Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

I never thought I’d write this but after more than 70 books, countless short stories, articles and film scripts, and as my friends are only too well aware, many terrible limericks, I’ve hit a patch where it’s an uphill job to put words together. I can blog (obviously), tweet, post to Facebook and write to order if needed, and the limericks keep coming (sorry!) But when it comes to writing new creative work I have to drag myself to the computer, and I delete words as quickly as I put them down.

Discussing this with a writer friend recently, she said my brain was taking long service leave. Is this the explanation? If so, it’s an extended vacation. In the last four years I’ve written four books, two of those anthologies where I was contributing editor. Now if the other two were War & Peace or even Twilight, I’d be more than happy. But they’re not. I’m glad I wrote my Superromance, With a Little Help, so I know I can still write romance, yet I feel no inclination to keep going.

This feels more like a time of cocooning, of waiting to see what writer I might turn into next. I’m not even sure if “writer’s block” is the right term. Writer’s pause? Writer’s drift? This last seems to fit, but drifting where? Toward what?

Last week I watched an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Starship Enterprise’s resident counsellor, Deanna Troi, lost the empathic ability that made her a success at her job. As a Betazoid she can sense the emotions of others. She advises the captain if she senses deception or evil intent from the different species they encounter. Losing her empathic sense was like a human losing their sight, hearing or perhaps a limb. She also felt adrift, angry at the loss, and had to find new ways to operate.

Without being overly dramatic, I feel a similar sense of loss. I’ve made stories since I was a child, been published in some form from the age of 14, and collectively written about four million words for publication. Finding myself sitting at the keyboard with no words there feels as if a key part of me has gone missing.

Deanna Troi’s empathic sense does come back, but not until she discovers new aspects of herself beyond those she’d come to rely on. I’m still waiting. Don’t get me wrong, stories aplenty still crowd my brain and I’ve written volumes of notes for characters and plots. So the words are there in the background, but not yet willing to let me shape them into something I can share.  Yet I know all the tips and tricks there are. I’ve written about them in The Art of Romance Writing and my other books on the craft, and taught them at workshops. I’m qualified as a counsellor, yet like Deanna Troi, the physician isn’t making much headway healing herself. All I can do is keep trying. When I figure out what this strange fallow time is all about, I’ll blog about it – then we’ll both know.

Have you experienced writer’s block? What was it about for you and what eventually broke the drought, if it did break? Your comments are very welcome below. As a writer, what do you do when the writing isn’t happening?


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Comments on: "A chip off the old writer’s block" (40)

  1. For me, when this has happened in the past I had to find a new way to create. Drawing, art, gardening, travel, all filled that space and then when my brain was ready I was able to work with words again. At first it was painful, like exercising after you’ve had a break. The muscles are stiff and you feel clumsy and like a beginner. Then I found my rythym and my writing has always developed slightly differently after these spells.

  2. Morning Valerie,

    I feel your pain. I find the words shrink to an irritatingly small size when I’m stressed. My real life encroaches on the unreal lives of my characters and takes precedence. But once the stress has passed, the words get bigger and louder and become more clear in my head.

    At the moment though, my novel has been hijacked by a short story. For whatever reason Vincent insisted I write about him NOW! Bossy lil bugger. So Wolf and Abby are out to lunch for the time being.

    I hope you find your mojo =)

  3. Judy Neumann said:

    Valerie, you know I’ve hit many fallow times – but I’ve pulled out of them on each occasion. You are such a fabulous writer so I have faith that the words will flow again. They must flow – otherwise your poor brain will explode and none of us want to see that. Go, girl, go.

  4. First, huge hugs! I know the feeling intimately. I was going gung ho there for a few years, but getting so close to selling, only to be rejected, finally took the wind from my sails. Then there was losing my father-in-law, having to go back to work, and the horrible, sucky job. It wasn’t until I started to see the possibilities in self-publishing that I began to get excited again. But I still haven’t found the joy I used to have in writing. Now it’s more like real work. The only time I get excited now is when I’m trying something totally new, totally different. Like when I was working on Lone Star Justice and Superstition. New genres, a whole new world to explore.

