Writing is a practical way of expressing yourself and passing on your knowledge, ideas and experiences to others. Ask any writer how they actually make this happen though and you’re likely to hear a thousand different answers regarding speed, technique and how they perceive the experience.
The writing process can often be exciting, gratifying, engaging, even mesmerizing as the words fill the page and your ideas take greater and greater shape. It can also be frustrating and disheartening when the words stop flowing and writer’s block sets in. Many, many writers, however, both amateurs and professional alike, have suffered from cases of writer’s block – and overcome it, going on to write some truly great books. In fact, their names might surprise you.
Today I’d like to share the experiences of three well-known writers who had writer’s block, as well as tips from three other well-known writers on how to overcome this typically temporary condition.
Writers With Writer’s Block
Leo Tolstoy was a 19th-century Russian author who is best known for penning the lengthy novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, two celebrated examples of realist fiction. Yet, Tolstoy also experienced writer’s block and was unable to write at all for months and years at a time. It wasn’t permanent, however, and Tolstoy is now honored as one of the greatest authors of all time.
Virginia Woolf was an early 20th-century British writer. She is best known for the novels Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando, and the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as well as her pioneering use of stream of consciousness as a literary technique.
Woolf wrote many novels, short stories, plays, essays and reviews. She also suffered from periods of writer’s block due to episodes of depression that modern observers now suspect was rooted in bipolar disorder. But overall her illness didn’t prevent her from creating the fascinating works that she’s known for today.
J.K. Rowling (born 1965) is a British author who is best known for writing the Harry Potter fantasy series – the best-selling book series in history. The stress of a lawsuit in 2008 (she sought to stop the unauthorized publication of a Harry Potter-based book) led to a period of writer’s block. Rowling, however, quickly recovered from the writer’s block and continued to pen her acclaimed books (which she continues to do to this day).
Writers’ Tips on Writer’s Block
Toni Morrison (born 1931) is an American author and professor, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved, as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Morrison recommends awakening your creativity by using a writing ritual – a particular set of actions that signal to your brain that now is a good time to write. The details of the writing ritual don’t actually matter; it could be something as simple as fixing yourself a cup of tea before sitting down in your chair to write, or it could be something much more elaborate. The important thing is that you yourself decide what the ritual will be and that it will help you to mentally prepare for the writing you will do.
Jack London was an American writer and journalist who is best known for the novels The Call of the Wild and White Fang (published in 1903 and 1906 respectively), set during the Klondike Gold Rush.
To keep the creative juices flowing, Jack London recommended that writers follow a daily routine of writing with the goal of hitting a target word count. He believed that by applying such discipline and forcing yourself to write, you will be able to attract the writing muse. Or if not, then something else just like it.
Neil Gaiman (born 1960) is an English author of novels, comic books and screenplays, but he is best known for the novel American Gods and the comic book series The Sandman.
When writer’s block rears its head, Gaiman recommends first putting away your writing for a while (at least a few days) and trying to forget about it. He then encourages you to print out your work and come back to it with fresh eyes. With pen in hand, read, edit, change and expand on the work. Finally, when you’re done going over what you previously wrote, you should be able to carry on and continue with your writing full steam ahead.
Now if you’ve used any of these techniques to jumpstart your writing again, please tell me about it in the comments. I’d love to know how you got on.
Dudley Court Press
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