I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Monday, July 11, 2011

Conquering writer's block (one paragraph at a time and with an Arthur Boyd painting as inspiration)

I hit a wall in my revisions the week before last. Hard. Critiques I'd received suggested I needed to rewrite a large part of my manuscript AND completely re-characterize one my MCs. A slight blow, when I was hoping to start querying this month (well, a huge blow actually!).

Anyway, once I got over that and accepted this was what I needed to do, I sat down and opened a new document. But. Try as I might, I couldn't make the words come. I sat and stared at my computer screen, tried plotting the new Part, downloaded Scrivener (and procrastinated while I learnt how to use it), drank too much tea, started wasting my time on YouTube, ate too much chocolate, anything except writing really.

I suspect many of you have been in that situation yourself. Not a nice place to be, especially when you've a deadline breathing down your neck, even if it's only a self-imposed one like mine.

(Painting by Arthur Boyd hanging at Parliament House, Canberra )

I did (mildly) stress for a while, but a couple of days later I got over my writers' block, all because of three things that happened in the same day:
  1. I took a break from my writing (a proper full-day break, not just an hour away from the screen);
  2. I took my relatives sightseeing in my city and saw a painting I fell in love with (Actually, I decided it would provide the color scheme for my dream house, and I spent a lot of time planning how I could buy a large print of the painting, and use this, this, and this color in the living room, this in the kitchen, etc etc); 
  3. I started thinking about my beginning scene of the Part in a new way. 
I'd been stuck on the big-picture issues, you see, and had so many different things running in my head I couldn't find any space just to start writing. Plus I was stressing about how big the task was, how I'd never get it finished, what if it was as "bad" as the first attempt, etc etc.

Finally, after my day of inspiration (that same night, actually!), I managed to shove my negative and stressful thoughts aside and think only about the first sentence and the first paragraph. Where were my main characters? What were they doing? How could I ground my reader in the scene before I even dived into dialogue/action/etc. Those were the questions I asked myself. And I told myself just to sit down and write one paragraph to describe and set up the scene. Just one paragraph.

Before I knew it, my words were flowing again, and I couldn't wait to dive into my re-write. Using Scrivener, which I've fallen in love with as well by the way (I might do a separate post on that one day, to share my thoughts) :D

And I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

How about you: Do you get writer's block very often? How do you get yourself out of it? Do you find looking at a scene a different way helps you to write it? What do you think about basing the color-scheme of your house on a painting? :D


Carol Riggs said...

Whoa, it's already Monday down under, eh? Interesting. Still Sunday eve here in the States. Funny you should write about writer's block; I've written a post about it myself for this week. LOL Anyway, it's way cool you were able to (not panic and) work yourself out of your block! Good for you.

Yeah, it can seem overly daunting to redo something major. But just like you did--take it one bite at a time, and break it into smaller bunches. Guess it worked! And if you have to nudge your deadline a bit, that's okay. Better to nudge and have a strong ms than not to nudge and send before you're really ready!

Trisha said...

Not often, though. But when I do, I definitely find it's best to take a break and do something else I enjoy.

I know I had Revision Block for well over a month. But I'm back into it now! Had a nice long break.

Anonymous said...

I either take a break or, most often, I switch to another manuscript. I always have two wips on the burner.

I sit on critiques and don't use them right away. It takes me time to absorb them and figure out how to rewrite my manuscript.

Amanda Milner said...

I'm currently dealing with writer's block. I'm thinking of having a valve installed on the side of my head to relieve pressure in my brain every now and then. Sound good? ;) When my head is as full as it is now it sounds brilliant! Haha!
Sorry about the big time revision...ahem, how sorry should I be?? ;) I'm super impressed how quickly you pulled yourself out of your writer's block! Well done. ☺

Aldrea Alien said...

I used to get writers block a lot when I first started writing (some 14 years now), most of it was likely due to me pantsing the whole novel. It was utter rubbish and I ended up rewriting the whole story. Several times. The things I choose to learn the hard way ...

But back to the bouts of Writous Blockous. I think just about everyone takes a break from writing when it happens. It is, after all, our subconscious trying to tell us that the ol' muse is stagnating in its own juices.
In my experience, stepping away from a story is usually the thing to spark an idea related to it.