    Maybe it’s time for the Queen of Romance to spread her wings and try something new. Like Steampunk or Sci Fi. Do it under a different name and self-publish it, if that would give you more freedom to write whatever you want. I’d love to see something from you along the lines of Dr. Who or Star Trek. You love them both, why not write something similar?

    • Thanks Judy, will try not to let my brain explode 🙂
      Pam, I’m delighted your reinvention worked and I loved reading ‘Superstition” (written as Tori Scott if anybody wants to look it up. I’ll wait here while you do). I’m actually talking to a publisher about a spec fic series, the first of which is already written, so your antenna must be quivering. Maybe that is what it will take. I’ll keep you all posted.

  5. Hi Valerie. With that kind of body of work behind you I think you could probably rest on your laurels. But I understand that it’s that sense of losing something innate to yourself that is causing the pain. Usually a dark night of the soul is a preliminary to something greater but that doesn’t make it easier to live through it. Knowing you I’m sure you are making this time productive even if you are struggling with doing the thing you love most. Wishing you all the best until the dam breaks.

    • I hope you’re right, Fi, that something is in the wings. As you say, doesn’t make it easier to live through. Helps to have such a supportive community around me.

  6. You know my story. Words a-plenty for everything else, but for some reason they don’t feel ‘important’ or maybe relevant enough to save to screen or paper.

    My inner voice in quiet. She was never fully trained to begin with, and certainly not fully trained enough to come on command.

    You *will* find your story again. It might be different than before–maybe it will have more grit. Your inner voice will tell you. I have the greatest faith.

    • ((((Sherry)))) I read only a day or so ago, a quote about writer’s block being less about being unable to write, and more about being unable to write perfectly. I know our reach always exceeds our grasp, and that’s what keeps the challenge interesting. But it’s food for thought.

  7. I think that sometimes, like your friend says, the brain just goes ‘enough’. And it’s worth a) giving the brain the break it needs and b) trusting that you will want to write again.

    In the meantime, I’d say keep your creativity up in other ways – craft, art, music, whatever. Just tinker and totter until brain says ‘right, let’s do this!’

    • All sound suggestions, Nicole. Basically, that’s what I’m doing and hoping my right brain gets bored enough with the tinkering to want to come out and play again.

  8. First, I’ve got to say I love the image you added to the post. It started my Monday with a smile.

    It’ll be interesting what story emerges like a butterfly from this dark night (I like that understanding of these periods in life, too, Fiona), but I know there’ll be a story because you’re a natural storyteller, Val.

    • Aw Jenny, you’ve made me smile, too. The storytelling is what I miss the most. Have been writing plenty of other stuff, but it’s not the same. I feel like stamping my foot at the universe, but that never helps. I love that image, too, filched from Facebook. It’s a meme doing the rounds and it so fits. I think we feel like all those people at different times.

  9. A long time ago, I read someone saying that, to write, you need to find your voice and to have something to say. I don’t think voice is the issue here (as if! ;>) but maybe your inner self is telling you that it is brewing something new to say. I, for one, hope so, because when as accomplished a writer as you has something new to say, I think the result will be very special and worth waiting for!

    • Thanks so much, Imelda. It’s kind of what I hope may be happening too. I’ve read so many stories of people who were about to give up on whatever their life’s work was, right before they made their greatest breakthrough. Oh for a crystal ball about now 🙂

  10. Keziah Hill said:

    Valerie, I lost my writing voice after my mother died and it took me quite a while to get it back. Other things were also going on like a total change in career and a stressful, engrossing job that required me to reinvent myself. So everything together meant I couldn’t concentrate to create words. It’s still a struggle and I’m like you in that I can get lots ideas, but the word part is hard. I think for me it’s something to do with letting myself open emotionally to the words when I’m not sure I really want to open myself emotionally in case there is some more pain there. Giving yourself a break is probably a good idea. I did find that writing long hand in a journal was a good way to reconnect to words.

    • A huge loss for you too, Keziah, my condolences. Not wanting to be open emotionally, because we’ve gone through so much pain, rings a definite bell with me too. Last year’s move to the country was the right choice for me, but coming on top of everything else, probably threw yet another spanner in the creative works. Thanks for your thoughts.

