So yesterday we talked about the type of writers’ block where you don’t know where your story should go. Today is a little bit different. In today’s post, we’ll be talking about the block that doesn’t come from inside your head, but instead comes from the outside world being just a little too much.
Day 2: The Way is Clear, But…
As you remember, I love thinking visually about writers’ block so that it doesn’t seem so insurmountable. So today’s visual is standing at the edge of a lake. You have taken a writing trail to a beach and now the water is lapping at your feet. Sounds relaxing? Not so much. Your writing trail leads you straight into the water. In fact, the water is so clear that you can see exactly where you’re wanting to go next, but the problem is the lake itself. At first, you can wade for a while, but then the water gets quite deep and you don’t have the gear to follow your trail the way you want to, you know, without getting sopping wet or even drowning.
What I mean by this lake metaphor is when you know exactly what you want to write and where you want your characters to go, but the outside world seems to keep you from writing. This is the writers’ block I deal with the most. I know the entirety of my next chapter, but I have a baby to take care of, a nursery to put together, general house and self upkeep, and a whole host of things that take me away from the page. The water doesn’t just represent chores and to-do lists, though. Are you dealing with emotions that are keeping you from writing? How about personal traumas or crises? For me, I can never write when I’m angry. No matter how focused I think I can get, my anger pulls my attention back to whatever is pissing me off.
For example, this week I have organized the next couple thousand words of my book. I’ve planned each encounter, piece of dialogue, the setting. It’s all done. But someone said something at church that has me sitting in a fuming rage whenever I think about it. I’m mad even writing about it. And that kind of anger colours my work. If I were to keep writing my book, the thing I’m mad about would creep its way into my story, even though it doesn’t belong there. This anger, this issue, is part of the lake that’s stopping me from writing.
So what do you do?
1. Get Some Gear
Find a way to make the water inconsequential. Get some scuba gear or even a snorkel and make your way through the water anyways. The to-do list you have? Do a chore, write 500 words. Do another chore, write another 500 words. Or say to yourself that today you will complete your to-do list, but tomorrow is time for writing. Your little ones are awake? That’s okay! Spend time with them until their next nap then take your time to write. Or let them sit for 20 minutes in front of the TV while you write your 500 words (or however many you can in 20 minutes). As long as they’re safe and not being neglected, let yourself indulge your creativity. Sometimes this takes a little bit of juggling, but if you can, find a way to prioritize writing the way you do dishes or laundry or whatever other chores you do.
If it’s the emotional or personal stuff getting in the way, say to yourself, “I will deal with this issue or indulge my feelings in two hours. But before that, I will focus on being creative.” Then set a timer. When you find yourself thinking about whatever it is that has got you down, take a deep breath and say, “Not yet.” It helps, I swear.
2. Drain the Lake*
This is not an every day solution, but sometimes, find a way to get away to write. If it’s kids that keep you from writing, see if a babysitter is available (or a family member or spouse or whatever) to take them for even an hour. Get out to a coffee shop or lock yourself in your office to get your writing done. If it’s chores that are stopping you, do a deep clean. Get everything done you can think of so that they won’t be bothering you for a couple of days. Or, if you have the money, hire someone to do it for you (maybe not on a continuous basis, but a one-off clean I’m sure would be helpful). Maybe order take-out instead of making supper tonight so the time you’d use to cook could be writing time.
When it’s the trauma or crises, take some time to write about it. Not in a story or anything that anyone ever needs to read. If someone’s wronged you, write them a letter (maybe don’t send it though). Do a stream of consciousness if that works for you. Cry, yell, or sulk. Whatever you need to do to put that emotion away for a day, do it. Get rid of whatever water is blocking you from your trial.
*No fictional animals or ecosystems were harmed in the making of this metaphor.
3. Wade in Anyways
Sometimes the water isn’t as deep as you thought. Maybe it is, but you’re actually an excellent swimmer or you can hold your breath for an inordinate amount of time. Maybe you don’t have a way to get rid of the distractions of life so you soldier forward anyways. That’s okay too. It could change your writing, but maybe that’s for the better? If not, editing can always fix it. Perhaps you excel under pressure and taking snippets of time between the distractions gives you the best prose you’ve ever written. Sometimes the distractions aren’t as monumental as they can seem and the lake is really just a puddle. A warning, though: constant wading can make for some intense fatigue. Your writing can become a chore rather than an outlet for your creativity and cause you more emotional distress than relieve it. So, be careful if you choose this method.
Tell me, do you suffer from this kind of writers’ block? How do you focus on writing when the rest of the world begs for your attention?
Come back tomorrow to continue this week of writers’ block where we talk about having way too many directions to choose from!