Already busy with a novel? You are allowed to continue working on it throughout the month. However, you need to bear in mind that only the words written during November will count.
As you begin this interesting venture, it is inevitable that you will experience a slow-down in your ability to think and produce content for your novel. As much as you will be aware of and striving to meet your deadline (11:59pm on 30 November), your brain will not always allow you to move on to the next level. This mental constipation is frustrating and it affects all of us at different levels of writing. The University of Illinois Centre for Writing Studies believes it is caused by conflicted feelings.
Writer’s block, as this state is commonly known, is defined in Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece”. Though natural and very common, it is in your best interests to devise ways to help yourself get out of this rut and as soon as you possibly can. After all, the clock is ticking.
While different people might try different strategies to help them fill that blank page with creative content, Melissa Burkley, a research psychologist, says what works best for each individual depends on the kind of writer’s block they are experiencing. In other words, why exactly are you unable to produce any content? Burkley goes on to explain the various kinds of fear that tend to stifle the flow of our creative juices.
Susan Reynolds, in her article on Psychology Today.com, cites boredom as another reason for the (hopefully) temporary loss of your writing mojo. According to her, “This doesn’t mean that your actual writing is boring; it means that you’ve worked and reworked the material so much that it now feels, sounds, or reads as boring—to your mind.’’
I approached some writers for their thoughts on writer’s block and how they deal with it. Here is what they had to say:
Louise Ferreira For me, there are two main reasons for the block. One is mental health. If I’m depressed, I have no desire to write. The other is related to any other work I’m doing at the time. If I’m doing work I don’t enjoy for the sake of paying the bills, any creativity disappears. Being tired doesn’t help either.
Sometimes, getting back quickly isn’t possible. But if I feel like I’m out of ideas, I like to go back to the old stories: mythology, folklore and fairytales. I also read up on history that I find interesting. I enjoy historic fiction, but you can also use historic events to inspire a modern story. Quite often, I’ll write short stories about funny experiences I’ve had – I always change the details, but there is much less pressure because the story is already clear in my mind.
Finally, take a pen and paper and start writing. Anything that comes into your head. At first it might seem like rubbish, but you might just see something valuable emerge. It is important to write this by hand and not on a computer – it engages different parts of your brain and can do a lot for your creativity.
Natasha Fuyane I usually get a burst of inspiration when I’m in motion, while doing something else, when people are around me. So I wait for those moments and use my phone notes to write – most of what I write, I write when I’m commuting – on the train, etc. So I’ve learnt to wait for those stimulating moments.
Tariro Ndoro I think there are two types of writer’s block: not having anything to write and not knowing how to write your story. With the former, I learnt from Kim Adonnizio’s Poet’s Companion that writing is like a car and sometimes we run out of fuel. So, you need to find ways to refill. Personally, I read diversely. I read anthologies and journals, which have a wide array of writing styles and voices. If I come across something that moves me, this inspires me to write. Sometimes, simply getting away from my desk and living life brings some inspiration.
In the case of the latter, as Octavia Butler pointed out, habit is the cure. Just sit at your desk and write. The first few paragraphs may be the utmost crap but you can always go back and edit. One of my Creative Writing lecturers once made us tell our stories vocally and record ourselves to cure the “fear of the blank page”.
[Read Tariro’s articles here]
Leta Seletzky A few months ago, I discovered that writing longhand (rather than typing) helps me a lot. There is something about physically forming words and moving the hand across the page that keeps my words flowing. Also, I make sure I’m always reading, which feeds my creative soul!
[Follow Leta on her Twitter account, @LaSeletzky]
Suellen Shay When I was working on my PhD, I suffered a lot of writer’s blocks. I started something called “the artist’s way”, as set out by Julia Cameron in her book with the title The Artist’s Way. Basically, you journal every day; it does not matter what you write. You just write.
When I get really stuck, I like to take long walks. The other thing I do is to be aware of my good writing times. I would never try to write between 4pm and 10pm. If I don’t manage to write first thing in the morning, I usually know that I may not write anything at all on that day.
[Read some of Suellen’s research works here]
Fungayi Machirori I had a coffee with someone recently who gave me some good advice. When you are not able to write, just putting the pieces together that make it conducive for you to write eventually is sometimes enough. So it could be reading, getting yourself a new desk and chair, catching up on the sleep you need, surrounding yourself with affirming people or artefacts for your craft. Writing is a process, not an activity. So, sometimes you are spending months or years just getting ready to do it. Some people reckon there is no such thing as writer’s block and that what you experience as a block is all part of your process.