The Blocks

Mondays fill me with apprehension.  I’m excited to get back in the swing of writing, yet I inevitably come down with a bad case of The Blocks.

I know, it sounds bad.  And it could be if left untreated.  Without proper care and attention, The Blocks spread rapidly and affect a writer’s mental health.  Severe cases can damage the circulatory system and result in a total loss of heart.  If you, or someone you know, may be a victim of The Blocks, seek support immediately.

General Overview

The Blocks is a mental health infliction that causes writers to question the worthiness of their work.  Typically found in aspiring writers, the onset of The Blocks has two common causes. 

  1. Unresolved Writer’s Block: a milder form of The Blocks contained to a specific project. 
  2. Rejection Letter Overload: a mini-depression brought on by the lack of a book contract.

Signs and Symptoms

Typical symptoms include blankly staring at the computer screen.  The writer may sit up suddenly, smile and gently tap their fingers on the keyboard as if preparing to write.  Inevitably, this is followed by slumped shoulders and a long-winded sigh.  Occasionally, the writer will engage in sudden bursts of typing, followed by a compulsive use of the delete button. 

After a few hours of alternating between blank stares and typing outbursts, activities such as internet surfing and solitair may increase to an almost frenzied pace.  Surfing may completely replace typing.  As the days pass and mental health deteriorates, writers affected by The Blocks become Master Fibbers.  They quickly exit computer programs when Significant Others appear and their faces will transform from an I-just-swallowed-the-goldfish look to a ginormous I’m-working-my-tail-off grin.

A sense of paranoia sets in.  Grand conspiracy theories are hatched regarding the publishing industry.  No amount of discussion can persuade a writer affected by The Blocks that editors and agents do not rip writer wannabees to pieces, chew them up and spit them out for pure sport.

 Writers with The Blocks may become lethargic.  Those with severe cases refuse to boot up their computers, and some have been known to spontaneously throw their monitors across the room or burn half-finished manuscripts in fits of mental instability. 

  Treatment

To completely recover from The Blocks, a writer must follow these steps, repeating as necessary, until stability has returned.

  1. Find Support.  Writers groups abound.  Living in the boondocks is no longer an excuse for solitary confinement.  The internet brings like-minded writers to your desk top.  Agent Query is fantabulous.  The SCBWI is the bomb for juvenile lit writers.  Likewise, mystery guilds and romance associations can be found with relative ease.  I found my first group of support buddies through NaNoWriMo.
  2. Meet the Professionals.  A list of my favorite blogging editors and agents can be found on my sidebar.  Find ones you like and log on.  Subscribe to writer’s magazines and attend conferences.  As professionals in the publishing industry, they usually have something…professional…to say.
  3. Hone Your Craft.  Never does the old adage, “Practice makes perfect,” apply more than in the art of writing.  Writing is a mixture of talent, practice and perseverence.  You will not be an overnight success.  You will pay your dues through writing, editing and killing your darlings.  You will join the multitudes who have spent years penning words to find the right flow.  That’s okay.  It’s how we learn.
  4. Take Yourself Seriously.  If you won’t, nobody else will. 

Prognosis

Good.  However, if left untreated, the death of writing dreams may occur.

How do you shake off the writing doldrums?  If you have a tried and true method of getting back in the writing swing, please share it with others who may be suffering from this debilitating disease. 

If you are a current sufferer of The Blocks, take that first step and comment on a writer’s blog.  You may find a supportive friendship you never dreamed possible.

I hope this post finds you dreaming big and will give you the confidence to break through The Blocks and take control of your writing life.

~cat

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14 responses to “The Blocks

  1. Great post, Cat. I suspect, though, that questioning the “worthiness of their work” probably hits all writers, published as well as aspiring. Love your treatment suggestions, especially about honing your craft!

  2. One thing that sometimes helps me is to set a timer–I do 15 minutes, but if it’s really bad, you could do five–and during that time you MAY NOT STOP TYPING (or writing, if you’re a pen on paper person), even if all you can do is type “I don’t know what to write I have nothing to say what do I write wow this sucks . . .” etc. I often find that after a few minutes some ideas start coming. This is especially good if you’ve been writing fairly regularly, because you’ve developed a pavlovian response to fingers on the keys or pen on paper.

    Also, I like to look for a really weird picture or, my favorite, draw a card from a Tarot or oracle deck and write a story about what I see. It’s not necessarily working on my project, but it WILL get me going in a creative direction, and sometimes that ends up being useful for my work in progress.

    • Michelle, thanks for the great egg-timer tip. I use that during NaNo sometimes to push my word count.

      Sometimes to jump start my creative juices I draw fifteen random tiles out my Banagrams bag and create words that I have to use in my writing. It helps, though isn’t as pretty as peering at tarot cards!

  3. I like to let my “inner child” pick a subject. Once she has had a playtime, then the juices begin to flow again…

  4. I’m suffering from them right now in a way. I need to get back to editing but I still have half of the MS to go and it is quite daunting.
    The next scene is the one that has me blocked. I know that I need to expand it, yet it is such a crucial scene I’m overwhelmed by what needs to happen. (Will I do it correctly? Will it be too much? Will it suck worse than before? Will the characters come off cardboardy? What if it’s not enough?)

    Gah.

    I’m going to go and bake and see if that helps.

    • Steph, my overachieving goddess of writing, sorry to hear about your Blocks!

      Writing and editing blocks can be very different sometimes. I have procrastinated all day on editing my manuscript because I fear, like you, that I won’t be able to do it justice. I always worry about over editing and killing the magic that I started with.

      After reading your excerpts, I can say with the utmost certainty that your characters are the furthest things from cardboard! You have such a vivid imiganiation that they typically walk right off the page.

      Have fun baking, I hope it nudges something loose.

  5. I don’t get the Blocks too often – thankfully! I think it’s due to the fact that I don’t have a lot of time, and therefore not too much of a problem. If I do, now I’ll know just how to fix it 🙂

    • I think you are already pretty well cemented in the support and community aspect. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why writers give up. The journey is long and if you don’t feel a sense of belonging, it can be extremely daunting.

      hugs~ cat

  6. Hey Cate great post- I like your point about “being afraid to over edit and loose the magic.” It’s so hard to know when to stop and say I’ve taken this as far as I can get it and send it out the door. How do you know when to hit send..lol!

    • I’m thankful for NaNo this year and my total immersion into my story. It helped me set aside my other writing for a while. Hopefully my perspective will be fresh and I will have lost my desire to tinker!

  7. jmartinlibrarian

    Are you sure you’re not a doctor? You sure look like one on TV. And I think you just diagnosed and cured my condition. No need to bill me; the check is in the mail, sister. Great post.

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