Whose fault is it when writing stutters to a stop?

Words rush ahead, fling themselves onto the page and dare you to keep up. At least, that’s the way it seems when writing is going well. Scenes flash by in HD, rippling across the mind’s eye as the story unfolds.

As much as I love those days, they aren’t typical of my writing life. Many days words drip out a few at a time, forming a slowly widening puddle on the page. Sloppy phrases, sluggish sentences, and clichés meld with occasional bursts of brilliance as I struggle to find the right way to express a blossoming idea.

I know I’m not the only one who experiences creative cycles. Just read all the #amwriting tweets to find people elated by their run of 3500 words or bemoaning the curse of writer’s block. Euphoria and desperation. The two extremes.

Whose fault is it when my words stutter to a trickle or skid to a stop? Mine, of course. It’s nice to shift the blame to a reluctant muse but truthfully, I know where the muse dwells. Author Nora Roberts has said, “You’re going to be unemployed if you really think you just have to sit around and wait for the muse to land on your shoulder.” She should know. Since 1981 she has written 209 romance novels as Nora Roberts and has also been published as J.D. Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty.*

The dream of being published won’t materialize without effort. If we want to be real writers then we must write, regardless of whether the story comes easily or, as Earnest Hemingway has said, it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” When the going gets tough we have to use whatever it takes to keep moving ahead. If drilling and blasting don’t seem to work, we may need to nurture the muse.

  • Refill the well. We can’t keep emptying ourselves indefinitely. Find creative activities that enrich, such as reading a book that inspires and motivates, visiting an art exhibit or museum, taking a short course in batik making, sketching, quilting, gourmet cooking….
  • Prime the pump. Success begets more success. As much as I dislike writing exercises, if I force myself to do ten minutes of free writing on the first word that comes into my mind (or, if nothing does, the first word I put my finger on in the dictionary or verse in the Bible), I have to admit my brain function perks up. Once I start writing it’s easier to keep writing.
  • Join forces with a friend. Issue or accept a realistic writing challenge and hold each other accountable. It’s always hard to admit defeat when you’ve committed publicly to a goal, and easier to achieve one when there is friendly competition and encouragement.
  • Schedule specific writing breaks. There’s no harm in taking a short-term hiatus for refreshment or other priorities. The danger is in making excuses for the reason, or for procrastinating beyond the allotted time. Pencil in specific stop and start up dates on your calendar and stick to them.

There’s no other way around it: if we want to be writers we have to write regularly, and not just when we feel like it. The responsibility to do so is entirely our own.

“The only person holding you back is you;

everyone else is merely watching.”

(Bob Mayer)

What does it take to get you writing again when you’ve stuttered to a stop?


* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nora_Roberts


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

12 thoughts on “Whose fault is it when writing stutters to a stop?

  1. I would not compare my work to either of these people, but both Nora Roberts and Stephan King have said it all for me. Sit down every day and write. Nora writes eight hours a day, every day, holidays, vacations, her own birthday. Stephan King does the same. No matter what is going on, they are committed to work.

    It is hard and often the muse is a fickle little devil, tempting us to cyber travel or take chocolate break. Being a natural compulsive/obsesseive type-A personality, I write list, plan schedules and when I don’t “feel like it” while in the middle of a book … I write something else.

    Again Stephan King …you can’t be a good writer unless you read, read, read.
    So we must make time for our health, our family and friends and to read for pleasure.

    Love this post, Carol … it goes to the heart of what separates work and hobbies. Knitting is a hobby, writing is my life’s work. 🙂

  2. I am so glad to see that one little caveat in there, that it is okay to take a hiatus for a specific length of time. I decided that with my part-time job and my aughter’s wedding coming up in less than 5 weeks, I have to focus on only those 2 things. I’ve only got one precious daughter, and God has been so good to us, I want her day to be beautiful for her, and honoring to the God who made it all happen. So, you’ve eased my mind with that. I’ll pick up on Sofi’s Bridge in 1 month, and then it’s the nose to the grindstone.

  3. What does it take? For me it’s telling no less than fifteen people what I’m going to do (you are number 14). I need to be accountable. So here it is: I will revise during the month of February. So there.

  4. I’ve stuttered to a stop, Carol. It’s not writer’s block. I am excited about getting back into my novel and rewriting the entire MS if necessary, but time is no friend of mine. When minutes and hours are not available, there must be a rearrangement of tasks or a decision to wait until tasks change. I lived in a waiting mode for many years without any time to write except at my workplace. Now I have time to write again, but my writing time is all blog. I must develop a workable strategy to loose up some writing time for my MS. Thank you for prodding me on with your excellent post. Blessings to you…

  5. I usually beat myself up for awhile, then stop and wash floors, or stick my head in the fridge. But when it’s all said and done, the only really fix out of the yucky writing dilemma is to get back to writing. If I’m really stuck, I do a detailed outline, sequence breakdown, act 1, 2 and 3 highlights, and look for the weak spots. Almost every single time I do this, (and yes, it’s time consuming) some spot sticks it’s head up and shouts, “You need to clarify this scene by adding a buildup or a conflict.” And then off I am running again. It’s magical. But don’t kid yourself, I fight the urge to do this work sometimes for weeks, then kick myself later for being so stubborn. Or is it lazy. LOL

  6. It looks like you all have a method of getting back on track and I’m so glad to hear that. Christine, I hope your daughter’s wedding is a beautiful, joy-filled occasion. And Tricia, I’m holding you to that commitment… check in with me regularly during February and let me know how it’s going. 🙂

  7. Sometimes it just takes time to start writing again. And no matter what I do, I’m going to pick it up again when I’m ready–that doesn’t mean waiting for inspiration, it means being mentally ready to focus.

  8. GREAT post, Carol. I said in a recent interview that it takes a village to write a book.

    Saying amen real loud here in Normal to ALL of your ideas.

    Sigh. I’ve missed this place. Hope things slow down…to normal…soon:)

    Blessings, dear one.

  9. Paul, I like how you’ve put that… being mentally ready to focus. So often my brain goes off on tangents that make it difficult to settle down to the writing. I keep writing anyway, but usually on something other than my main wip.

    Glad my suggestions made sense to you, Patti. When I need refreshment I’ll sometimes put on my favourite music, too. I loved your idea of creating a playlist to accompany the reading of a novel’s chapters. (If others wonder what I’m talking about I hope they’ll head over to your blog and check out what you’ve done.)

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