WRITERS WORKSHOP: Writer’s Block & Writing Anxiety

Writers Workshop on Writer’s Block/Writing Anxiety, hosted by the Mountain View Public Library.

Here is the outline:

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Writers Workshops.

Part 1: Writing Anxiety/Writer’s Block

I. Who we are, why we’re doing this:

  1. Black Hats Writers Group
  2. For ourselves, every workshop reinforces or challenges what we know about writing. Having to explain ideas helps us clarify our own thoughts and techniques.
  3. For the public, we enjoy sharing what we know in order to help our writing community and the community in general.
  4. These workshops provide face-to-face interactions and helps “writing” be less isolated. (***If you met someone at the workshop and you’re interested in collaborating with them, you leave a comment for them at the end of this post!***)

II. What is Writer’s Block/Writing Anxiety?

A. Very simply: It’s the inability to write.

B. 2 Different types: The “I can’t” and the “I don’t want to”

1. “I can’t” feels like you have things you want to write, but you can’t seem to get it on the page. You might know what comes next, you just don’t know how to get there.

2. “I don’t want to” feels like you have no inspiration. You don’t know what comes next.

III. Possible causes of Writer’s Block:

A. Deeadline Pressure, aka lack of time.

B. Lack of inspiration. – Nothing seems like a good idea. Nothing feels *right*.

C. Performance anxiety – It’s not going to be good enough. It won’t be as good as X’s story.

D. Writing in a Vacuum – No feedback. The “Is what I’m writing okay?” anxiety. ***Choose the company appropriate for your comfort level (big group vs. partnership). Remember it’s a choice; you can leave relationships that are damaging to your writing career or emotional well-being.***

E. Re-examine your reward system. Are you taking healthy breaks (10-15 minutes stretch/snack break every hour) or are you rewarding yourself for doing something you should be doing already (going on Buzzfeed, online shopping, doing things that make you feel disproportionately good for the amount of work/effort you put in.) – A reward should be for accomplishing something above and beyond “normal” work.

***Regarding Performance Anxiety, aka the feeling that what you’re producing is crap, it’s not good enough, it’s not as good as something you’ve already written, it won’t be as good as an ideal version that’s in your head, or it’s not as good as something  Stephen King would write.

 photo comparison carrots_zpsnhundqky.jpg
This was on my Twitter feed one day and it resonated with me. One of my favorite lessons when it comes to writing. Someone might be a “Bestseller” with terrible sales, or a Twitter spammer who happens to make thousands of dollars in a week. Don’t judge, and don’t compare.

Writing something is *still* writing somethings. You’re producing something, and that’s better than producing nothing. Also, comparing yourself to Stephen King is an unfair comparison to yourself. He’s had decades to hone his skills, along with several editor and mentors. You’re comparing your first or tenth or twenty-fifth attempt with what’s probably his hundredth or thousandth product. The comparison you’re making is setting yourself up to fall short.***

IV. Possible solutions to Writer’s Block

(caveat: everyone is different. Some of these might work for some people, and for some people, it might exacerbate the condition. For example, I thrive on pressure. It helps me focus. If I get a deadline, I will create 8 personal deadlines in order to meet that one deadline. Another person might get a deadline and completely shut down. Get to know what helps your personal process and implement it.)

Mental exercises, mental training, just like you’re training for a marathon or a 5k.

A. Start practicing with deadlines. Write microfiction (under 500 words) in one hour. After one week, increase it to 700 words. After that week, increase to 1000 words in one day. Then 1300. Then 1500. Then 2000 words. Then 2700 words a day. – Attempting to go from 0 to 2700 words a day is like trying to go from couch potato to marathon fitness on the day of the marathon. (Good for “I can’t”)

***More about practicing deadlines. Example: the Couch 2 5k app. 50k words can seem like a mountain of a deadline, and it might loom over you, filling you with dread, making you feel anxious. Cut it down to manageable chunks. This way, you might only have to meet a deadline of writing 3000 words a day, or 1700 words a day, or 1000 words in the morning and 1000 words at night. Those little mole hills are easier to face and easier to conquer than the giant mountain at the end of your path.***

 photo Perseverance miners diamonds_zpsiyqnbckj.jpg
This is another image that showed up on my feed one day. It pertained to the querying process, but it applies to a lot of writerly struggles. The message of that day was “Don’t give up!” I’d like to add – Looking at how far you’ve come can give you a good perspective of how far you’ve still got left to go.

B. Use that anxiety and mentally train yourself to “open floodgates of thought.” – Writing unstructured stream of consciousness until it becomes habit to sit down and write. (Good for “I can’t”)

C. READ READ READ. Your Creative Well might be low. Read to refill your Creative Well with inspiration like ideas, themes, plot twists, narratives, character traits and quirks, setting palettes, etc. (Good for “I don’t want to”)

Writing techniques, trainable skills.

A. Review and examine the major types of conflict: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. God, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Technology. See if you can identify these in real life, in the news, or in movies and tv shows.(Good for both)

B. Use a Mind Map. (Good for “I can’t”)

***The Mind Map app I use on my iPad is called iThoughts. I purchased it for $9.99 a few years ago. I looked for it on the app store but the couldn’t find it. Either the original company changed its name, or it was acquired by toketaWare, and they’re now selling it for $11.99 for the iPad and $49.99 for the Macbook. It’s a great app that can help you organize your thoughts, particularly if you’re writing something with multiple plotlines, a cast of several main characters, and you feel more comfortable looking at cloudbursts rather than looking at ideas in a classically linear outline format.


 photo Mind Map example_zps34fgealh.jpg
Click to embiggen. This is the (very basic) mindmap I had of a presentation on Lahiri’s THE NAMESAKE. With the app, you can go as simple or as complex, as black and white or as colorful as you want.
 photo Mind Map Soda Flies_zpsptjwcty5.jpg
Click to embiggen. This is the basic version of the Super Secret Mind Map that reveals the fairytale the Soda Flies is based on.

The cost may be prohibitive, though, and while it comes with a lot of cool features, you can do something as effective with pen and paper.***

C. Write scenes out of order. (Good for “I can’t”) (Richard)

D. For a block that happens in the middle of the story – Don’t be afraid to go back and reverse the last major choice a character made. Usually, a “block” happens when you’re forcing the plot, rather than letting a character’s background and backstory influence their choices. Don’t be afraid to erase however many words you need to get to the point where you can reverse a choice. (Good for “I don’t want to”) (Joan’s example of trashing 5k words at a time.)

E. Leave in the middle of an idea. That way, when you come back to write, you already have a scene to complete. You won’t have a blank page staring at you. (Good for both)

Joan’s closing remarks:

The most successful writers I know once literally needed to write in order to feed their kids. They literally can’t afford to have writer’s block. They can’t afford to not produce. Their solution is to treat it like the job it is, show up consistently, punctually, perform to the best of their ability, and then clock out when their shift is done. If you’re planning on making this a career, you have to treat it like a job already. You might need to give yourself stakes that are so high, it forces you to sit down and produce something.

Have questions?

Contact me by leaving a comment below, on Twitter (@JoanWIP), or Facebook.

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