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On Writer's Block

And how it vexes me

By Alexander McEvoyPublished 29 days ago 8 min read
Photo of ONE of my notebooks

I’ve hit a wall.

The words on the page before my eyes are barely blurs now, having stared at them for so long that they’ve lost their meaning. Weird, almost alien shapes of sharp angles and incongruously sweeping lines decorate the screen, a jumbled mess barely at the edge of knowing.

Of course, if I bend my mind to the task, I can read them. Of course, if I put in enough effort, I can change my thoughts to align with the person I was when I first wrote them. However, there is nothing I can do to force new words to flow. Each strike of the keys beneath my fingers is heavy, ponderous, and slow. Each new jumble of letters that appears on the blank page before me is meaningless, hollow.

Beyond the wall, I can see the story that I want to transcribe. Watch the narrative that I want to send through time and space into other heads unfold. In this case, I know every vivid detail, every arch look or whispered question, and I can see them so clearly. But I cannot bring them to life, cannot pull them out of the realm of my own thought into a medium where they can be shared.

Even now, with each new line written, the words are slow. Expensive in effort and attention, every attempt to convey my feeling of immobility is dragged down by the ghoulish fingers of the stories untold. Unfinished. Unreleased. They linger behind the full-screen document on which I now write, calling to me with characters and settings I love but to which I cannot give life.

Arrayed in neat rows, next to a spreadsheet or two for my own use, they wait for their turn under my pen. Some months old, others newly formed, at least one growing stale in its year-long languish. That one, I know its name; I’ve had it named so since the first line of it was written, and from that point it hasn’t moved since.

“Cold wind blew across the rolling deck of the Northumbria, knifing through the thick coats of the men on watch as they blew into their hands.” Decent, as far as opening lines go, I think. There are others, but they are frail, weak things I think. Insubstantial. Following on from that line, I can see the bones of the story as it goes forward – the storm at sea, the beast that waits in the dark, the glow of flames that cover the churning water.

Little is left for me to do but put words to paper. I know the characters, though they do not yet have names. I know the ship and the course it must chart through the oceans of imagination to achieve my ultimate goal. I know who lives and who dies. I know what emotions I want the story to evoke, yet cannot bring them forward. And I know the monster that hides beneath the waves, awaiting its chance to claim the Northumbria.

Sadly, I do not have the words to bring my vision to life. And isn’t that a shame?

Writer’s Block is a curious thing, creator’s block is another common name for it, but given that my primary creative expression is writing, I feel that’s the only one to apply to me. Sometimes it manifests as something akin to burnout, I’ve flown too high in creation and fallen back to the Earth, unable to type until my brain recovers. Others, as is happening now, there is something else in the way.

I cannot, though I have tried, simply wait these creative doldrums out. As you might know, if you’ve followed me at all this past year, I haven’t stopped producing. This particular type of block has not gotten in the way of my releasing other stories the same as it prevents me from crafting my languishing WIPs. Instead, it almost spurs me towards those new projects, teasing me to forget my previous attempts and move on. Leave them behind, abandon them on the rocks of in activity.

Although, I do not wish to do that, it is exactly what I have done. I create, therefore I am. In many ways that strikes me as truer than most anything else I might say about my creative process. Rarely does a day pass during which I do not write. Rarely does a day pass when I do not at least contemplate my work, performing my own nebulous outlining process within my own head.

Yet I cannot, for the life of me, bend my energies to these stories. I’ve mentioned one of them before in the Critique community 9 months in the past. Crossroads is a story about a man named Sean who has come to the end of a long and winding road; though he seems to have left his memories behind somewhere along the way.

Since writing that request for critique, the story has expended from not quite 600 words to 2,900. And it isn’t finished. I cannot finish it, though I feel the end of the narrative drawing near. And I have not continued Sean’s story in weeks. Every time I sit down to it, my mind is blank, devoid of the creative spark that allows me to craft my other pieces. Or, worse I sometimes think, those energies are present in abundance – but for a different project.

I leave Crossroads as it lies when I have the words for a different story, leave it languishing in the realm of potential. So it is with many of my ongoing drafts and manuscripts. Crossroads, The Dominion, Descent, Web, Drop, Hangman, Plastic Love, Deep Dive, and many more. They wait, hidden in the shameful shadows cast by writer’s block, taunting me.

But what is a creator to do when faced with such an insurmountable blockage?

One answer is: write an essay complaining about writer’s block in general. Lament to the reading public about the difficulties of these circumstances. Express one’s frustration with something that otherwise gives so much joy because that joy is not currently flowing. Of course, I would never do such a thing.

A second answer is: write a different story. This has worked marvellously for both myself and more famous and skilled authors in the past. When writing my short story Dauntless, I hit a block and wrote not one but two other stories to get my creativity back on track. Grey Man and Apparition cleared the blockage and I was able to complete and publish Dauntless not long after.

