Playing with Unhappy Blocks – What we Believe About Writer’s Block

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

There are some authors who do not believe in Writer’s Block and some do.  And most believe that if you believe in Writer’s Block the condition will immediately manifest in your life evidenced by the blank screen before you.

Writer’s block can be very real.  But there are ways to understand it and conquer it.  Because at Newbie Writers,  we are all about conquering fear. Advice for Writers

There are three categories of non-writing:  thinking about, blocked by it, unhappy about it.   Thinking is self-evident, you must spend time thinking about the writing in order for more ideas to emerge and insights to come to light. We aren’t discussing that here. We are talking about unhappiness and  blocks.

I came across the idea of unhappiness after reading the Seven steps on the Writer’s Path by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.    And if I could have hunted these two fine ladies down, I would have booked them as guests on the show. No luck.  Surprising there are some authors who don’t want to be found.

They write that the seven steps to writers block are:  Unhappiness, Wanting, Commitment, Wavering, Letting Go, Immersion, Fulfillment.

I will not belabor the points here; you can read the book yourself.  But I do want to point out that the authors cover something that is sometimes over looked and misunderstood:  unhappiness.  I think this unhappiness or restlessness is a critical step and key to the writing process.   I appreciate  Pickard and Lott for addressing it.

Newbie Writers interpret unhappiness as failure. Other writers and creatives consider this unhappiness as an inadequacy or worse, a sign they should quit creative work and take up insurance sales, just like their father told them to do.  I even lost a client because she wanted me to fix her unhappiness right now, rather than work through the steps that would have taken her from unhappiness with her creative project back to writing (or commitment if you like to follow your steps in chronological order).

“Unhappiness, to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”  And the even more interesting observation:  “Boredom is a dead giveaway to the probability that creative is lurking in your psyche.”

What does unhappiness look like?  You aren’t crying, you aren’t tearing your clothes and lamenting, tossing ash into the air and spilling your guts out during a book club meeting.

Unhappiness does often look like alcohol in inadvisable amounts.  Or chocolate in Ben & Jerry’s amounts, or the family size pizza for one.  But none of those options will really do the trick – sorry.

Unhappiness isn’t quite like Writer’s Block, although it can develop into a block fairly easily, which should be prevented at all possible. And unhappiness isn’t exactly the problem we have with our internal editor – those flying monkeys of our conscious mind.

Unhappiness, in the writing world, is closely associated with boredom.  You hate the book; you hate the project.  You hate your hero, he is boring and does nothing but fight in a pub all night and never steps out for  a breath of fresh air.  You are bored with your own mind –  that is why you are unhappy.

But the trough of despair doesn’t have to become a permanent, deep, rut.  It can be just a brief resting place.

So how to manage this?

Crawl  out of the trough, and jump right back onto the same path.

Step away from the project.

Boredom and unhappiness is your brain revving up, about to launch again, it’s closely aligned to creative  thinking.   Your brain, (I say this from experience) is on the verge of delivering a break through.  Your Muse is hovering, ready to descend.  It’s about to happen, which, ironically, is why you are so upset and yes, unhappy.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, for my Scandinavian family, it’s a contact sport, but knowing that will not help you here.  Don’t deny you are unhappy, admit it.  If you don’t, you will stare at that computer screen for hours, picking away at a plot you hate – one tiny letter at a time.  You will most certainly feel dry and used up. You most certainly feel like a failure.   

Walk away.  Like writer’s block, like the internal editor, unhappiness is best managed off the court.  Go find another creative outlet that is different – sometimes very different, then what you are trying to create.  Just the inattention will sometimes do the trick and reduce the unhappiness time and lead you to the solution.

So if you write, dance, sing, collage, paint.  If you dance, write your memoirs. If you paint, write poems.   Walk instead of write.  Sports are even good – run, kayak, play a game involving any number and shapes of balls. Do something that makes you happy again.  The release will not only make you feel immediately better, but when you show up to work the next day, you’ll be surprised to discover that the work you hated yesterday afternoon looks pretty okay in the morning light.  You forgive, you forget, you will write again.

Look at your unhappiness and restlessness as outwards manifestations of your inner turmoil. Once you see it and feel it, and after you indulge in an activity that takes you out of yourself, you will feel better.  After a few days consciously avoiding the page, you will be able to return and say what you really want to say – take your heroine where she really needs to go, and do it all faster and more easily.

Okay, that will help with unhappiness.  What about Writer’s Block?  Real?  Imagined?  Well, if you can’t write, if you are stuck, then it’s real.  More on Writer’s Block in the next blog.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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