I don’t believe in ghosts. And I don’t believe in ‘writers’ block’. It’s a scary phantom that causes anxiety, frustration and stress; self-perpetuating states that erode creativity and sap energy. More significantly, ‘writers’ block’ is a negative concept that can generate feelings of helplessness and develop ‘victim syndrome’. We are not victims: we are creatives, we have choices.
Naturally, there are times when we are stumped for ideas or words are elusive, but by seeking the real reasons, we can find solutions. We all share human frailties; tiredness, distractions or despondency can make it hard for our brains to function properly, however strong our inner desire to write. Sometimes we need to break off for a while and re-charge, accepting the necessity calmly and without self-defeating recrimination and guilt.
And inspiration doesn’t simply jump out from the corner because we happen to be seated expectantly at our desks or poring over a notebook. It must be stimulated: shaken or stirred – whichever way you prefer.
Enticing the muse to complete a short story or an article can be challenging enough, but if we are writing an entire book, we need a menu of ideas to work through until we find the one that succeeds on any particular day.
This is why Chapter 6 of Writing Your Nonfiction Book is about maintaining momentum, and includes the following simple check-list on ‘What to do when you feel stuck’:
1. Write freely – don’t inhibit your thoughts by trying to get every sentence perfect before you move on to the next. Remove the critic from your shoulder; reviewing and editing comes later.
2. Read through previous writing – recapping on your last couple of pages jogs the memory to where you were last time the sentences flowed.
3. Review some of your research material to re-immerse yourself in the subject and spark ideas.
4. Start somewhere else in your chapter outline – read the outline and if any topic triggers thoughts and phrases, write about that. You can return to the previous chapter later.
5. Write 200 words about any aspect of your topic to draw you back into ‘talking’ about it.
6. Write 200 words about anything at all to tune in to writing mode. Just do it.
7. Write in note form – if what you want to say is jumbled up in your mind and you are unable to order your thoughts or to form sentences, type them as rough notes to work on another day, or draw them as a mind-map with arrows to show how ideas relate to each other.
8. List whatever distracts you at the moment. Place the list in a prominent place in another room or well away from your working space and return to your writing.
9. Work on a less challenging task like listing the bibliography, constructing a glossary, tidying your filing system or browsing relevant web pages.
10. Look at your photographs or illustrations for visual stimulation and write whatever thoughts they provoke.
11. Read a novel or watch a video that is related to your subject but is informal and entertaining.
12. Take a break – walk, exercise, increase your circulation and oxygen level.
13. Stay cool – we are not machines. There is tomorrow.