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Writer's Block redux - The Motive Center
April 8th, 2006
10:42 pm

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Writer's Block redux
I just appeared at the Romance Writers of America - New England Chapter conference as the dinner speaker on Friday; I decided to rework some material (after all, it's been a year since Motivate Your Writing! came out, and I've learned some new stuff) and talk about Writer's Block. I wrote about it in various places, but I was resorting it and came up with a single way to talk about it.

I've concluded that, as my wife Toni put it, it isn't a disease, it's a symptom. When you name it, you give it power -- it's a thing, outside you, that sits on you and stops you writing.

It occurred to me that in fact it is described in much the same language that people describe the muse -- something that grants you the ability to write, that you have nothing to do with. Thus, writer's block is the Anti-Muse.

I'd rather think of writer's block as a combination of person and situation. There are times where you get overaroused or overanxious by the situation, due to some interaction between it and you, and you choke on your own emotion -- the high end of the Yerkes-Dodson Law, for those who have followed my comments in this blog.

In other cases, your writing energy may be drained out of you by something that appeals to your nonconscious motive that drives your writing, and is easier or more immediate to do -- e.g., speaking at a conference instead fo writing!

Or a situation doesn't manage to energize you enough to want to write, e.g., a book idea that is popular -- but not with you.

To me writer's block is that point where you fall off the bell curve of arousal and productivity, so far that you cannot write for a time. The sneaky part is that you can fall either direction -- low energy or overenergized -- with the same outcome: not writing. In the case of overarousal, it can become a vicious cycle: the longer you go without writing, the more stressful it gets and the higher the expectations you put on yourself.

But there is good news about that kind of writer's block: when you are frustrated, or angry, because you cannot write, that is because you have a passion for writing, that you have invested your personal emotion into your writing. The trick is to harness it rather than letting it get in the way.

Current Music: The Ballroom Blitz

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From:annearchy
Date:April 9th, 2006 01:24 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the observations. Interesting stuff. My mother was ill for 9 months, beginning about this time last year, and finally passed away in January. I thought I had writer's block last year, but that was nothing compared to what I've felt the past couple of months. Some of that is due to wanting to do really well on something I've been working on for a long time, but not feeling like I have enough mental energy to do it properly. So I've decided to put that aside for awhile, or at least not feel bad if I don't make a lot of progress on it in the near term, and let myself work on other projects. If that made any sense :)
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From:stevekelner
Date:April 9th, 2006 05:36 pm (UTC)

Yep, it made sense

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Sorry to hear that. The "wanting to do really well on something" can one of those anxiety-provoking things, and of course the longer you go the more anxious you get and the less able you are to manage it, etc., etc., etc. So I think you are wise to put that aside -- take a vacation, or formally give yourself a break. I've seen other people in similar situations, e.g., a woman who got divorced, moved out, and bought a house and moved her kids in all at roughly the same time. She took off the summer "officially." Having spent a lot of time in school, she also felt that fall would be a natural time to start up again, thus adding a little push in the back of her head. Do something less stressful, until the energy build up again. There's time.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 9th, 2006 06:14 pm (UTC)

rwa nec conference

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i was in the audience Friday night. Your speech was fabulous and i felt it was directed to me, the one who sets her expectations impossibly high. I am also very experienced at beating myself when I can't meet them. Thanks so much for restoring my sanity. irene
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From:stevekelner
Date:April 9th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)

Re: rwa nec conference

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I am delighted that you enjoyed it, Irene, and more importantly, that you felt it was directed at you! Keep sane -- and keep writing!
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