A few weeks ago, J. Thomas Ross posted on The Author Chronicles about writer’s block. The post attracted quite a bit of attention, and Jerrold Mundis, an expert in writer’s block, left us a wonderfully detailed comment. It contained so much valuable information, we felt it was worth posting as its own entry. Jerry gave us permission to re-post, and here is his advice on breaking through writer’s block:
Larry Block suggested I drop by here and read this blog and I’m glad he did. I’m in favor of any technique any writer uses that helps him or her past block, and these have clearly helped you.
I’ve been breaking writer’s block for more nearly 25 years in a one-time consultation for people ranging from full-time professional writers, including one who’s had ten books in a row on the New York Times bestseller list, and another who is a Pulitzer prize winner, to part-time writers, graduate students, and aspirant writers.
I identify six major forms of block (these also apply to other creative artists as well as writers, such as composers, photographers, and painters — but not to actors — and, actually, can apply to great numbers of people for great numbers of projects or undertakings).
2. Avoidance behavior
3. Last-minute crisis writing
4. Inability to finish
5. Inability to select from among projects h
6. Block specific (able to work on other material)
I can’t summarize a five-hour session filled with concept and technique here, but here, without going into detail about them or discussing the many subtle ways they can play out, are what I call “The Three Big Killers” in block:
1. Perfectionism — which is a form of all-or-nothing thinking, triumph or catastrophe, with nothing possible in between.
2. Fear — which is a product of the first and second Big Killers, but which can be identified as a separate entity. All fear in writer’s block, regardless of where it starts, can be boiled down to the simple statement: “That I can’t do it.” And what is the “it” that I can’t do? The simple act of putting words on paper. Period. Nothing more. Nothing less. The simple act of putting words on paper. No more magical an act than painting a board or throwing a board. (Find an equivalent analog for whatever task or project *you* have in mind or are facing.)
3. The Baggage Train — these are all the things we wish to *accomplish* with our writing, such as I want to be rich, I want to be admired, I want to make them laugh and cry, I want to save the whales, I want to bring peace to the middle-east, etc., but which are not the *act* of writing itself. The problem arises because, while it looks like I’m trying to write, and I *think* I’m trying to write, I’m not: I’m trying to get rich, save the whales, get my ex-wife and all my ex-lovers to say ‘Boy, I really should have stayed with him. Look how sensitive and insightful he is,’ etc. The key is to disconnect the baggage train from the locomotive, which is writing, which is the simple act of putting words on paper, so that thing get out of the station.
Any single one of these Killers operating in you with sufficient strength, and you’ll be blocked; any two present at the same time, and you don’t have a chance.
I hope that is of some help. I wish you and your readers abiding freedom this problem.
(Incidentally, I am not invulnerable to block myself. In fact, I have a *huge* potential case of it. The difference is, I know what to do about it. Actually, I break writer’s block several times a day for myself. If I didn’t, I would be paralyzed.)
A bit more information on what I do for myself and others to keep both them and me free from this problem–permanently–can be found at my website.
Jerrold Mundis is the author of more than 40 books of fiction and nonfiction under his own name and a couple of pseudonyms. His books have been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Guild, and One Spirit Book Club, and translated into a dozen foreign languages. His short work has appeared in publications ranging from the New York Times Magazine to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He has been breaking writer’s block for professional and beginning writers alike for nearly three decades. His classic book Breaking Writer’s Block Now! is now available for Kindle (also at BarnesandNoble.com for Nook and on Smashwords.com too).