Monthly Archives: January 2020

writer’s block – causes and treatment

typewriter

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Let me preface this by saying I just liked the medical sound of that title. I’m not a writing doctor. However, I am an expert in getting writer’s block.

Writer’s block seems to arrive on my doorstep with such regularity that I’m much calmer about it these days. Instead of freaking out and thinking ‘I’ll never write another decent story again’, I now sigh with recognition and say ‘Heyyy, maaaate’ as writer’s block pushes past me and into the house.

I’m currently stuck mid-story (what a surprise and how unusual), so I decided to brainstorm all the reasons I know for writer’s block. I hope you’ll find something here that helps.

Reasons for writer’s block/Possible solutions:

Our health needs attention.
We need sleep, food, exercise, or fresh air. We need to take time off until we’re over an illness or injury. We need to slow down because of a chronic illness or disability. We need interaction with others, for our mental health. We crave the comfort of writers who understand and can suggest solutions.

We’re distracted.
We’re scrolling this, skim reading that. We sit to write and then get up two minutes later for a snack, a toilet break, anything but keeping bum on chair. If we don’t focus on our work for a decent amount of time, we can’t explore the work in depth.

We’re too impatient.
We want the entire chapter/poem/story/essay to emerge in two or three sittings. But our minds don’t always work like this (mine almost never works like this). A piece must unfold at its own pace. It might reveal itself day by day—as we shower, walk, sweep the kitchen floor. Contemplation is writing.

We’re trying to shove a pumpkin into a cocktail glass.
The fit isn’t right between idea and form. That powerful blast of emotion might be a poem, not an opinion piece. The space station comedy might be a novella not a short story. A painful memory might be best expressed through fiction.

The idea needs more.
It needs strengthening, modifying, layering. We’re writing about an older woman who keeps 33 cats and plays Elvis Presley all day but it’s lacking something. We haven’t revealed her hidden past, or introduced the young neighbour blasting Amyl and the Sniffers, or sent a flood that isolates the woman and her cats.
I sometimes use paper and pen to write a question in big letters, then draw arrows from the question, spouting multiple answers. Outrageous, sensible and plainly stupid answers. Just lots of them is key. One will often point the way forward. (Credit for this strategy goes to Jaclyn Moriarty, who described it in a workshop I attended a few years ago)

We don’t know our characters well.
What are their quirks, how old are they? What’s their occupation? Who are their loved ones? And of course the big questions—What’s their secret fear? and What do they desperately want?

We don’t know the setting well.
This is one is easy to neglect. When I need clarity, I use Google Earth, read about the place, look at images online. For places that exist in my imagination, I might draw mud maps and sketch floor plans so I can ‘see’ the places as my characters move about.

Our self-critics are poking up their ugly heads.
It’s important to banish that tall, sneery, pasty-faced inner critic (okay that’s my inner critic, feel free to picture your own) as our first draft emerges. We need to tell our inner critics to piss off (a technique I first heard from Edwina Shaw at a QWC workshop). For now, we’re just getting down words. We can add, cut, rearrange and refine later.

Forgetting joy.
We write because we love it. We choose and order words and ta-da!—we’ve created a poem, an essay, a novel, a play. A short story, screenplay, memoir piece or work of non-fiction. What a magical and powerful act.
It helps to remember joy. ❤️

 

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Filed under the joy of writing, the writing life, writing advice, writing angst

Jealousy and Mudita

summer flowers

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Mudita comes from Sanskrit and Pali, and means sympathetic joy, or joy in the good fortune of others.

An author tweeted recently about a friend who rated the author’s book 2-stars on Goodreads. In her tweet, the author wondered why this person did such a thing. My first thought—that friend is jealous.

Jealousy can creep into relationships in insidious ways. If you have a friend, and you sense a tiny element of delight in their response when your life gets rough, jealousy might be raising its ugly head. If a bestie reacts to your good news with minimal enthusiasm, they might be jealous. If you begin to feel like you’re not safe with that person, if they start to take offence at the slightest thing, they’re probably jealous. They’re struggling to find their mudita.

I’ve had minimal success in writing; I’m just getting going, but it has been interesting to notice different reactions when I have good writing news.

One writing acquaintance stopped contacting me when I was shortlisted for the Richell Prize. Though we’d recently messaged and supported each other, the writer didn’t congratulate me, and stopped interacting altogether. A coincidence, perhaps, but it baffled me. Another friend—not in the writing world—goes through the motions of congratulating me on publications or placings, but she never seems truly pleased. Perhaps she doesn’t realise what each achievement means to me, but regardless, her muted reactions sting.

On the flip side, other friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in person for several years, have been brilliant. High school pals leave excited comments on social media, Uni mates buy copies of magazines or anthologies where my work is published, old workmates send cheery messages. And my close friends are amazing—there for me in good times and bad. I couldn’t make it without them.

So these days, I’m all about spending time with people who are genuine and kind. Those who I can support and celebrate. Those who are disappointed for me when I have setbacks, and who share in my successes. Those who, like me, might occasionally feel jealousy, but who know its perils and brush it off.

To all you lovely writers who chat with me—in person, on this site, on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram—to you warm, encouraging and funny people: thank you. You are shining examples of mudita.

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Filed under personal, the writing life