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My Muse is an Angsty Teenager – How to Handle Writer’s Block

As writers, at one time or another, we experience writer’s block, that hair-pulling, empty-brained void filled with silent characters, standing around doing nothing. They wait, and you wait for inspiration. Oh, wherefore art thou, muse?!

 

I envision my muse as a teenager (maybe because I live with some of those taciturn creatures). When my muse is happy, energized and “up”,  she dances the night away, spewing witty dialogue and jumping into dramatic, compelling situations. When my muse is apathetic, sad, or “down”, she turns in on herself and refuses to do anything productive. Just like my teenagers.

I am about 25K words into writing my new Scottish historical romance, A Rose With Thorns. Yesterday, I started a new chapter and began to write. My fingers moved slower and slower until they stopped, poised above my keyboard. I re-read what I’d written. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it was…eh? No! Eh won’t do. Where was my muse?

I worked for another hour, tweaking, my fingers pecking at the scene, until I finally surrendered. I had writer’s block.

What causes writer’s block? The malady is as individual as people, but there are some basic reasons behind this frustrating silence.

Fear – Did you read a bad review and worry that your writing sucks? Did you read a great review and worry that you’ll never top the last book you wrote? Did you sign a four-book contract and are now worried that you won’t meet your deadlines? Are you worried that your readers will hate your new characters?

These are all valid fears. Just like a teen worries about friends, posts on social media and school assignments – your muse does too.

Life interference – Illness, moving, relationship problems, weddings, birthday parties, etc. When life gets so busy, your mental to-do list overrides the voices of your characters. Sometimes writing the other to-dos down helps to free up mental space required for writing. Other times, you just have to honor the season you are in, knowing your muse will return once you come out the other side.

Burn out – Have you been writing non-stop, pushing the word counts until your muse holds up an “on-strike” picket sign? Exhaustion, eating poorly, not exercising, basically letting your body atrophy while your brain runs at full speed. Not a good combination.

So, what do you do?

1. Remind yourself that you are fantastic.

“I am a creative and productive writer.”

“My stories are amazing.”

These are positive affirmations. Say them out loud daily to override some of the fear and worry. Writer’s block, as an enemy, employs head games to make you insecure about your ability to write. Time to play some head games back.

2. Treat yourself well. Get sleep, eat something healthy, make yourself a cup of tea and eat a special treat. You don’t need to add insult to injury by punishing yourself for not being able to write. You need to love your creative self no matter how badly it’s behaving.

When my teen is withdrawn and down, I pop a blanket in the drier to warm up. Then I wrap her in it without saying a word. I kiss her head and walk away. It’s me giving her a warm hug when words and pleading will not convince her to be happy and productive. Same with my muse. I must wrap it up and be patient.

3. Plant the seed. When my characters become motionless, waiting for me to figure out what they will do, feel or say next, I plant the setting seeds in my mind and go for a walk. I think – 16th century, Scottish castle, in the library, winter, hero has a tortured past that involves a foolish father, heroine is a fish out of water and feels guilty about… and so forth.

I set it all up in my head and…go for a walk. Or go to bed. Or imagine sitting there in the library with my characters while I wash dishes or take a shower. I’ve planted the seed and once I relax or get the blood pumping to my brain while walking, the characters start to talk.

Again, this can work with my teens too. They seem to ignore my advice, but later I sometimes hear them giving the advice to a friend or quietly trying out my suggestion. Planting the seed and then stepping away from the computer (or teen) can work.

4. Employ a different medium. We are writers, so we tend to be productive sitting before a computer screen. That is until we have writer’s block. Then the computer screen can shut us down even more.

This happened to me just two days ago. My characters weren’t talking much, and I fell into making them perform a scene without much motivation. And it was awful and yes, boring. After an hour of tweaking the scene, I finally left the computer, made some tea, ate a biscotti, and sat down in a different room with a pad of paper and a sharpened pencil.

At the top of the paper, I wrote “Too Tame!! Take RISKS!!” Then I thought – what do I really want my heroine to do and be? I want her to become a 16th century ninja woman – LOL! But suddenly, ideas started to come. Bits of dialogue started to fly in my head – dramatic, fast paced, witty. I jotted all the ideas down, and some final scene ideas came to me, which will show the character arcs for the hero and heroine. Within five minutes, I’d filled both sides of the paper, writing sideways and all over. I’m using everything I wrote.

5. Rouse the senses. When I want to lift myself out of the writer’s block doldrums, I light a candle, listen to music, and look through Pinterest (all the things my angsty teens do to re-energize themselves). I’m a very visual writer, so pictures help me a lot. I make collages of my projects to help me see important details. When Writer’s Block hits, I go back to the internet or look through my folder of picture clippings, and I usually hit upon something that lures my muse back in.

