Writer's Block: the Tough Love Approach

writers blockWriters spend hours and hours talking about writer’s block and in my opinion, there’s no greater waste of time.  Workshops at conferences are devoted to the topic, and writing magazines often run articles offering tips on coping with that paralytic state. For those of you who are readers instead of writers,  writer’s block is a panic-inducing feeling that you can’t write a single word. You may have an idea, but can’t get it on paper. The  feeling may last for minutes or it may last for years. There are all sorts of suggestions for getting past writer’s block. Here is my unsympathetic suggestion: snap out of it.

My first four books didn’t exactly write themselves, but I flew through them without a hitch. Then my “perfect” marriage of twenty years ended. It was one of those sudden, found-a-picture-of-the-other-woman endings. To say I was devastated is an understatement. To make matters worse, I’d just closed my private psychotherapy practice to write full time, knowing my husband’s income would support us both until I began making more money. So, in addition to riding an emotional roller coaster, I had the very real fear of not being able to support myself. I didn’t know where I would live. I’d lost the person I’d thought was my best friend as well as the future I’d mapped out for myself. For the first time, I couldn’t write. I’d stare at my notepad, my mind a pile of useless mush.

I had a contract for my fifth book, though, and I needed to earn a living. I was able to get a few months’ extension on my deadline so that I could move and get my life in order. Then, in my new digs and beginning my new life, I went back to work.  I had writer’s block then … and I’ve had writer’s block ever since. Writing has never come easily for me again. Yet I’ve written fifteen books since then. How?

I just did. That’s all.

Yes, I fret (as my faithful blog readers know!) I stew, I gripe, I complain and panic. But I don’t quit and I write even if what I’m turning out on any given day feels like garbage. I can make something pretty out of it later; the important thing is to get words on paper. 

I’m not amazing. Not brilliant. Definitely not disciplined! What I am is committed to my job, and my job is writing. Teachers and doctors and bank tellers and social workers can’t stay home from work for months on end when they feel stale or blank or uncreative. One can argue that writing is different in that it’s dependent on inspiration. On magic. I’ve made that argument myself, because it’s fun to think of my work as something magical. But really, it takes more skill and perseverence than magic to be a writer. The challenge  is to learn to work when the inspiration is absent. If I can do it, you can too.


  1. Tee on February 19, 2010 at 3:19 am

    I love this post. It came at just the right moment, as I sat here procrastinating on articles that I can’t quite seem to churn out the way I once did. Writer’s block is, in my mind, a cloud that has permanently settled inside. All I’m left with are a few adjectives that I call on far too frequently. I consider myself a “dull” writer for that reason, and often can’t believe I’m paid for my work.

    Occasionally I’ll read my old work and marvel over it, not necessarily because it was so phenomenal to begin with, but because it was imaginative, creative and different. I feel like that was someone else entirely…

  2. Diane Chamberlain on February 19, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Tee, this is such a common problem, at least with me. When I’m working on a new book and feel as though it’s a disaster, I often have to reread the previous book as it gets ready for publication. I’m always stunned at how well it turned out, because I distinctly remember that it too had been a disaster at one time. It both encourages and worries me. Good luck with your writing.

  3. Martha on February 19, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Bravo Diane – your timing is right on; this very subject was up for discussion this past Tuesday among those in my writers’ group. As a docent at the Carl Sandburg home for five years, the question I heard most was, “can you share Sandburg’s philosophy on how one becomes a writer?” My favorite quote is, “you put down one word at a time; if you try to write more than one word at a time, it won’t work.” I’m paraphrasing and he did suffer from writer’s block (I would call it periods of depression) but his wife knew him and his WIP so well that she was able to talk him through the tough times and he’d resume putting one word at a time on paper. She would add an “amen” to your blog.

  4. Margo on February 19, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Diane, I love how you talk about overcoming challenges and just doing what needs to be done…you ‘just do it’ and that is how I embrace life too…you’re an inspiration to everyone.

  5. brenda on February 20, 2010 at 11:19 am

    You are amazing, Diane…It is difficult wondering where the next bite of food will appear. When Mother died of cancer, younger than I am now, I divorced…had no financial security-put myself through college-was hungry and skinny (those days are gone)…and it was an uphill battle. I like the attitude-get over it-go for it-that’s what we do…we have to do that…

  6. Anna Small on March 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I just found your blog from Alexandra Sokoloff’s blog, and am happy I did! I’m a newly published author and wish to thank you for being so candid. So many times, “life” gets in the way of what we want for ourselves, our futures, etc… What a terrible thing you went through, but obviously, you’ve come through stronger and more determined than ever. Thanks for spreading the message of not giving up.

  7. Diane Chamberlain on March 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Congratulations on your publication, Anna.

  8. […] that might sound crazy, but it’s true. You can read about my battle with writer’s block here, (as well as my lack of sympathy for anyone who gripes about it). I was married to my first husband […]

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