April 27, 2010

Writer’s Block

Posted in writing at 11:42 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

I never believed in writer’s block. I always felt that it was the result of a lack of discipline. A writer should sit down and write and eventually he/she will work through it. I’ve come to think that perhaps writer’s blocks is something a little different.

Let me explain to you my boxes metaphor. I think of my mind as a big open space with a few boxes floating around. The big open space is where I live most of my life. When my head is in the here and now (at work, with my family, doing ordinary chores, etc.) I am in the big open space.

There is a box for my reading life. When I sit and open a book, I move into one of the boxes floating in my big open space. I’m in a different world, a fun place to be. I can go in and out of that box whenever I want.

There is a box for my writing life. If I sit down at my computer, I go into that box and stay there until I leave the computer. I can go into that box in a day-dream sort of way at other times in my day as well. I go there to meet with my characters, sort out what’s happening with them, what they think and feel about the plot, tour their landscapes, etc.

Lately, I find I don’t have access to that box. I’ll step inside, start to think about what is happening with the story, but then I’m suddenly outside the box. I’m not thinking about what’s happening with the story. So, I go back in and like a mirror trick I find myself outside the box again. I can’t seem to focus on the story or the characters or anything. I sit down at the computer and type (I’m disciplined), but everything is flat. I’m only writing what I remember from being in the box–I’m not actually in the box.

How has this happened?

There is another box floating around that has its door open, and I can’t seem to get it closed. It is the box where I keep all the unpleasantness of life: world poverty, wars, communities not willing to pay for public education, divisive government, global warming, etc. That box used to work quite well. It had a strong door that I opened when I wanted to be a good citizen, knowledgeable about what was happening in the world and my community. I would go into that box when I listened to or read the news or when I talked politics with friends; however, I could leave and close the door when the news was too painful, so that it would not interfere with my everyday life–my big open space.

Now the door to that box is open. I can’t shut it. I’m plagued by the ignorance and selfishness of mankind. We are a cancer upon the earth. Unable to shut that box, I’ve tried desperately to get inside my writing box so I can be productive, do something “happy” and maybe when I come back out, the pains-of-the-world box will have a working door again. But my writing box won’t let me in.

Which brings me back to discipline. Should I force myself in front of the computer more often? If I write flat, then I write flat. If I just stare at the screen trying to access the box, will I eventually gain admittance?

Comments? Ideas?

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6 Comments »

  1. I’ve written 2 novels. Each time there were parts where I felt absolutely blocked, completely frustrated and didn’t know why. I wrote some horrible chapters trying to get through that, which were eventually thrown away. Then I took time off. I did some reading and life experiencing. In a few months I learned what I needed to know to finish the stories. Each time there was an ah-hah moment, like that’s what the story needs!
    Anyway, that’s what happened to me.

  2. Betsy Caulfield said,

    Do you keep a journal? I’ve kept one on and off since junior high school. It’s always been my solace when I’m feeling sad and/or depressed about the world or my own personal frustrations. Even when I was working on books, I still wrote in my journal, sometimes even about the book I was currently working on, and often it would clarify a problem I was having with the book. A journal is so cathartic, as is all writing, but maybe that would help you get rid of some of the sadness about the sorry state of our world. Of course when you’re busy with family and school and trying to work on your novel, there isn’t much time for a journal. But perhaps if you tried it a little when you are not able to get into the “writing box,” it might help you to move into that box. Just a thought.

  3. I have stepped away from my writing a little, focusing on other projects and hoping the door to the box containing my current novel will open soon. A journal is a good idea.

  4. Matt W. said,

    This is in response to your blog about the open door that you can’t seem to close. Currently, I am enrolled into the English 102 class with David R. He has taught us to keep a journal each day and write our reactions to the events that are happening in this never-changing world. It really helps to, for lack of better terms, vomit into this journal. It is a great water-shed experience, and can help relieve you of these stresses which are inhibiting your ability to write. I also keep a more personal journal which I can put my “water sheds” into for my own personal life. Perhaps there is something wrong and you can’t write your stories because it is all you can think about. Write it down – manually of course, not electronically.

    I’m sure you’ve already learned of these techniques, as you yourself are an educator of English. I thought it would be helpful to revisit these techniques and perhaps try again to rid yourself of the haze that fogs your creative mind.

    As for your theory of boxes: I enjoyed it. :) I never thought of that before, but I guess it’s kind of true – for most people, not just yourself. We tend to seclude ourselves mentally of all things “evil”.

    Keep posting, and I will continue to respond whenever I see necessary.

    A writer’s mind is the endless, tranquil river that weaves through the coarse and difficult land of life.

  5. Thanks for the feedback on journaling. I started a journal last night. I used to keep a journal when I was younger, but haven’t kept one up for many years. Maybe it will help get my head back into order! Feeling great today. We picked up 2200 copies of The Stolen Goldin Violin yesterday. It’s great to be a published author!

  6. bethabelseth said,

    Have you tried writing not about your story but about the ugliness of the world? Sometimes I write my best work when it’s about what’s bothering me rather than the story I’m currently working on. Usually blockage like that means it’s time for a break from that project and it’s best to use that break to write other things that aren’t necessarily meant to be published, but are just exercises for you as a writer as you deal with and process the world around you.


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