"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: What To Do When You're Completely Blocked

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What To Do When You're Completely Blocked

Dear Fellow Writer,

I'm taking some time off this week - a risky thing to do when your mental well-being relies on regular writing.

As much as I've enjoyed catching up on the gardening and sorting through my electronic leads bag, I'm Jonesing over my lack of word output.

Please, encourage me to get back to writing by pre-ordering my next novel!

Rob new book

Thanking you in advance.

Keep writing!


What to Do When You're Blocked

What to do when you're blocked

Call a plumber.

Seriously, there are times when the muse disappears; when all the words in the world seem to have gone on vacation - or at least to a place just out of reach. 

No signal, in mobile parlance.

The thing is that when you're writing for a living you can't afford to spend long periods blocked. It's just not an option. 

Plus, it's kind of absurd.

If you worked in a hospital, you wouldn't be able to complain about Doctor's Block. Similarly, if you were a childcare provider, you'd be laughed at if you said you had Nanny's Block. Only writers, self-servingly, have a name for something they're not doing… 

Listen, you can't let yourself believe that writer's block exists. 

It doesn't.

There are in fact only two mental and physical states that are relevant to you from now on.

Either you're writing - or you're not writing. 

In the former state, you are a writer. In the latter, you're not.

Get used to thinking like this. When you're not writing, you're not a writer - so don't boast about being one if you're not actually writing. 

This way of thinking helps to prevent blocks because the main reason why blocks occur is kidding yourself you're a writer when you haven't written for ages.

If you hadn't been to the moon or outer space recently you wouldn't keep calling yourself an astronaut, would you? You’d think of yourself as a former astronaut, right? It's the same idea. Don't call yourself a writer unless you're writing every day. 

Otherwise, you're a former writer - until you start again.

Now that little lecture is over, what do you do if you're not writing during your writing time?

Simple: write your way to a solution. 

Imagine it's Tuesday morning and yesterday was fine. You got lots of things done. Today, it's eleven o’ clock and you got nothing. You can't think of anything to write about.

First, consult your time schedule. 

Write down the question: What am I doing here now? 

Answer this question in writing. Something like, I'm supposed to be writing a blog post about butterfly collecting - or whatever.

Next ask again, in writing, Where should I start? 

Even if your answer is, Beats me, write it down anyway and keep asking yourself questions in writing and answering them in writing until - as it will - your urge to write kicks back in.

No amount of thinking helps a block. 

Indeed, thinking makes it worse.

More than a decade ago, I was blocked for about a year, determined to work through the block in my mind. I thought if I could just use reason for long enough, a solution - a revelation of some sort - may occur to me. 

It never did.

At the time I was part of a writers’ group. I got blocked because a couple of writers told me that the story plot of my then novel was too subtle for most readers – and/or on occasion too obscure or complicated. 

I kept going over in my mind how I might deal with these issues. I kept thinking I would be able to write when the solution occurred to me. Trouble was, the opportunity to write never arose because I was too busy wishing for an answer, trying to summon up a solution that would never arise without more writing.

Now, I wonder what on Earth I was so blocked about. 

Why did a couple of casual observations make such a dire impact?

The truth, I'm guessing, is that my obsession with those other writers' comments actually masked a deeper insecurity I felt about my abilities: insecurities that had little to do with the work. 

Luckily, after the year was up, I just started writing again and ignored my insecurities.

I realized, as soon as I started writing, that what other people think is irrelevant when you're writing. You can't let what other people think bother you, especially if it stops you from completing a manuscript. 

You just have to get on with it. And banish your own internal critic too. He's not doing you any favors either!

The simple fact is that unless you finish writing projects, you can't know whether you're any good anyway. 

Plus, you won't get any better unless you finish projects on a regular basis.

Looking back is how you judge your progress. 

Looking forward into the void does little but scare you.

You have to feel your fear and do it anyway, as the life coach, Susan Jeffers, famously once said. 

Talking of famous quotes, John Braine once said:

“A writer is one who counts words.”

If in doubt, count the words you write as you go along, once every five minutes if necessary. 

I find this dumb-sounding, mechanical activity quite therapeutic and reassuring if I'm feeling at all insecure - or if I think I might be heading for a block. 

Try it and…

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell

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