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Going Analog to Beat Writer’s Block

4 February 2016

From author Toby Neal:

Going analog to beat writer’s block is a desperate measure, something I never thought I’d have to do. I don’t know how long I’ll be analog. It may be permanent.

“What are you saying?” You may well ask. “Didn’t you just write a cyber mystery about a woman who’s always Wired In?”

Well, yes. And it took a toll. Actually I’m not sure what took a toll exactly, all I know is that I hit a wall in November and couldn’t write any new material. It’s now February.

“Big deal,” you say. “You wrote fourteen mysteries, three romances, two memoirs and a couple of YA novels in five years. It’s okay to be a little burned-out and take a break.”

That’s what my friends told me, too. I told myself that, agreeing. But not writing isn’t “taking a break” to me. I’m happiest when I’m writing, and I couldn’t seem to. Nothing appealed, not even my romances, which are my go-to feel-good projects when I get a little stuck. Even blogging, which I normally love, felt Herculean.

. . . .

And gradually, I began to go analog. This definition from Vocabulary.com matches the way I mean the term: “Analog is the opposite of digital. Any technology, such as vinyl records or clocks with hands and faces, that doesn’t break everything down into binary code to work is analog. Analog, you might say, is strictly old school.”

My version of analog meant stopping the noise and distractions in my head and life, most of them somehow digital. I stopped listening to music in the car, and let my thoughts wander instead. I stopped listening to audiobooks or calling friends on my walks with my dog in the neighborhood, now just noticing things: the cry of Francolin grouse in the overgrown, empty pineapple field, distant roosters, barking dogs, doves and chattering mynahs, the sound the wind makes in the coconut trees, the swish of my feet through grass, the feel of air on my skin.

I stopped filling my ears with noise and my eyes with electronics, staying away from my computer except for planned chunks of work using the Pomodoro method.

. . . .

I did the book launches, and the two books are out, selling well, and gathering great reviews—all a writer of any stripe can hope for. These latest two are some of the best I’ve written, and with the relief of having them out there, I got a tiny insight:some of this block is performance anxiety.

I worry I won’t be able to top myself, that I’ve already done the best work I’m capable of.

Once that insight finally bubbled up through the silence I was cultivating, I could examine it. Interact with it. Test its veracity, as we do in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is my primary counseling mode. In trying to grapple with it, the tiny insight got louder, clearer and more detailed. I recognized the voice of the Inner Critic, and the razor-tipped arrow of a lie that had pierced me in the heart and frozen me in place.

Link to the rest at Toby Neal

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22 Comments to “Going Analog to Beat Writer’s Block”

  1. What’s writer’s block?

    • It’s when your muse goes into hiding or is only suggesting scenes you don’t want to write. Or when you have A and B but just can’t figure out how to build the bridge between them …

      Some times writing the ‘junk’ out clears the mental line for something you do want to write — just be careful which one you hit ‘send’ on! 😉

      • Short answer: it doesn’t exist. Sometimes you just have to put your a** in the chair and work.

        • Saying it doesn’t exist is unhelpful. It’s just a broad term for when the brain lacks focus and/or creativity, which is usually the effect of any number of factors: lack of sleep, worry, stress, lack of confidence, etc. The brain is not merely an automaton, and is greatly influenced by emotion and outside stimuli, which, if you read her full post, is what she is describing. (Lack of confidence, mixed with some burnout.) The trick is in determining the factors causing the ‘block’, and working around (or through) them.

          • I’ve found that bourbon often helps me “work around” a block…unless I have too much. Then it becomes the block.

          • I’m not trying to be helpful. I’m stating a simple fact. Writer’s block is an invention.

            Do writers get stuck sometimes? Sure. But you sit yourself down and you work through it. That’s what professionals do. Calling it a “block,” especially over an extended period of time, is simply an excuse not to do the hard work.

            We all lack confidence, we all get burned out. And if we’re professionals, we all keep writing. End or problem.

            • I don’t disagree with the “pull up your bootstraps” mentality, but if someone is having trouble identifying the reason for the block, it can become chronic. Creative work requires some degree of inspiration. Otherwise, you’re just writing formula. There’s a reason why computers haven’t been able to successfully write a novel…yet.

            • Ashe Elton Parker

              Just because you have never suffered the condition of writer’s block doesn’t mean it isn’t something real and debilitating for someone else. I hope the day when you have writer’s block never comes–or, perhaps I should hope it does. Maybe then you’d be a little more sympathetic about it, and a lot less judgmental.

            • Writer’s block is a term used to describe a set of similar experiences. So, yes, it does exist. Saying it doesn’t is like saying fibromyalgia doesn’t exist because no one’s sure what causes it.

              You agree that writers get stuck…that’s writer’s block. Maybe the solution in some cases is to sit down and work through it, but not always. It depends on what causes the block. Sometimes the professional thing to do is recognize the root of the problem and deal with it, which might mean stepping away from writing for a while, in order to come back to it.

              No one tells a professional counselor that the only way to deal with burnout is to push through and keep counseling, or they’re not a professional, so why say that to writers?

              • So do we have lawyer’s block or doctor’s block or mechanic’s block or accountant’s block? People in all of these professions experience bad days, they all get burned out, they all get stuck at times, but do they take the unprofessional route and stop what they’re doing? No. Unless they’ve had a complete breakdown (which is something else entirely), they keep doing their jobs.

