Writer’s Block Vanquished

J.D. Blackrose led a panel of celebrated authors, S. M. Stirling, Janny Wurts, and Alethea Kontis, in a Saturday evening panel that identified myriad ways to conquer writer’s block, that ubiquitous inability to bring on words that plagues many writers.

Addressing the pervasive problem, Blackrose noted that writer’s block is pretty universal and asked what we can do to fight it. Stirling said that he first gets the cat off his keyboard, but he added that if there is a psychological component to a writer’s block, it is worth finding out what is causing it.

Wurts advised breaking the issue into pieces, noting that there is a difference between real block and a temporary impasse in solving a story issue. She said you cannot create and destroy at same time and to turn off your inner critic.

In early stages, while developing the habit of writing, Blackrose said to distinguish between block and just not wanting to write today. Get the words down, even if it’s in small chunks.

Kontis said also to be very self-aware. Sometimes if you can’t write, there may be an inciting factor—pain, grief, on medication. If that is the case, forgive yourself and let yourself heal. That will also heal your story maker.

Wurts warned that when some women hit menopause, they experience a big shift in how they create. Have courage, she said, as your creative process may change. Be prepared to shift your process.

Stirling stated that he used dictation software after he injured his hand. He said he seldom writes anything perfect on his first try, but he is still using pieces of his first poorly written novel. Revision is part of the process, he explained.

Kontis agreed. You do not sit down to a piano for the first time and play Chopin. You must practice.

Blackstone asked the panelist what they sometimes do to put their creative mind on the backburner. Stirling answered that he hits the gym most days and feels better afterwards.

Explaining that she starts and stops midway, Wurts said that she often uses music as part of her process. She discussed how you experience open focus when the body is in motion. In this state, the brain works more effectively, intuition opens up, and you can settle problems. Stirling agreed and says he often paces, which Wurts says was one way of reaching an open-focus state. Kontis said this was like moving meditation.

Blackrose said that she has considered using a standing desk and also practices yoga. She likes to draw free-form story lines with intersecting circles and notes. This helps her to turn off her inner editor.

Also espousing free-form handwriting as part of her creative process, Kontis says she keeps a character journal.

Stirling noted that it is idiosyncratic what works for each writer. Harry Turtledove, for example, writes his first drafts in longhand.

Blackrose asked if the authors write linearly or not. She noted that if she gets stuck, she writes the ending, then writes backward, thus avoiding a soggy middle.

Wurts said that a good way to escape a soggy middle is to break or blow something up. When you procrastinate, your inner whiner is out of control. “Shut that sucker down, kick it to the curb.” If you don’t keep going, you will deprive the rest of us of your story. Focus on your goal, the end of a scene or book, and let your intuition run wild. “You can’t front-end [the process] with logic,” she said.

Author of the article

Amy L. Herring (Louise Herring-Jones) writes speculative fiction, with a preference for historical fantasy and alternate mystery. Her stories, appearing in fourteen anthologies, include “The Poulterer’s Tale” in God Bless Us, Every One—Christmas Carols beyond Dickens (Voodoo Rumors Media, 2019). Amy is a NaNoWriMo co-municipal liaison. She also coordinates the Huntsville (Alabama) Literary Association’s writers’ group. Visit her online at http://www.louiseherring-jones.com.