Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest Blogger Johanna Pitcairn: My Take on the Writer's Block

Welcome, Johanna Pitcairn (@themanicheans)! In addition to being a prolific writer, Johanna is also a lawyer, cat lover, piano player, & tattoo aficianado. "I write about my hopes, my fears, my lost love and my life. I write because I am. Without art, I'd be nothing," she says. To read her work, visit Johanna's blog at The Manicheans. 

I've been writing since I was very young. I knew what to write just by staring outside and letting my imagination run wild. I, therefore, never faced a lack of inspiration, except when I was sick, tired, or too lazy to think. 

My first experience dealing with a writer's block could be compared to your first time meeting a ghost. I’ve personally never had the chance of falling face to face with a haunting spirit yet, but I heard from the Ghost Adventures’ guys that it’s a life changing event, and you don't believe in it until it actually happens to you. I’d rather not encounter a ghost, because I think it’s creepy and totally superfluous. Now the Ghost Adventures’ guys found a really good way of starting a career by scaring good fellows like me, which made me wonder whether I should begin my own show to give the creeps to my author friends about the writer’s block. I don’t imagine I’d be as successful, but who knows? This is maybe the way to go….

The writer’s block requires a lot of mental strength to be effectively defeated. When you're head deep into your WIP and you suddenly feel it coming, you cannot escape from it no matter how hard you want out. 

You find yourself wandering endlessly in the maze that is your mind, looking for an exit that you know exist, but you have no idea how close or how far it’s from your reach. The writer's block is insidious, because it occurs at the least favorable moment and can leave you hanging for days, maybe weeks.  

You have several options to choose from once that unfortunate episode finally strikes you out. You may pull your hair, cry, eat profusely or become anorexic. You also may give up on your writing aspirations because you’re now convinced you simply don’t have what it takes. 

Well, let me tell you one thing: the writer’s block is normal. It will happen one day, I can assure you of that, and you will remember it because it’s truly the most frustrating thing to deal with, but once you overcome it, you feel reborn.  

I don't have tricks, I only trust discipline. I experienced a block a few weeks ago, as I was finishing Part 1 of Vol. 2 of the Manicheans. I don't write with an outline. I follow a certain trajectory but my writing mostly grows organically. I don't like to be bound between plot lines that won't make sense later on. I let my characters steer me into their fantastical world, and much like a good cartoon, they design the story for me. 
Stuck sucks. Photo by Scott Liddell from

I thought I was strong enough never to feel completely dry, because I always knew what to write about. Yet, the block punched me in the stomach with so much power, I surrendered to it for a while. I ended up completely drained, as if all my ideas had evaporated and left my brain like a miserable and pathetic sponge of nothingness. I knew the only thing I had to do to save my sanity was to regroup, and rethink every detail in my story in order to know where to move next. 

The writer's block will force you to retrace your steps, and you’ll find the right path after walking in circles for hours. 

My way of crushing it was to simply try until the exit showed up. It was exhausting, extremely frustrating and of course, very demotivating. I saw myself playing a 3D video game where I kept hitting the screen walls because I’m so awful at picturing 3D objects, and after many unsuccessful attempts, I naturally started to doubt myself and my ability to write. I hadn’t reached the point where I was ready to jump off the writing cliff yet, but I came close. 

I vented about it to my writers’ friends, and they all gave me the same response: keep writing. So guess what I did: I wrote. Even the dumbest idea can become the key to your freedom. You must let these words come out of you because they're your solution to a better novel. 

I wish the writer’s block was just a product of our imagination. I hate it; it will come again nonetheless, no matter how many ideas I write down my page. No writer is immune to it. Does a writer’s block repellant exist on the market yet? I don’t think so, but you can always search for it. Who knows? Maybe ghosts aren’t real either.


Ninja Gal said...

Awesome guest post! Glad I was able to catch this before I turn in for the night.
At the moment, my novel is stagnant. So I have been blogging to keep my writing sharp.
I open my WIP progress and just stare at the screen.
I think I'll just write. If it comes out crappy, at least it is out I guess... Maybe my crappy writing will inspire good writing.

Thanks again, Darlene

Ami Hendrickson said...

So glad you read this at the *right* moment! You've got the right prescription to turn stagnant words into free-flowing prose: just keep writing! Clear the pipes. Flush the toxins out! Just don't quit!

Paige Kellerman said...

Great post! I find that when I'm really stuck, it helps to go back and delete the last sentence I wrote. Often times, I'm so enthralled with the last thing I wrote, I don't realize my previous sentence steared me into a wall, and I needed to take a left instead of a right.

patty stewart said...

We get so happy to find the way out of a block we think it will work the next time, too. But we can't be fooled again in the same way. A good trick only works once. I used to re-read from the beginning, forming ideas as I read, and then immediately wrote from where I left off, having in the meantime refreshed my idea.

Kara said...

Great post, very motivational. Thanks for sharing! Sometimes if I have writer's block,I set the timer for 30 minutes and try to write as fast as I can, even if it's crap. Sometimes I am amazed by what I come up with. :)