There is a third answer as well, and this one has also worked on several occasions, though it is a difficult one to manage. Simply brute force one’s way through the blockage. Tear it down with bloody fingers, screaming determination to complete the narrative into the void. Every word that must be forced out is pushed through the cracks in the block and onto the page. Every strike of finger against key or stroke of pen across pager, completed with teeth bared until the blockage submits to the onslaught. Exhausting. But effective, though typically a second and third draft must be completed before it can even be edited because prose generated in this manner is rarely quality.

Finally, the fourth option. This one might be unique to me, but I’m not really all that special, so more likely it is just uncommon. My fourth solution to the difficulties presented by writer’s block is to journal about my stories. This method is, above the other three as a sky scraper is above an oak tree, my favourite of the four. I find it to be the most effective at handling the obstruction, and I have created a good percentage of my fiction using it.

The process is a simple one, though time consuming and opens one up to comments on handwriting size, readability, or quality. For myself, I open a carefully selected notebook (I’m very particular about pens and notebooks) and take up my pen. At the top of the righthand page in the lefthand corner, I write the title of the manuscript. In the righthand corner I write the date, given how frequently I was ordered to date my work in school, I think my teachers would be happy with the habit they instilled in me.

Form there, I allow myself to ramble at length about the project. I could meditate on the inspiration as I did for Wanderlust, my entry into the Painted Prose Challenge a while back. Otherwise I might write about what ending I want to reach in my story, how I want the narrative t conclude and what emotions I think the reader should feel along the journey. What questions they should be left asking when there are no more pages left to turn.

Now, there is one final piece of this puzzle. One final aspect of overcoming writer’s block using the fourth option which is reserved for only the most difficult of cases. I will handwrite the story, in part or in full, and transcribe the result. It is not the most effective solution, as it requires a knowledge of both where the story is going and what words will be used to get there, but it does serve its function well. When writing Where the Moon Goes for the Myth Maker Challenge approximately 12,000 years ago, or so it seems, this is what I did.

During that challenge, I knew what story I wanted to tell. Sadly, I could not type it. No matter which of the four options I tried, the words would not flow, would not materialize on the page before my eyes. So, I hand wrote it. The first thousand words or so of that story were slowly, carefully crafted over many days with fountain pen in hand. Thomas, his grandmother, Jack who loved the moon, and Luna who loved him in return, finally came into being. From there, it was a simple matter to transfer them from the page to the screen and thence to Vocal itself.

But Writer’s Block plagues me still. I think about it constantly as my eyes roam disconsolately over the unfinished drafts on my desktop. There they sit, and there they wait patiently for me to find their words. It is not that they mock me themselves, but rather the effigies of them I have built in my own mind that do so. It has not escaped my wondering if that very fiction of their impatience is the cause of further delay. So I attempt to prevent such wonderings. Attempt to bury them under the knowledge of their inherent toxicity.

Yet still they remain.

Unfinished. Unwritten. Unread. Unpublished. Taunting.

Now, though, dear reader, I wonder about your experiences with this scourge. I wonder about how you or those you know who suffer from its attentions dispel it. What weapons, charms, incantations, or intoxications do you utilize to overcome its malicious presence on your creation? Tell me, please 😊

Writer's BlockProcessInspirationCommunity

About the Creator

Alexander McEvoy

Writing has been a hobby of mine for years, so I'm just thrilled to be here! As for me, I love writing, dogs, and travel (only 1 continent left! Australia-.-)

I hope you enjoy what you read and I can't wait to see your creations :)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran29 days ago

    "Every time I sit down to it, my mind is blank, devoid of the creative spark that allows me to craft my other pieces." Okay I have a question regarding that statement. Tell me, do you sit down to write because you have the urge to write or because you have to write? "Or, worse I sometimes think, those energies are present in abundance – but for a different project." As for this statement, why is that worse? I see nothing wrong with it. First things first, you gotta learn and accept that it is okay if you do not write everyday. It's okay no matter however long it takes for you to be able to continue writing a story. Writing is not a race. I know that you have it all complete in your head and you're having trouble putting it into words. I would never recommend your fourth option. Never force anything. Instead, try taking a break. Read more. I don't mean Vocal specifically but books that you like. If your mind is blank when you wanna write something, then just leave it. Only come back to it when you have the urge to write. Also, I just thought of something. How about using text-to-speech thingy. Try saying what's on your mind and get it converted to words. Then maybe you can work with it from there. I don't know if it'll help though 😅

  • Dana Crandell29 days ago

    A straightforward, honest look at a problem that I can only somewhat relate to. I occasionally lose the thread of a story, but I always have several unfinished drafts to play with until I'm ready to look at that one again. I abandoned hand writing my work long ago - arthritis sucks. I've never started a journal. I keep a local copy of almost everything I write. I bounce ideas off of my very patient wife often, which is a big help, whether she has answers or not. Manuscripts? I have at least 3 that I should have written long ago, so there's definitely an issue there - fear of rejection, maybe? I have no solutions to offer, but I enjoyed reading this.

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