Goodreads asked Marie C. Collins:

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Marie C. Collins
I think of “writer’s block” as something much more serious than the phenomenon I usually I hear writers talking about. For me, “writer’s block” is a paralyizing byproduct of things like grief, trauma, or depression, and may render a writer unable to put pen to paper for years.

But having said that, I also think that we who are lucky enough not to be suffering – at this moment – from that brand of writer’s block still struggle from time to time with thoughts that won’t pour when we want them to. Writing ourselves into a corner can bring it on, but so may a wound to our confidence, lack of sleep, or simply asking too much of ourselves. I see that as a normal part of who we are – and of being human.

There was a time when I would chastise myself for being unable to perform on demand, but not once did that solve my “problem” until it was ready to be solved – it just made me feel bad. We are not robots: We can’t write day in and day out without breaking down. Other needs push their way to the top of our to-do lists, other people and issues claim our minds. It’s this very humanity that we call on to bring depth and understanding to our creative work, so why deny it in ourselves?

So now I go with the flow. Depending on what’s temporarily silencing me, here’s what I do:

1. If I can identify a problem, I step away from the draft and analyze it. For example, if I’m at a plot crossroads, I might break out a graphic organizer to map where I am and see if I missed a turn, forgot a character, or can move the story forward another way. Or I might wrestle with it in my journal by asking myself questions that get at the core of the problem until I find one I can answer (and thus start digging myself out of the hole). Journaling can also help when the problem has to do with wavering confidence. Regardless of what caused it, spilling it on paper can help me reground myself.

2. If there’s a more global cause – like a cold, or lack of sleep – I try to do something else. For instance, if I’m not up to writing, I may try outlining. If outlining is beyond me, I may update the documents I keep as a record for later books in the same series, or work on marketing materials – say, the book teaser or synopsis. These days we writers wear so many hats there’s bound to be one wearable one, even on bad days.

3. If after looking for workarounds, the stubborn child inside me stages a sit-in that says “I won’t!” I’ll step away altogether and accept that I’ve been pushing myself too hard. It may be time to go for a walk, to have lunch with a friend, or to do something manual (pulling weeds comes to mind – there are always plenty of those to be found). I have also been known to pop my dogs in the car in the middle of winter and head for the beach, as driving and walking are both extremely productive thinking time for me. When I let the writer in me grow quiet for a while, solutions can arise in the unlikeliest of places.

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