                There’s nothing special about being a writer. It’s a job. One I, and many of my friends, have been doing for more than a couple dozen years. None of us can AFFORD to get “blocked.” We write every day, seven days a week, no matter what.

                Writer’s block is not a mental condition.

                Stress, anxiety, etc.—real conditions that cause real problems—are good reasons for a writer, or any of the above professions, to stop working. But that’s not writer’s block, so let’s not pretend it is.

                Nor is getting stuck.

                Getting stuck is a natural part of the process, not a “block.” We get stuck simply because we haven’t thought our story—or our characters—through. Once we do, we get unstuck. It happens with nearly every story.

                Sorry if I’m unsympathetic. But to my mind, you either do the job or you quit.

                As for inspiration, if you need to wait for it to work, you might as well give it up.

                • Funny you picked jobs that don’t often require you to be ‘creative’ to do them (other than creative bookkeeping — which is frowned on.)

                  For writers that just ‘churn’ out words, yeah that’s just a job. For others it’s the art that they do it for and sometimes an artist does need to back away to get back their vision.


                  “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.”

                • I think the people who do those jobs would disagree with you completely. Creativity has many, many different forms. It’s not just about the arts.

                • “So do we have lawyer’s block or doctor’s block or mechanic’s block or accountant’s block?”

                  Really Rob? And their ‘main job’ is coming up with something ‘new’ for each client each and every time they go to work? Or is it to follow/use the works of others that created the laws/diagnoses/troubleshooting/math?

                • Ah yes. The “Real writers write” meme. “That’s what professionals do.” “And if we’re professionals . . .”

                  Interesting thing about the other professions you mention; they all require advanced study. Most require acknowledgement from an accredited external body. I mean, sure, one can file to represent one’s self in defense of a crime. And I’m lucky to know a guy who knows enough about cars he can take a look at mine if need be so I don’t have to go to a shop.

                  A** in chair is great. One word after another is even better. But sometimes the latter just doesn’t follow the former as one would like. “Some days it don’t come easy, and some days it don’t come hard. Some days it don’t come at all and these are the days that never end.”

                  The point of these sorts of posts is writers sharing with each other tips and experiences that have helped them facilitate writing. That have helped them open that vein, get into the zone, etc.

                  Rather than the whole “That’s what professionals do” schtick, why not focus on the

                  We get stuck simply because we haven’t thought our story—or our characters—through. Once we do, we get unstuck. It happens with nearly every story.

                  You’ve obviously gotten stuck before. So instead of telling others getting stuck is silly, hey, maybe share how you got unstuck? Did you outline? Whiteboard? Try a different story, or put on a song?

      • “Some times writing the ‘junk’ out clears the mental line for something you do want to write”

        Allen, that’s good insight… that would be in keeping with what we know about brain neurons of certain kinds that can become overtaxed by keeping or attempting to keep track of much data and/or emotion

        and listing such on paper or even aloud, often clears it all and does a reset for better focus.

  2. Ah! She’s sitting with her feelings, accepting them, and not running away from them into her avoidance mode of choice. Good for her!

    And – as was my first thought – she is writing longhand. That’s a technique that also works for me when I’m feeling stuck.

  3. I write sf. When I scanned the headline in passing my thought was How will that magazine help a writer beat writer’s block?

  4. Just a .02

    All travels in cycles. We eat til full. Cant eat anymore then for a time after. We walk to the river in an hour in summer. In winter it takes 3 times as long. Cant make it go faster. Little, then bigger eagles fledge here when they are ready despite the sometimes ‘nature photographers’ with their 3 foot long lenses who line up and pray boodoo so that the eaglettes will fledge on their watch. They wont. The little-big ones will fledge when they are ready.

    When there is an artesian well, and water doesnt flow, it isnt likely the water table is played out. Likely fatigue in the piping, or in the pump that brings the water up. Or that the shaft is too narrow and easily fills with sludge, as in cramped thinking.

    That thinking of ‘how to top’ the last flow, may be just the place to relax all sphincters and just rest for a bit. Even the monarchs migrating rest. Even the Canada goose in its migration. Even the coral cranes to the south and even the heliotropic plants, rest at night.

    I’d suggest as with a good mare who’s given birth to foals, perhaps a bit often, if you value her spirit and her flesh, she has to be allowed to rest. She will be back and frisky again in time. But after giving birth, even the large animals are worn out for a time.

    • “may be just the place to relax all sphincters”

      We do hope you’re on the porcelain ‘throne’ when you do that! 😉

      • you silly, the obicularis oris is the top sphincter which is the musculature around the mouth, then there is a sphincterlike action of the scalp that allows a person to wiggle their ears. There are many sphinters in the body, often around any os. And yes,those you inferred, also. lol

  5. I went fully analog not long ago — pen and notebook — and it’s done wonders for my productivity. I’m still not really close to finishing anything, but consistently getting words down has been awesome.

    For me, the combination of easy access and lack of impulse control is a tough nut to crack. I always want to check another website, and the friction of doing so is lower than that of writing another paragraph. I’ve heard of some people implementing a reward system — “Two more paragraphs and I can check Facebook.” — but I’m too impatient for that, sadly.

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