Friday, January 28, 2011

Writer's Block

I suppose all writers deal with writer's block from time to time, but I admit it's been decades since I've had the problem. Perhaps writing a boring paper during college was my last experience? I really don't remember. I've had systems in place forever to get me beyond the blank page. Here are a few of them:
  • Journal
  • Blog
  • Draw
  • Knit
  • Bake
  • Clean
Any of these less "important" activities tended to divert my stressed attention enough to return to writing and suddenly have the words flow. That is until the past few months when my wrists started aching so badly, I could barely type. The pain was constant, nights were the worst, and resulted in a total lack of words, ideas, or enthusiasm for the act of putting words to paper or screen. You can easily see that my usual methods of getting rid of blockage only added to the physical problems. It I couldn't comfortably type, it wasn't likely I'd be doing much knitting.

So now what? Obviously I have to find new methods to not only overcome writers block, but to be able to write! I'm trying various exercises which serve the dual purpose of relieving pain, and also help with the natural bit of depression we all experience when life throws us an unhappy curve. Diet changes are also important.

Watch over the next few months as we write about the Care and Feeding of the Writer - a new feature that examines the health issues associated with the job of writing, as well as how we can deal with the job as we age into it. We'll look at exercise and diet, as well as any other creative methods we discover to keep us working at our best. If you have any ideas and would like to guest post, by all means email us.

Please do leave us a comment now. Do you have any job-related health issues with writing? What about writers block? What method do you use to overcome it, and what would happen if suddenly that wasn't an option any longer? Please share!
Dani Greer is founding member of this blog and is presently preparing for the next Blog Book Tours Class which begins on February 1. Be sure to sign up for this four-week course because who knows when the next one will be... all things considered.

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  1. When I was writing my book last year, I had the same issue with my wrist and fingers aching so bad. Likewise, sleep was uncomfortable. Over the past months, I have been editing so the pain has subsided. I found that wearing a wrist guard was essential, even at night. As for writer's block, I just had to take a break, if it meant for an hour or three days. That usually gives me time to think about what I am writing. Looking at people's blogs and reading books helps cause you see how you can make your writing better.
    Yes, writing goes hand-in-hand with some depression. Somedays you love what you're writing, and other's you think it's trash which reflects on your own self worth. It is a tricky business, but a joy all the same.
    Thanks for the post!

  2. I've never had wrist pain before but I wanted to make sure I avoided it in the future, so I switched to a Dvorak keyboard which will hopefully keep the pain away. And in order to get over writer's block, I usually read a book with similar themes to my book, and I almost always find that it doesn't take long for my characters to start talking (in my own head, of course) about their experiences with the theme and all I have to do is write them down. If that doesn't work, I lie in bed like I'm going to go to sleep and let my subconcsious take over.

  3. I found my muse missing during the time I was on crutches after my surgery. Now I have a walking boot and I feel full of energy. I think I was just exhausted.
    I don't know what is causing your discomfort but how about trying one of those warm parfin baths?

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  5. Susan, I just borrowed a paraffin machine from my mother - she got one as a gift and never used it, so I thought I'd give it a go. Lots of my knitting pals swear by it. I also wear wool pulse warmers which make a world of difference relieving pain. Or fingerless gloves. I'll post a pattern in the future. The keyboard tip is good - also a wrist booster while typing.

  6. My wrists used to hurt to the point of numbness, but I switched to an ergonomic keyboard and a touchpad with a wrist support instead of a mouse, and all is well.

    When I get writer's block, it means I've made a misstep in what I've already written. If I can identify that (infodump, not enough color, broken characterization), and fix it, I can write again.

    Marian Allen

  7. I have never suffered from writer-related injuries and tend to be able to avoid writers block. However this week I have been very worried about my dad who was taken to hospital - it completely stopped me writing. I have never really not wanted to write but this week it hasn't even occurred to me. He is now out of hospital and now I am picking up the proverbial pen and realising how much I missed it!

    I hope your wrists get better soon and the exercises strengthen them so you can get back to knitting and, of course, writing!

  8. Writer's block happens but it isn't the end of the world. I clean (like you do), call someone to chitchat, exercise, work with my graphic program. And then I sit my butt down and make myself focus.

  9. Hi Dani,

    I've had wrist problems in the past, so I bought two wrist guards, and used them, especially overnight.

    Then I got a curved ergonomic keyboard (Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard) and a mouse pad with a cushioned section to support my wrist.

    I find since I got these two items, I haven't had wrist problems and don't need to use the wrist guards anymore (knock on wood!).

    I also have a very comfortable ergonomic chair with a lower-back cushion that I added, which has helped my previously sore back and hips.

    When I use bad posture, I notice my neck and shoulders start to bother me, so I have to remember to sit up straight and lean back, with my head back a bit, rather than my neck bending over forward.