PK HREZO said...

Awesome, Rach! I usually find that a day or two off helps me too. Instead of chasing your muse, sometimes we have to just ignore it so it comes whispering in our ear.
Believe it or not, I get tons of ideas during church. Prolly because it's the only time I'm still and quiet. :)
Good luck on your rewrites!

Cally Jackson said...

I totally understand where you're at. I've been there before when I received the professional appraisal of Entwined (the very first conceptualisation of what is now Tangled). The appraiser suggested some quite major changes which at the time felt like a punch in the stomach. Looking back, I can see she was right and I'm so glad I acted on her feedback!

Best of luck with your revisions. I have no doubt you'll get there - 99% of success is persistence (or something like that!). :-)

Alison Miller said...

Breaks from writing definitely help me - and stir the subconscious. And I know what you mean about those self-imposed deadlines. I wanted to query my latest WIP in November. Didn't actually happen until March. Take time with the needed revisions and good luck!

Crystal said...

I still get it, and I usually either take a break from whatever MS I'm working on or I turn to one of the prompts or exercises in this book I have called Naming the World.

I'm glad you were able to work through your block, and I hope you're able to start querying soon! :-)

Also: Basing the colour scheme of your house on a painting? Faaaaaaabulous!!

Anne-Mhairi Simpson said...

I'm terrible for writer's block - just hauled myself out of a few weeks of it! I've got Second Book Syndrome, and it's the second book in a trilogy, which makes it even worse! But we'll get there. In the end, we can't not write. Although I've found eating more healthily does help with block. Kick-starts my brain or something :D

Anne-Mhairi Simpson said...

I'm terrible for writer's block - just hauled myself out of a few weeks of it! I've got Second Book Syndrome, and it's the second book in a trilogy, which makes it even worse! But we'll get there. In the end, we can't not write. Although I've found eating more healthily does help with block. Kick-starts my brain or something :D

Miranda Hardy said...

I'm having a hard time now, not having the inspiration to write. Great post.

Christa Desir said...

I haven't really experienced writer's block but more the opposite where I don't have time to write all that I want to and big piles of backlogged writing are just sitting in my brain.
Glad you were able to relax for a day. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.

Savannah Chase said...

I hit a wall with one of my current projects and I felt like I was banging my head on the wall...I took a break from it and decided I need time away and will go back once I finish some other stuff...

Bluestocking said...

Definitely write a Scrivner post. I hear good things, but not in-depth enough for me to take the plunge.

So glad you are writing again. I honestly think you need time to process things, especially when deciding what to do about a major revision.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

If I'm feeling stuck or uninspired, I skip ahead to a scene that does fire me up and begin there.

Colene Murphy said...

Oh yes, have I been there! And you're so right. It's all about getting the proper motivation and looking at starting small, at the beginning of the change, and not about the whole thing! SO glad you got through it!!

Hart Johnson said...

Congrats on powering through that! I hate thinking I am about ready and getting a big buster that I'm not. it's so frustrating! Those puzzles, when 'just this piece' isn't working usually come to me on a power walk (though sometimes they will just hit me) but the way i think of it is 'busy body, relaxed brain' and the answers finally get unstuck. As for the 'being done'--I have added in a second round of peer review just KNOWING this seems to happen every time...

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Powering through writer's block like that is no easy task. Hopefully, the feedback you received from your critique partners/beta readers is pointing you in a sufficient direction to correct everything. I do like that picture that inspired you, although I don't know exactly how you could design/decorate a dream house around it.

Bish Denham said...

I don't get writer's block, but I do procrastinate...Once I sit down to write, it comes tumbling out. It's just putting my butt in the chair that seems to be the hard part. So many other things to do...so little time to do them in.

erica and christy said...

With my first ms, I just wrote what I wanted to write and didn't get caught up in procrastination or block until I got to the end. I don't know, maybe I didn't want it to be over?? But then I revised and edited and revised and had readers and edited and queried and...failed?? (still to be seen, I guess)

So yeah, this one gets me stuck because of that dang fear of failure. But I'm slowly getting my mojo back. Thanks for the suggestions.

