It seems like every time the subject of writer’s block comes up, twenty million writers jump in to proclaim, “It doesn’t exist!” and accuse anyone who struggles with it of being lazy or whining.  So if you  have writer’s block, you’re now wishing you could hide somewhere and maybe thinking it’s best not to even bother asking for help.

Honestly, that’s just plain wrong for one group of writers to make another group of writers feel.  What is it with writers and this black and white stuff anyway?  Creativity is not even shades of gray — it’s shades of colors and patterns.  There is no one way something should be.

So let’s get the preliminary stuff out of the way: writer’s block does exist.  Just because an individual person hasn’t experienced it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  That’s like saying puppies and kittens don’t exist because you don’t have one.

How do I know it exists?  I’ve had it.

In the 1980s, I lived in Los Angeles, the land of sunshine and Hollywood stars.  It was the place to be creative, and the place for writing screenplays.  At that time, to me, all writing seemed to be the same.  Little did I realize that wasn’t true.  I wanted to write full time, and frankly, writing fiction doesn’t really pay that all well.

A woman holds up a clapboard, ready to snap it closed.But screen writing did.  So a well-meaning individual (name omitted to protect the guilty) suggested that I needed to write a screenplay a week to break in.  He didn’t know anything about writing or creativity, and I didn’t know anything about pacing myself.  All of my stories until that point had been for fun.

So  I jumped in and started writing screenplays.  That consisted of:

  1. Come up with the idea.
  2. Write a first draft.
  3. Revise and go final

In a week.

It’s like writing and revising an entire novel from beginning to end.  And I did at least 20 of these.

One day, my muse walked off and left.  Gone.  No ideas, no spark, nothing.  Some people say to free write to break writer’s block.  I couldn’t even do that.  The muse had put her feet down like a dog going to the vet (my muse is a golden retriever) and wasn’t going to cooperate. There just wasn’t anything there for me to draw on.

The Living Notebook mentioned that writers of the pulps also suffered from the same thing:  They wrote 3,000 words a day, no matter what.  Sometimes it was a story a day.  Many burned out, and some committed suicide because it was such a huge strain on the creativity.

Mine didn’t stay gone forever, but it was 2 years before I could write again.  The muse cautiously returned, and I got back into writing by doing Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fan fiction.  I edited a zine and wrote a few stories.  Fan fiction was good for me because there was no pressure.  Everyone was going to say the stories were good, so I didn’t have to feel like I had to sell something.  I eventually moved away from it, because it wasn’t fun for me to write to someone else’s characters.

Now I always take breaks from my writing.  It cannot be about writing every single day because I will run the well dry eventually, and I value my creativity.  I want it to be with my a long time.

If you’ve had writer’s block, tell me about your experiences?  What happened?  What did you learn?  How did you solve it?

Linda Adams, Soldier, Storyteller

Starting November 4, I will doing a month-long session on Forward Motion on “Basic Training of Military Culture.”  The lesson plan for the course is posted over on my blog, Soldier, Storyteller.

About the author

Linda Maye Adams Linda Adams has been published in Enchanted Spark and Fabula Argentea and has a non-fiction story in the upcoming Red, White, and True from the University of Nebraska Press. She is a female war veteran from the first Persian Gulf War, and least likely to have been in the army.