Things That Keep Us From Writing

Annette and I pose questions in every series of writing classes about what blocks people. Here’s some common gremlins and solutions:

You’re too busy. Solutions: Everyone is. Dedicate a specific time daily (or at least weekly) to write and stick to it. Maybe you have to rise at 6:00 a.m. to write for an hour a day?

Darlene Zamluk-smallerYou’re overwhelmed by a mass of research, ideas or memories. Solutions: Plan the narrative: make a chronological list of events; write biographical character sketches (which may include yourself); put a point form list of scenes into tentative order; write the story as a short, bare bones account (six pages?). See Write Away, by Elizabeth George for story planning ideas. See also

Your narrative lacks cohesion. Solutions: An overall theme creates structure. Write a premise (300-600 words) that captures all the key story elements (a main character who wants something; tension; a setting; an antagonist; maybe plot; narrative arc; resolution). See a discussion of themes.

The story rambles. Solutions: Define your theme and premise (see above), to hone your story. Make a list of the important events or scenes. Write them on ‘post it’ notes to organize on a storyboard (or in Excel chart). Discard scenes/events that don’t illustrate the theme. Be brutal. I share your pain.

You don’t know where to start. Solutions: begin anywhere to get rolling. You can write the opener later. In fact, there’s advantages to doing so. See for thoughts about the opening chapter.

You lack discipline (which makes you feel lazy). Solutions: Establish a daily writing time when competing demands can be set aside. Let family know your door is closed. Resist diversionary tactics like answering e-mails or snacking. If the writing won’t come, freewrite on any topic for 10 minutes to get into a flow.  See for details about freewriting.

DSCN2108Your muse is evasive. Solutions: Write anyway! The muse doesn’t always drop by when you need her. If you wait the job won’t get done.

The blank screen makes your hands freeze. Solutions: Freewrite to unlock your thoughts. Type passages from a favourite book for inspiration. See

Someone gave you discouraging feedback. Solutions: Dang it! Don’t let anyone read your draft until it’s in a polished state. This is an imperative. (See Ann Lamott’s The Shitty First Draft for solace –

It’s a difficult personal story that may cause others pain. Solutions: Go ahead and write. You’ll gain new insights and clarity because writing makes us think more deeply. With a polished draft in hand, ask questions about others. Maybe some of the players are gone, or the long process of writing has given you goals to negotiate with.

You fear criticism. Solutions: As above, don’t show your writing to anyone until it’s at its absolute best. Now give it to an emotionally mature fellow writer—not your spouse or a friend. Take their feedback in stride. Assess what rings true and revise. There’s lots to learn about this craft.

Life’s hard knocks have blocked your creativity. Solutions: Write anyway. Try freewriting . Write about the hard knocks.

You lack talent. Solutions: There’s much more than “talent” involved. Writing involves craft that requires practice and training to gain mastery. Read about writing. Take workshops. Connect with writers. And write—lots—daily. See about freewriting.

Your partner is not supportive. Solutions: Beyond relationship counselling…find a time (day or night) and space where you can work alone—whether at home, the café, or library.

You don’t feel worthy of the time commitment writing demands. Solutions: List your goals. Will your essay or story serve you alone, or is there a wider audience who will benefit? The answers will determine how much time to invest. For more about audience interests see:

Is there a positive side to all this angst? Annette points to Peter Elbow, who says the dynamic of tension built by a writer`s inner conflict adds depth and intrigue to our writing—so work with it.