (translation: not writing) it occurred to me that, in keeping with the traditions of western medicine, we should treat the symptoms rather than the disease.  I’m talking hard drugs, the kind that writers would use—but someone needs to invent them.  To help speed the process along, I took the liberty of identifying five common states of writer’s block along with the drug that could be prescribed to treat them.

Diagnosis:  Distractitus
Description:  Too many outside distractions (aka life) pulling you away from and out of your work.
Rx:  Distractin
Dosage:  2-3 hrs of uninterrupted silence taken aurally every 24 hours.
Diagnosis:  Focal Dislocation
Description:  Too much going on in your story.  You can’t focus on the characters and their internal motivation because the A, B and C plots keeps getting in the way.
Rx:  Focacyllin
Dosage:  2 pills dissolved in snappy dialogue but not to exceed more than two characters.  Cannot be combined with flashbacks.

Diagnosis:  Inertial Character Estrangement (ICE)
Description:  You’re trying to move from point A to point B, but your characters haven’t done or said anything meaningful in so long, you’re wondering if they still have a pulse.
Rx:  locomotorpsychocycline
Dosage:  3 mml injection directly into protagonist (or antagonist) whichever is least cooperative.

Diagnosis:  MetaDataSurplexia
Description:  The confidence you had that you possessed the skills required to write your story in the first place is either suppressed or simply gone leading to hours (days, weeks or months) of research and story analysis.  (Frequently misdiagnosed as Analysis Paralysis)
Rx:  Cerebelladumpacodone
Dosage:  24 hr IV drip, reducing data feed until confidence returns and writing flows freely.

Diagnosis:    Creative Collapse Syndrome
Description:  Your creative well is tapped out.  The hose that used to feed the garden of your imagination has gone from a steady steam to a slow, sludge-like ooze.
Rx:  Createanoxitonin
Dosage:  Unrestricted topical application of life, friends, family and laughter.   Continue liberal doses in stress-free preferably beach oriented environment until creativity flows and words return to the page with little or no discomfort.

So there’s my trip around writer’s block along with a few recommended prescriptions to treat a common problem infecting writers dating back to the first time a caveman (or cavewoman) stood frozen, stick in hand, unable to remember what possessed him to start painting on the wall in the first place.

What do you do when faced with blockages of your own?


Maureen McQuerry said...

Creative Collapse Syndrome+Distractitus= me. Advances in medical technology should allow for a virtual infusion of creativity juice. Just place both hands on computer screen over some great writing and breath in deeply.
Thanks for making me laugh at a very real and common dilemma. Nice to know we're all in this together.

Sechin Tower said...

I think you're right that there are many kinds of blocks and each needs to be treated differently. Well done, Stephen!

I would add a psychological malady that stems from paranoia of not producing a perfect draft on the first go. For this, I suggest purging the system by allowing yourself a bad rough draft. You can even turn off the screen if you find yourself getting sucked into what's already been written rather than what you're writing.

That might not be as succinct as Stephen's pharmacology, so I salute you for inventing this approach!

Mary said...

Thanks, Steve.
A dose of humor always helps!

Jordan Dane said...

I watch old (& really terrible) Christian Slater movies. A dose of: Slatertosin.

I firmly believe the mind works the problem, so I don't sweat it when I feel the urge to stop writing. I trust my instinct on something not working. I'd rather stop than keep writing into a worse situation.

Love the humor. Definitely needed

Stephen Wallenfels said...

Sechin, that's me. Totally me. Three steps forward, two deletes back. All day long.