SavvyBlogWriting Life

Vanquishing Writer’s Block by RJ Garside

Three mornings this week,

I have pulled myself out of bed two hours early to focus on my current manuscript—or at least that was the plan. I made my green tea (because I gave up coffee for my New Year’s resolution), lit a lavender-scented candle, and sat at my nicely organized desk. I opened Scrivener, my writing program of choice, to the start of the second chapter of my YA sports romance, and…then nothing. Absolutely nothing… No words. No sentences. No ideas about how to move forward. I couldn’t write. My brain was completely blocked.

I’ve been reading self-help books on believing in your abilities and working on your dreams and bought into scheduling time for me to focus on my writing. In big red letters in my planner, I have—WRITE YOUR STORY. I’ve scheduled three two-hour blocks this week and next week. The first two writing sessions came up with nothing. Last night before bed, I had visualized sitting in my desk with my fingers flying across the keyboard. I snickered at all the zippy dialogue that I would be writing with the fun banter between my characters. Today would be different… Today was a new start. Nope. The words still didn’t happen.

Near tears, I decided to do yet another search on writer’s block and found too many articles to read. I’ve already read so many of these articles and tried so many different things to overcome this block. Yet, there I was staring at a blank page.

(And here’s a secret, writing this blog has been harder than childbirth—and probably longer.)

I’ve done the online quizzes to figure out what is causing my writer’s block. Fear—yep, check. Pressure—yep, check. Perfectionism—oh heck yeah, check. So now what? The internal editor that sits on my shoulder doesn’t have to even open her mouth anymore. I know what she’s thinking. I’ve heard it all and tried it all.

I’ve tried listening to music with words, tried listening classical music, tried writing programs that delete your words if you don’t keep typing. I’ve tried to write at different times of the day. And when my three little monsters are finally asleep at 8:30 p.m., I’m ready to curl up in my jammies with a book on my Kindle. Plus, if you’ve ever chatted with me after 7 p.m. EST, you’ll discover that I don’t have anything intelligent to say.

Early mornings are the only real time that I have to myself before chaos erupts in my house. Otherwise, writing is competing with getting the boys’ lunches ready, folding laundry, pulling yet another toy out of the puppy’s mouth, breaking up the wrestling match turned cage match between my boys, and so many other things that make up my day.

And I know, I’ve heard that every writer experiences writer’s block at some point in their writing journey, but this has been going on for years. I haven’t finished a manuscript for four years. I have so many manuscripts started but quit three to five chapters in.

I had read that perhaps the struggle was because I wasn’t writing what was in my heart or the genre that I really want to write, so I skipped out on contemporary romance to focus on writing a YA sports romance. I LOVE my characters. I have put the time into making them strong, multi-dimensional, and realistic, yet, when I try to write their story, I’ve got nothing. I’ve tried pantsing it, plantsing it, and plotting it, but nothing has worked.

Unfortunately, my internet search did not discover the answer. There’s no science to writing and no quick fix. Vanquishing writer’s block takes work—real hard work.

I did walk around the house to try to get the creative juices flowing (because it’s 5:30 a.m. and it’s the middle of winter in Canada. Too cold and dark for a real walk outside). I had brainstormed bullet points last night before bed to be ready for my writing session. And I read some inspiring quotes. I can’t call a friend because again, it’s 5:30 a.m. and the only other person awake in my house is my seven-month-old Bullmastiff puppy, Moose, and he has nothing intelligent to say that early in the morning.

After an hour and half of staring at my screen, I finally quit my writing session. As I was getting breakfast ready, (apparently, I was slamming around dishes and silverware), my oldest son came down and asked me what was wrong. When I explained to him what had happened and how I had wasted two hours of my day trying to write my book. My son is a fellow writer. He’s currently working on his fourth comic book, Metal Jack.

He told me four things:

  1. To quit being a slacker and try harder.
  2. Good things in life don’t come free.
  3. Do it because you love it and not because other people love that you do it.
  4. He loves me even if my books have people kissing in them.

After I picked my jaw up from the floor (because he’s eight years old), I gave him a big hug and told him that was the best advice that I’ve heard. I can’t wait to get to my next writing session next week. There will be words typed on the page. They may not be eloquent or smooth or engaging, but there will be words.

What’s the best writing philosophy that you’ve ever heard?



RJ Garside is the wearer of many hats. She's the proud momma of three devilishly adorable little boys. Mature student extraordinaire. By day, she can ...
Thanks for sharing your journey and its daily/weekly challenges, RJ! To my mind, you're one of the Queens of Savvy! If even you struggle with these things, then my own writers-block or frustrated-writing days must be par for the course! :)

Some things that have helped me include - changing up the urgency of getting-satisfying-words-on-the-page. Any words can be helpful, esp. in the voice of your characters, even if it's just the characters expressing their own frustrations with your plot/story. So - not aiming for the 'right' words - just anything that moves you forward/onward in your story. (But I'm sure you know and have tried that!)

For me I've found I can't actually write a very-first-draft effectively on the computer at all. I have to write by longhand with a favorite colorful, smooth flowing ink-pen, in a thin and inexpensive paperback notebook. Later (much later! After a chapter-sketch or even a whole sequence of chapters is done) - I'll type/transcribe these drafty first-notes/characters'-conversations into Scrivener scenes/chapters. Looking back on my nearly-revised WIP, all my favorite scenes throughout the entire manuscript had their genesis in one-notebook-or-another, not on the screen. Using a notebook for brainstorming in this way also lets me ask questions in the notebook in journalling-like way, of my characters and story, and whether this-particular-structure/progression etc. is the way to go. So for instance: I might have a journalling day in which I set out the next sequence of scenes for the next couple of weeks-to-a-month, then draft them over successive writing-sessions (in a comfy chair, or on the porch, or in the car while waiting for kiddos to finish some activity!). Then I'll take a week to transcribe them into Scrivener & retool them a bit. (I'm not good about saving all-the-edits-for-the-end.) Then back to a journal or notepad or notebook for drafting.

Another tip might be to create very-attainable goals, so that you can meet them and have the satisfaction of doing so! Perhaps the goal can just be spending those two hours in creative-reflection, without any stress-or-need to put words-on-page, to start. So that you can renew your interest in these characters, even after the fun part of introducing them in Act 1's 3-5 opening chapters is complete. Or you might try planning a short-story/novella that is *only* 5 chapters in length, so that you have the accomplishment of creating a satisfying arc-and-structure on that small, intense scale. Two hours on those three mornings a week spent on story-planning (which doesn't have to be plot-structure based; it can just be imagining! the characters interacting, as if a movie-or-script is playing in your mind!) can add up, bit by bit. Perhaps 1.5 hours of thinking, followed by 15-20 minutes writing down your notes for how the scene unfolds, or even just how characters-interact in a small segment of a scene, typed into Scrivener at the end :)

Many good wishes for a satisfying writing time this coming year! Thank you again for sharing your story on the blog - and for all you do to make Savvy an inspiring community and welcoming place for all-comers :)