Christine Rains said...

I get writer's block every now and then. I have to step back from my writing. Reading and cleaning helps. Sometimes the work does seem overwhelming, but it's a great feeling when you get back into it and it's all done. :)

Vicki Tremper said...

That absolutely has happened to me, and it's frustrating. But I handle it pretty much the way you did, and eventually get to a place where I can focus on one tiny piece, or just one sentence, and it all flows from there.

Don't stress the big picture! Congrats on breaking through your wall!

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree - walking away from it all and thinking about anything and everything else works for me :)

Alleged Author said...

I'm glad you are able to write again. It sucks when you think you're done only to find out you aren't, but I bet your book is going to be awesome!

Kay L. Davies said...

I get long-term writer's block. Because the book I'm writing is a series of humorous essays about not-always-funny experiences, I can't just sit down and make myself write. Humor doesn't work that way.
I enjoyed several good months when I started An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel, and have been posting to memes ever since. I have a lot of hope for the writing memes, because they don't have to be in my usual offbeat, upbeat style.
I've also started reading classic humorous essayists, and am now reading Damon Runyon. There are some Kipling short stories I find very funny, too, and of course Jane Austen's prose can be a real scream.
Anyway, that's what I'm doing for my writer's block. I'm also consulting with doctors about the cause of my fuzzy-headedness.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

K.V. Briar said...

Hmmm . . . I don't exactly get "blocked", at least I don't call it writer's block, cuz then I'd start using it as an excuse. I get irritated, frustrated, then I hate what I'm doing and start procrastinating working on my WIP. Thats when I know I need to step back and work on something else. If I work on something else (something bran spanking new) and start the juices flowing then I can get back to what I was working on with a bit of momentum under my belt.

If that doesn't work then reading & analyzing a really good book is a sure fire way to get me excited about writing again. (that's why I'm doing a read-a-thon this week!)

Also I think designing a house around a piece of art work is a great idea. What better way to inspire yourself? You'd feel like you were surrounded by your favorite painting. Very cool idea in my opinion.

J.R. Tate said...

I found that music helps me out immensely! Recently I got stuck on my current WIP and I had no idea what to do on it. I got very discouraged and thought about throwing in the towel on it and starting over fresh with a new idea. However, I made myself a playlist of songs that related to the story/characters/situation. I even ran across some soundtracks to other things that fit the story. It was like this light bulb blinked on and now I'm having random muses all the time. Finally had a wonderful day of plentiful writing today.

I'm glad you took a break and got your muse back as well! Best of luck to you!

Ghenet Myrthil said...

I'm glad you were able to get over your block! I've had moments like that and taking an actual break and thinking about something else for a while helps.

I love Scrivener too!

Stina said...

I had a similar problem. I was planning to pitch my novel at the recent RWA national conference, but then one of my beta readers suggested a structural change in my story. She was right of course. I suffered for a few days writer's block (among other things), but a shower one day got me over the problem as the ideas started flowing (along with the water).

Glad to hear you are over yours too, Rachael. :D

Unknown said...

How great that your writer's block didn't last too long! And thanks for sharing your method to get over it. I've just had a few weeks of holiday with ABSOLUTELY NO WRITING (on the page. Lots in my head, of course, which unfortunately doesn't count). And I feel like I'm ready to jump into a whole lot of new writing projects now! Trouble is, I have to go back to school tomorrow... Darn.

Adina West said...

I've never tried basing my writing on a painting...but your post did inspire me to give advice to another 'blocked' writer today. She's been putting off writing a final chapter, and I told her to write just one paragraph, and see how she goes from there!

(Can somebody remind me of this advice next time it's me who can't write?)


Dawn M. Hamsher said...

Thank you for sharing this post. It is so encouraging!

The Write Soil

L.A Speedwing said...

I feel for you cuz been there like you said, it isn't nice so yes, I took a deep breath and square my shoulders and try to pretend it doesn't hurt. Even though it does. It doesn't work of course. But as you also said, going away from it, usually does it. GOOD LUCK!

aisyahputrisetiawan said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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