The Thousand Word Stare

So, I got nuthin.

This last week, I noticed several bloggers and Twitter authors talking about writer’s block of one sort or another.  Fears that the Muse abandoned them in their time of need, or the “Thousand Word Stare,” where you forget every word in your vocabulary, mesmerized by the screensaver floating on your monitor.

The Inter Webs spouted a cornucopia of reasons and triggers for writer’s block, everything from the lunar phase,  a hormonal imbalance, to a lack of faith in one’s ability to forma coherent sentence.  I’ve used each of these as an excuse to put off writing a difficult chapter, but not to the point of a complete block.

I’m a relatively simple guy (as my wife can attest, though she would probably use simple in an entirely different way) and I don’t do complex anymore.  Been there, done that and threw away the tee shirt.  The simplest answer is usually the right one and for me, that starts with my butt in the chair in front of the keyboard.  Now there are days where I park there with nothing but the sound of crickets mocking my lack of production.  I know where I want the narrative and dialogue to take me, but I don’t want to force it.  When I try to put something down, really force it, the words don’t make that connection and, to my ear, they sound false and disconnected.

I have an active imagination and some life experience to bank on, from joy, to grief and betrayal from those once trusted.  Those seeds help form characters, chapters, and plot lines for an entire story.

I see all sorts of writers on Twitter talking about word count, goals and sprints and if it works for them, God bless ’em.  I guess I’m just not built that way and couldn’t sprint if my life hung in the outcome.  You need to find out what works for you as a writer and in spite of volumes of rules which threaten a plague on all your houses if you fail to comply, find your own path.

If you want to edit as you go – do it.

If you want to write a page a day – do it.

If you want to write at different times of the day – do it.

If you want to skip a day writing – do it.

If you want to write in the middle of the highway – don’t do that.

The point is, find what makes your inner writer content and stick to what works for you.  Don’t try to make everyone else happy, it’s like that old chestnut; don’t try to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.  If you’re trying to please everyone else, you won’t be happy and the voice in your story will become garbled and diluted.  For me, that means a deliberate, slower approach where the words trickle as opposed to flood.  That doesn’t mean that my first draft of a novel is anything more than moose poop.  There is still a ton of work left, but a slow and steady drafting process gives me something with depth that I can shape into a complete story.

When I have that itch to get to the keyboard, when I’m plotting out a new story line in the shower, or see a person in the grocery store as a character I need to work into the story, then I know the writing gears and pulleys are working.  When I try to force word count, I don’t get that draw to fill the screen with all the words.

With this said, I don’t claim to be any form of expert and don’t promise that the way I go about writing will work for you.  It is what I do and it does make writing enjoyable and workable for me.  I’m getting ready to dive into a new novel, my eighth and hopefully, if I stay true to what works for me, I can avoid that “Thousand Word Stare.”

What works for you?  I’d love to hear what tricks and tips you’ve picked up to avoid writer’s block and the “Thousand Word Stare.”

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6 comments

  1. The way that I work is that if I find myself not able to write, I won’t write. Simple as. No point in trying to force words onto the page if they’re not going to be worth writing. Sometimes I might try to find something to work with, but usually all I get is – what if my main character had a twitter? What would she tweet about? Yeah, nothing great to work with! If I stop writing when I get writer’s block, I don’t end up in a corner where I get writer’s block every other day.

    1. Hi Michael. Great point about not writing yourself into a corner. It’s not a warm and fuzzy feeling when you sit down in the morning, take stock of the previous day’s work and all you find is a rambling heap. I’ll have to remember the Twitter idea.

  2. I take out an easel and paint. I’m such an awful painter that after a couple of hours I get totally disgusted and return to the keyboard. Any sentence I write after that looks better than the mess I’ve made on the canvas!

    1. What an idea! It really is all about perspective. Sometimes, I’ll grab a book and read…then I’ll think to myself, “I can write this!”

  3. fabulous post. Love that highway quip, haha!!! 🙂

    Seriously, your point here is so true: there is no one way. I am literally, as I write this, taking a break from editing my writer’s handbook to read your post. You know what the last thing I edited was?

    “Every approach to writing has “extra” components that for some authors aren’t necessary. To quote Dr. Seuss (sort of): I meant what I said, and I said what I meant: each writer’s process is equal, one hundred percent.” Talk about timely!

    1. Thanks Victoria! So happy to hear that I’m not all alone in this process…and in company with the good Dr. S.

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