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Writer’s Block. Everyone has heard of the term, some terrible fate that is waved before writers as yet another stumbling block along the road to a finished project. It is like a disease, the equivalent of the common cold, a term bandied around so much it has lost all significant meaning.

But what is it really?

To achieve anything we require the energy to do it, the inclination to do it, the drive and the ability. That is true of all things, and when something is lacking, work becomes difficult. It happens with everything. I got a quarter of the way through painting the outside of my house and then stopped, and a year later I still haven’t taken up the brush again. Some people might call this ‘can’t be assed’, but there is more to it than that. I am far from lazy. I work every waking minute of my day and I look after two small children and manage a household. I live on six hours of sleep. What happened was I lost my drive to paint, because that obsessive energy was being poured into writing.

I did a post a few days back about how much effort writing takes. It is not a job for dreamers so much as obsessive perfectionists. It takes a lot of energy even if one doesn’t get up from the computer for hours at a time. True writer’s block is when you just don’t have that energy, when something else has taken control of your head. I stopped writing for months when I was renovating the house and when I was pregnant, and at those times you just put the pen/keyboard down and don’t even think about it. Wait until the energy returns.

What is NOT writer’s block?

Writer’s block is not sitting down to write and being sure every word you’re writing is awful – that’s just being a writer.

Writer’s block is not struggling to know where the story should go next – if it doesn’t flow on its own then there is something wrong with it. Cut back to where it all went wrong and try again.

Writer’s block is not when you begin losing interest in finishing a project – again that is just being a writer. Every book I’ve ever written has taken longer and longer to slog through by the time the end comes, especially at the end of a trilogy. It begins to feel like you’ve been writing this book FOREVER and it will never end and you want to do something new but you can’t until this one is done. Don’t fall into that trap or you’ll never finish anything.

If your writing is just flagging then chances are, just like with real writer’s block, there is a problem. Something is wrong and the energy is lacking. Look for passive characters – ones who have things happen TO them as opposed to causing things to happen. Look for situations where the plot has constrained a character to act out of … well… character. If you have decided the plot and then designed the characters to fit that plot you are likely to run into these problems a lot.

So the difference? Writer’s block is a lack of energy where you can’t even THINK about writing, when another aspect of life has become more important.

Not really writer’s bock is when you are struggling with a piece of work that just won’t write itself. If this is the case then consider having someone else read it, because there is almost certain to be a problem you haven’t seen.