  11. Jennie Adams said:

    I’ve appreciated all the comments on this topic very much. I’ve been in a creative coma for almost a year. It’s a strange and unsettling way to feel when such a core part has always needed to write and suddenly there simply are no thoughts even vaguely resembling the formation or emergence of a character, a plot, a story. Whatever caused this, I’d like to have the immunisation against it please!

  12. I want one, too. And, I haven’t been writing nearly as long as the two of you. But, lately, I’m just not finding the “write” words. *sigh*

  13. How amazing is this? Part of my horoscope for tomorrow (Wed 21st) says: “Don’t be overly concerned if you experience a loss of direction. It’s more important to get in touch with your inner artist today than to act rationally. Seek meaning instead of success.” Wow…just wow.

  14. Sunch wonderful, insightful comments! I’ve been struggling with this for about two years. I think any kind of loss or deep emotional stress can fry creativity — particularly the type that creates loving couples with happy endings.

    But as the others have said, you’ll find the words again, Valerie. We all have faith in you. Borrow on that until you have it in yourself once more.

    • I knew I wasn’t Robina Crusoe in this, Meg, and hope the supportive comments help others in the same boat. They’re certainly lifting me up, thanks for being among them.

  15. My current “dry spell” has been about 4 years or so. For me, it was a hugely painful attack on my writing as a whole coming from someone I loved, and then a ton of stress and angst poured on top of it. Writing was always my escape from real life stress, and suddenly writing BECAME my real life stress.

    I haven’t gotten back yet. Hoping someday I will. For a year or so, I’ve been able to write fanfiction, which I sort of see as walking on a treadmill instead of running a marathon. Here’s hoping the answers, and the creative spark, returns at some point for you. When it does, mind giving me a jump-start?

    • I hear you on your escape from stress becoming stressful. Sums up the situation exactly. I’m able to write all kinds of material EXCEPT the one thing that matters to me, a novel. Happy to provide the jump-start when I figure it out.

  16. I tend to hit writer’s block when I’m grieving. I know some people can write through that – but it seems a complete stumbling block for me. However, I’ve also discovered that time heals, and the words start to flow again. Everyone’s different.

  17. i found that when I was concentrating too much on schoolwork and other worries, it became difficult to find motivation for writing. I was too stressed out to want to develop my characters and hear what they had to say. But after some changes in spiritual beliefs, I now feel more relaxed and accepting of the way things are in this world, and that I don’t have to hide from problems. I gradually felt a nudge that told me to write again, and suddenly I feel content, putting words on the ‘page’ (screen).

    Now my viewpoint has changed, I feel like every thought is challenging my old ideas, and that I have so much more to give, in everyday life and in my writing. I don’t really know what I want to communicate to my potential future readers, but I feel that having new ideas and wanting to share opinions with everyone can really make a difference. So keep faith in yourself, writers everywhere, and believe that change is necessary and that when you overcome difficulties, in life and in writing, you’ll come away stronger for it. The gift of writing, no matter how infuriating it can be, is always going to be a wonderful thing to have.

    • Great that you feel so motivated, Shiraz. Sorry your comment got lost in the shuffle for a bit (WordPress didn’t notify me for some reason), but I’m delighted you shared here. Growing as a writer never stops. I’m at the other end of the spectrum to you, with many books and other publications behind me, but I still look forward to changing and developing, exploring new kinds of writing. You’re right about the infuriating side, but that’s the burr under the saddle, keeping us writing LOL

  18. I get writer’s Block frequently. It generally stems from doubt, hunger (because I forget to eat while I’m in the zone) and sometimes it just happens. But I always seem to get through it. Sometimes some time off is all I need and generally, if I can’t write, I day dream (which inspires me to write). I’m a panster, but I’m learning to be a plotter.
    I love to write, no matter how many doubts I have, and when I can’t, I become depressed.
    I have a twin sister and she helps a lot too. She has just began to plan her first series and when we’re in doubt or looking for a little nudge, it helps to discuss what we are writing and what we plan to write.
    Reading, critquing and watching always help me, as I alway think of my own stories and how I can better them through learning through this movies.
    My first post on my Blog was about Writer’s Block and my top tips to beat it.
    I like to think that it helped people as it helped me.
    Great blog btw Valerie.

    • All good suggestions, we can all benefit from sharing ideas. Lucky you having a twin who is also a writer, to bounce ideas off and share thoughts.

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