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Writer's Block and Tips for Setting Goals

“There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.

This was American poet William Stafford’s advice to poets and I like to think there is more than a grain of truth in it. It could even contain as much as a bushel of truth. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Nevertheless, it is an unpalatable fact that few good books, never mind masterpieces, are produced without copious amounts of time, blood, sweat and tears, even if the last three are of a figurative rather than factual nature.

When writing became extremely hard for me, I also found myself drawn to the following quotation:

You write with ease, to show your breeding,
But easy writing’s curst hard reading.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Clio’s Protest


So what is writer’s block? How can writers protect themselves against it? What can they do if they find themselves suffering from it?

Well, if we knew the answers to these questions I guess there would no longer be such a thing as writer’s block!

Writer’s block can take on many forms, but what it amounts to is a time (which may be as short as a day) in which you produced nothing on your project even though you perhaps sat at your computer all day—obviously doing everything but writing.

Running out of ideas

The worst form is when you’ve finished one project and weeks or months later you still have no ideas for another one. What can you do?

  1. Start reading the work of other writers in your genre with the deliberate intention of garnering ideas for your next story/novel. As long as you don’t slavishly copy someone else’s plot, there’s nothing wrong with using another writer’s idea.
  2. Read books on writing that specifically address how to find ideas. Kate Grenville’s The Writing Book is one such book. Look in your local library (or search on for others.
  3. Take two or three things at random and plot a story around them—for instance, an umbrella, a squashed sandwich, a lost briefcase. Who owns the umbrella? What’s it like? Good as new, or broken? From this choice you can then work out what its owner is like. Then deal with the other items and their owners in a similar way. Find a reason to bring them together—perhaps the contents of the lost briefcase. Or maybe the briefcase wasn’t lost but stolen…

Words just won’t come

When you ’re working on a book or story but not producing anything (for some reason that you can’t fathom, the words won’t come) you might find many ideas from other writers useful:

  1. Go for a long walk and think about your story, but don’t force anything. Maybe imagine yourself interviewing your characters.
  2. Carry on interviewing your characters at your computer when you return from your walk.
  3. Forget about writing and spend the day reading something—preferably in your genre, though you might find reading something entirely different more useful.
  4. Write about an incident in your own life. Now turn it upside down, twist it around; anything to set the juices flowing.
  5. Try No. 3 in Running Out of Ideas.

Personally, I haven’t found any suggestion like these that works for me. I didn’t worry about writer’s block in the early stages of my career, simply because it didn’t happen to me. I regularly wrote about 1,000 words a day for several years and expected life to continue like that. (How naive can you be! *G*) It was only once I started learning something about the writing craft (really learning) that I slowed down. The more I learned the slower I became. I was horrified when a novel just under 40,000 words took me seven months. But the next one was worse: it took nine! It was harder than trying to squeeze juice from dry lemons (more like trying to get lemon juice from stones).

However, over the years I found that the only way for me personally to overcome writer’s block was the most difficult, most unpalatable of all—sitting down and forcing myself to work on my novel, trying not to worry that what I wrote might not be good enough; after all, I could always change it. Judging from my own experience, you’ll most likely find that what you write when you’d rather do anything else but write isn’t much worse than what you produce when you’re feeling inspired. After I’d worked out this solution for myself, I did find a few writers who suggested it, but not many favoured it. It needs a huge dose of something every writer must have to succeed: self-discipline. The strange thing is that if you persevere it becomes easier (until the next time, that is!)

So, if you find yourself producing nothing even though you spend hours at your computer, maybe it’s time to

Set Some Goals

  1. First you must crystallise your thinking so that you know exactly what you want to achieve. Where do you want to be six months from now? A year? Five years? Ten years?
  2. Now write down these goals, a deadline for achieving each one, and what you intend to do to achieve them. Start with a daily goal (maybe to write so many words every day) then move on to a weekly one (perhaps to submit a short story or write a full chapter of your novel every week), a monthly one, and so on. Review these goals regularly.
  3. You must have a burning desire for what you want—a desire so strong it hurts. Without this you won’t get anywhere. Without it you simply won’t have what it takes to actively pursue your goals. Give yourself a pep talk in the mirror every morning—preferably out loud.
  4. You must develop supreme self-confidence in your ability to achieve your goals. This is very difficult when you’re receiving rejections every few weeks; these nasties have a habit of battering your confidence to dust.
  5. Lastly (and this is possibly the most important) you must have unshakeable determination—an iron-willed resolve to follow your plan through in spite of what other people say, think or do. Some people call it perseverance. I call it sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s an “I’ll show the blighters!” attitude that refuses to die. Rather than battering-rams to your self-esteem, rejections must be regarded as fuel to fan the flames of your desire!

Good luck with your goals!


© L A Barker Enterprises
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Well, I do hope I’ve been able to help you. You can send any comments or questions by