Is it Writer’s Block or a Writing Break?

Sometimes when a writer hasn’t written much for a while he or she can feel stuck, unable to write, convinced no words will every flow from the pen or keyboard again. This feeling of being stuck is so common that we have the extremely familiar term “writer’s block.”

Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of books have been written about how to get past writer’s block. Thousands of articles . And there are more thousands, maybe even millions, of people struggling and struggling to get rid of their writer’s block. Tearing their hair out, screwing bits of paper into balls and throwing them at the cat, or jumping up and down on their laptops in sheer frustration. Drinking way too much coffee or wine. Tidying their desks or even their entire houses. And screaming that themselves, “Just do it!”

But supposing it’s not a block at all? Supposing it’s a break? Supposing it’s a time for quiet reflection, or for addressing blocks or hurdles in other areas of life?

I haven’t written on this blog for quite a while. I wrote a blog post yesterday. An entire post from beginning to what was sort of an ending. Except it didn’t feel finished and it was getting late, so I left it. This morning I realised I had written that post because I thought I “should” because I hadn’t posted for so long.

I haven’t even read over what I wrote yesterday. I don’t need to to know that I don’t want to publish it. It was written from a perspective of struggle and effort, and that’s not the message I want to convey. Sure life has challenges, but when we allow ourselves to get bogged down in seeing these as struggles (as I had been doing) we lose connection with the natural flow of life, with the joy that is underneath everything if we care to look. One of my daughters watches the TV detective show, Castle, and you could say she’s a teensy bit obsessed. (But then, isn’t obsession part of being a teenager?) Anyway, she has several quotes from Castle written out on scraps of paper and taped to her wardrobe door. One of those is: Even on the worst days, there’s the possibility for joy.  I like that. It’s how I mostly look at life.

Although I haven’t posted here for a while, I have been writing – in a journal, editing my novel (again) and revamping some short stories, along with doing research for a new project. But in the past there have been times when I’ve stopped writing completely for a while, apart from journalling – without that I might not survive, or at least not with any sanity! Sometimes the stoppage has been because I felt stuck on a particular project and sometimes it’s been because of life’s circumstances – when our second daughter was born very prematurely I didn’t write for months, and several times when she or her sister has been ill writing had to be left aside.

Each time on returning to writing, I found that I had changed, and so what I wrote had also changed. You can read more about the process I developed after our daughter’s birth in 7 Ways To Help You Write When You Feel Depressed. In short, both then, and after every break I’ve had, what I’ve found is that what we think of as life’s struggles either help us to grow in awareness, or we sink. Often I sink first and then the growth comes, and when I come back to writing I have let go of limiting beliefs, either about writing or about some part of life that affects it. This frees up my writing.

So do writers need breaks? Some probably don’t, and some probably do. Possibly, if I always wrote with the same sense of freedom that I experience after a break I’d never need one. But it seems to be human nature to turn the things we enjoy into things we have to do, so it makes sense to take a break now and then and let ourselves off the hook. Then when we return to what was once our passion we rediscover the joy of creating, and if we are fortunate that passion may even run deeper.

In spite of all the joking I’ve done in earlier posts about wanting to write in a New Lucrative Genre of Fiction, for me writing is not about the money. It is about conveying the truth as I see it, even when the form in which I write that truth is fiction. (Ironically it’s possibly easier to be more truthful with emotions in fiction than in non-fiction.) While it would be nice to have higher earnings for my writing, my low income is no different to that of the vast majority of writers. One major realisation for me is that when I try to write the sort of things I think I should do it just doesn’t work. When I chase after money, trying to write “to the market” instead I wind up feeling exhausted, frustrated and unfulfilled.

If my writing only appeals to a small group of people – so what? If most people want to read about vampires or detectives or even about mothers who muck up then that’s no reason for me to contort myself into something I am not. I feel far more satisfaction from writing an article that gets a comment from even one person to say it helped, than I get from over two hundred comments telling me how cute the cake is in a recipe I wrote a while ago. Apart from anything else, I already know it’s cute! But I don’t always know that what has helped me will help someone else.

While it was a birth that initially led me to see that a writing break could be a good thing, this break from blogging has largely been a time of introspection triggered by the illness and death of my deeply loved father. In an earlier post, as he neared the end of his life, I questioned why I write, reassessed values and  what matters to me. I came to see that for me writing is about connection. Sometimes the people we most need to connect with are ourselves.

Comments

  1. I like that you said “If my writing only appeals to a small group of people – so what?”. That is great advice, you should write what you want or feel and if some people don’t get it then so what. I think we all want to be heard but in the end, it really doesn’t matter as long as you are happy with what you have done. I have to remind myself of that all the time.

  2. Hi Mike, it’s nice to meet you. Glad you enjoyed the post, and like you I have to repeatedly remind myself that being happy with what I’ve written is what matters.

  3. What a wonderful topic of discussion because this surely is something most bloggers go through – writers block 🙂

    I liked the ways you shared here, and while I do follow most of them when I get blank sometimes, I really believe that if you enjoy blogging and it becomes your passion with time, you have less of these blocks. I guess those who put up daily posts or every alternate days might be facing this problem.

    The key according to me lies in the fact that you should write when you are focused in your work. I don’t think your mind would turn blank then, or you wouldn’t know what to write. But I guess it differs from person to person too.

    Speaking of myself, I guess being a professional freelance writer and blogger – my work is to write! And I write a lot, whether it’s my blog posts, project work, or even replying to the comments on my blog (which are mini posts in themselves!) – all of that is writing. I never really get into such blocks, or perhaps my mind is always floating around with creative ideas that are just waiting to be penned down. However, when these is work pressure and pending projects etc., and when there’s stress all around – I do experience writers block, though it’s rare.

    Thanks for sharing these ways with us.

    1. Author

      Brenda, thanks for your thoughtful comment. What you say about being passionate about blogging leading to fewer blocks is interesting. I’m not honestly sure if feeling passionate about something has helped me or not. (Will be watching out for it now!)

      It’s been a while since I wrote this post, so it was strange to come back to it and see what had changed since then. One thing that has is what I’d class as “writing.” Recently someone said that cooking soup is part of her creative process and for me going for a walk often is.

      I agree that being focused is a huge part of it. The more distracted I feel, the harder it is to write. Oddly enough, having a few projects on the go used to hinder me, but now it helps. If one isn’t flowing, I go with whichever is!

      It sounds as if you are fortunate to have plenty of flow! Long may that continue.

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