    And morning exercises help a LOT! Especially the ones where I move my arms and lift them above my head, etc.

    Good luck with all this, Dani--and all you other writers and editors!

  10. Writer's block? I would call it more a plot block. It's when the story moves along nicely when...ooopppss....I get stuck (or my characters do). So I grab a vacuum cleaner and that help a lot, cause I tend to think while vacuuming. Also, I grab a good book and read for a while. Gives me a push to move on...

    Great post. Made me think.

  11. There's no substitute for sitting there and writing through the block. I've found spots in my book where I just don't want to continue, but I force myself to do so. I get by those spots, but it's not always easy.

    Morgan Mandel

  12. Morgan, it's impossible to write through a block when the reason you can't write to begin with is pain in the hands and wrists. The pain is what is causing the blockage, and the usual methods of unblocking just cause more pain. It's a vicious circle. So further posts will deal with 1. finding ways to decrease the pain in hands and wrists and 2. finding methods to unblock which don't use the hands even more and 3. finding ways to write that don't involved the use of the hands to begin with. I suspect there are many writers out there who have some of these issues.

  13. Great post!

    I agree with Marion - writer's block is your subconscious telling you something isn't working. Having said that, when I get really stuck I flick through a few "Random" pages on Wikipedia, and try and come up with a way to work everything I find into a query for an imaginary novel. That usually gets the brain back into gear!

  14. For me it isn't writer's block, it's carple tunnel, arthric hands, bad back, demanding dogs and a phone that never stops ringing. (G)

    I've always wanted to try Dvorak. I bought a good split keyboard, but my laptop uses USB not PS2.

    I've used vitamin suppliments over the years for the inflamation. Working in a call center, it was 8 hours a day at the keyboard.

    However, I find that Chamomile tea is just as good as a pill. In some cases, the combination of advil and chamomile can take care of the pain. I drink it regularly and it helps.

  15. I have some great recipes with anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric. There are many natural aids to alleviate pain. Cutting out sugar consumption is a big one, too. Lots more to come on this topic!

  16. I suffer from tendonitis in my arms. It helps to take MSM and Omega 3 supplements. Also, upper body strengthening, stretching and posture is crucial to recovery.

  17. This is a great lead off to the series for this coming month, Dani. Already I am picking up some good tips for dealing with aches and pains. Now we just have to do something about eye problems. LOL

  18. At one time I had hand pain. I wore wrist guards when I typed or drove. It slowly went away. Hope your hands begin to feel better and you get lots of advice here.

  19. Dani,

    You have my complete sympathy. Pain that keeps you from writing and knitting just plain stinks!

    What helps me get back into the flow of writing is seeing someone else's creativity, either their work or hearing about/watching their progress. Any kind of creativity motivates me. For example, a local art gallery has an artist in residence this week. I went down, hung out in the gallery for a while and watched him work and then chatted with him about his process, both physical and thought. Along the lines of the artist's date that Julia Cameron talks about.
    On a much simpler level, in this gray winter season, whenever the sun comes out I stop and revel in it for a while. It can be just five minutes of sitting in a sunny spot in my house or going to the park for a walk. But winter sunshine opens me up creatively.

    Again, I'm feeling your pain and offer you cyber hugs.


  20. I haven't had writing injuries. At one time my wrists became sore so I changed the height of my keyboard and the soreness disappeared.

    I haven't suffered from writer's block, either. Even when I'm writing crap, I don't stop writing--I simply switch to something else: a journal, blog posts, or a rant and rave page or two. If I'm still convinced what I'm writing is crap, I trash it and start from somewhere else.

    I've also found that talking into a voice recorder (as if it's a therapist) also helps. Usually after a short while of role playing (I'm both patient AND therapist, of course), I tend to work myself through whatever is constipating me!

  21. I once tripped on some alphabet blocks my kid left in the hallway ... Damn near broke my neck.

  22. No actual writing injuries, just a chronic bad back and arthritis. But then, I'm 72. I've just come out of a four year struggle with writers block to find my physical condition so deteriorated I cannot sit long enough to get the work rolling again.

    It's my problem to work out, but I've never seen age, especially decrepit age, assessed as a writer's problem. Of course I could have done it all when young - if I hadn't had a husband, house, four kids, unpaid job etc. Kids are now married, with their own kids, and obviously I didn't have the gumption and/or courage to write (book length) in spite of it all, as many people do. Hubby now has big health problems which take up time and energy for us both.

    This is a lot of complaints to you folk with patient ears, and I don't expect sympathy. Just venting! I'm trying to be efficient and work my stuff in where I can, but despite being published (previous to the Block problem) and having another romance accepted by an e-publisher, I now do not have the time and energy to promote as will be expected.

    I think you'll agree, that's quite enough from me!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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