6. Have faithThis is the ultimate remedy to fight writer’s block. We have days when our muses seem to have abandoned us, but we must believe, in our hearts and bones, that they will return. Creativity doesn’t get used up. The synapses that fire our imaginations are still intact. We are writers. It is what we do, but more importantly, it is who we are. Writer’s block is a temporary signal to slow down and deal with whatever issues are going on around us. But the words will return.

Trust in yourself, try some of the above suggestions, and before you know it, your muse will walk beside you once more.

What tricks do you use to conquer writer’s block?

For more information about Heather McCollum and her books, you can find her here:

www.HeatherMcCollum.com

https://www.facebook.com/HeatherMcCollumAuthor/

https://twitter.com/HMcCollumAuthor

https://www.pinterest.com/hmccollumauthor/

 

12 responses to “My Muse is an Angsty Teenager – How to Handle Writer’s Block”

  1. Great post, Heather.

    I’ve come to realize that sometimes I need to just walk away from my characters–sometimes for days– and think about something else. Maybe work on another project; a blog, promo, or even something that related to writing. Usually by day three my muse taps me on the shoulder with a thought.

    I found my process through trail and error. It took a while but I didn’t give up.

    1+

    • Heather McCollum says:

      Thanks, Autumn!
      So glad you didn’t give up!

      Yes, sometimes we need space from our characters. Once we relax and not force the issue, they often start talking again.

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  2. I don’t have a muse – which I’m very glad of because it means I’m less likely to think of creativity as an external force that can hide from me or pout. I need to think of it as something I control. I also don’t like to use the phrase “writer’s block” personally – the more you believe you are blocked the less you believe you have the power to remove the block – at least to my way of thinking. But I do really love your tips for pushing through when you’re stuck. Especially trust yourself! Trust your instincts! Trust that you know the way to the end of your story! Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, keep pushing even when it isn’t easy and don’t second guess!

    Great post, Heather.

    2+

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      ^^^ That. (Muse-wise, Vivi pretty much posted what I planned to say.)

      Heather, I love the “Employ a different medium” idea. When my words aren’t flowing, I find it so helpful to step away from the keyboard, grab some paper and a pen, and just…free-associate. I doodle, draw flowcharts, knock out some pseudocode, make bulleted lists… To me, a blank piece of paper is the ultimate “zero draft.” Anything goes; no idea is ‘wrong’ or set in stone.

      Everything’s possible.

      For me, stepping away from the constraints of a double-spaced Word document – “Eeek! It’s a manuscript, so it’s official!” – usually knocks something loose.

      I can’t wait to read about how others work through these mental roadblocks.

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      • Heather McCollum says:

        So… muse-wise, I don’t REALLY think there is an entity that must sit with me so I can write. It’s inspiration or a flow of imagination.
        Feeling stuck is just what I’m calling Writer’s Block. I think we all feel stuck at some time or another, no matter what we call it.

        Thanks, for expanding on these thoughts. Not too many others have any they wish to share today.

        1+

  3. This is so fantastic, Heather.

    I’ve struggled A LOT these past couple years (a combination of all 3 of those pesky causes you mention). I tried a lot of different things to get back on track, and often they worked for a while, and then I’d try something else. For me, self-care was the number one thing that helped. And re-assessing my expectations. That one was hard, but I had to dial back until other things were under control.

    Good luck to anyone suffering from writer’s block or stuck-ness or whatever you want to call it.

    And I’m totally borrowing the “warm blanket” tactic with my teens. Love that!

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    • Heather McCollum says:

      Thanks Anne Marie! Yes, the blanket thing works really well. Borrow away!

      So glad you dialed back. When I was on chemo, I couldn’t write fiction at all. We have to take seasons and honor them for what they are, a need to step away. And we can step back in at any time : )

      <3 Heather

      2+

  4. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    There are a few thing but these two things seem to be my “go to’s”…paper and pen/pencil and getting into the chatroom. There I find out that “the faithful” are sometimes “afflicted with the same ailment” as I. But inspiration comes through in other ways as well like the shower or listening or reading, with a critical ear/eye, to authors I’ve become enamored with to ferret out their process.

    Still finding my way and honing my own process. Thanks for the post, Heather:)

    0

    • Heather McCollum says:

      Thanks so much, Cynthia! And I’m glad the chat room can help. Yes, we all get stuck at times. It’s nice to know that we also all work our way through it to the other side.

      Happy Weekend!

      1+

  5. Thanks for the great tips, Heather. Loved your post and really needed something like that today!

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  6. Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening. I
    appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this short article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!

    0

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