Saturday, August 21, 2010

Writer's Block can get Sticky

Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer's BlockI have checked out almost every book in my local library that has to do with the craft of writing. Some of them twice. When book shopping, a splurge will include at least one that has to do with writing, editing, or marketing.

When I started Excuse Editor, I was afraid that focusing on the negative aspects of the writing process may be a turn-off, and not many people would be interested in what I had to say. After all, I do believe that focusing on anything brings energy to it, so why would we want to do that when it comes to things like Writer's Block?

Because if we ignore it, it's not going to go away.

Unstuck, by Jane Anne Staw, PhD, provides a path for working through your writing obstacles with compassion. That was the biggest difference I noticed with Ms. Staw's advice--it didn't sting, well, not too much at least. Imagine if you had a Jillian from Biggest Loser as your writing coach. Sure you may get there, but you are a hurting, exhausted, sweaty mess by the time you are clutching your finished manuscript between your aching fingers. What matters to someone like Jillian is the reaching the goal, no matter the sacrifice (at least from what I've seen). Ms. Staw was honest and even brutal at times, but she wanted you to take the writing journey with limited scarring left over, leaving you feeling free and safe to continue writing. I saw Michelle Aguilar, winner of one of the Biggest Loser shows speak this year. She fessed up to the fact that the training and effort that was put forth on the show was almost impossible in real life. What matters, in writing or staying healthy, is being able to make daily choices that you can continue for the long haul. Michelle found her balance, and the right weight for her. Writers need to learn the same daily, realistic balance.

Although I didn't work through every exercise in the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with the lessons that would come out of the practice. A few that especially resonated with me:

  • Discovering when your block began may help you avoid it in the future.

  • Focusing on small parts of a project reduces the anxiety of finishing a whole essay, a complete book, an entire series.

  • If you don't feel safe in your writing space, you will continue to be blocked.

  • Even prolific writers fall back into struggles in their work.

  • Once you find your muse again, you must ask yourself why it was absent in the first place.

If you find yourself stuck, even once in a while, you'll leave this book with better insight into why, and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

Are there other books that have helped you through the hard times?


  1. Great tips, Tina. Thank you for sharing. I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of that book. The one most relevant for me today is focusing on the smaller parts. I'm in the mists of revising my first novel and I had no idea it would be so daunting. However, I find that if I break it into chapter-size bites, I can "trick" myself into believing--hey, it's only a short story; you can do this! It has been working!

  2. I love books on writing! The Right to Write by Julia Cameron and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg are two of my favorites. I have tons, though! I can't resist coming home with one or two (or 3 or 4) writing books when I go to the bookstore. :)

  3. I'm amazed at how any book of writing prompts can really work for me. If I just flip to any page and hover my pen over paper, I start to think of things and go off on wild tangents almost every time. True, what I'm writing is entirely unrelated to my current projects, but it just feels good to be writing something. Some I have in my collection are the Writer's Idea Thesaurus and Take Ten for Writers.


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