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Sunday, 2 January 2011

Stuckness - When A Writer Goes Blank

There's nothing worse for a writer than stuckness. Okay, maybe having no hands is worse. Apart from that, being stuck, or blank, is probably worse. Am I talking about writer's block? Maybe. But sometimes there's something else-- it's like a distinct blankness that descends over your day. You can't write your script, you can't write your emails, and you can't talk to people without being grumpy. 

The worst part is, everyone has advice! "You just need to write through it," or "well, you need to focus on your inner writer" or some other thing they read in a book about writing. But that takes away from the uniqueness of it. Just like nobody can tell Diablo Cody how to write Juno, nobody can tell her how to get over her stuckness, if she ever has it. In fact, it makes it worse. 

What is this stuckness I talk about? It's a thing you wake up with -- you're grumpy before you've had your cereal, and for no known reason the Gods have decided you will not be writing today. Here's something I've experienced: the ones who tell you "just write through it, that's what I do," are often the ones who don't write very good stuff. If you can write all the time, then something is wrong. The best writers always want to write and are always doing everything they can to write, but sometimes they come across the stuckness and have to deal with it by taking a walk, or a holiday, or by getting high and throwing their laptops out the window. They need to get out of the train they're on. That's what it's like --- a stuckness brought on by being in one place that is heading nowhere good.

You need that insight that comes from a new experience, or a serendipitous event, or by being suddenly in danger. You need that insight. The best writing is usually writing about the girl you loved when you were fourteen, or the time you and your friends got stranded in Estonia when you were twenty three. The problem is; once we've written the hell out of them, we're left with five months of sitting at your desk and your only experiences are the different types of teabags you've been drinking. You ignore social opportunities, because you want to write, and you ignore film recommendations because you want to watch your Woody Allen collection again. You keep it too close to home, you follow your path a little too closely. Of course, your path is the path, but all paths take on new directions. I'm bored of talking about paths already. This is the stuckness!

The comfort with the stuckness comes from experience. You know that it's part of the creative process. So is the bad newbie writer telling you how to deal with it. You probably did that too back when you were a bad writer. The stuckness comes when you really want to write something amazing, or when you have a really big project to be focusing on. The stuckness is telling you this is important. you need to see things differently.

Care to share?


  1. I know I'm an awful curmudgeon, but I do wish someone had told Diablo Cody not to write Juno.

  2. I love this post. I get stuckness loads probably because at the moment I have to work so hard and everything seems to count for so much. I think your insight is so refreshing and makes me feel a bit better about my stuck days :)

  3. I like the word you've coined for it - stuckness.

    As for the post itself, if this is the writer you are while in the middle of stuckness, then I'm guessing the non-stuckness KITFR is a force!

  4. "That's what it's like --- a stuckness brought on by being in one place that is heading nowhere good."

    Writers' Block sucks.

    After the compulsory cigarette and toke, if I find myself staring at the blinking cursor mocking me, pleas for words to appear being ignored, I change my writing devise: move on to pen and paper, or blow the dust off the singer. If that doesn't work, I generally pull my hair out and cry; not so much for release, it's to maintain the bald and bloodshot eyes look. I go to the pantry for the Aristocrap, splash some on me, then head to Starphucks with my laptop. I figure parking myself in the corner so everyone can see me writing (most times I'm just typing various adult film star actresses into google) does the whole pr side of things; if I can make sure people know I'm a writer by making sure they see me writing, it makes up for not being able to write.

  5. "The best writing is usually writing about the girl you loved when you were fourteen, or the time you and your friends got stranded in Estonia when you were twenty three"

    Yup, that's what I do when I get stuck, pick a past experience and write the crap out of it. (I did that the other day in fact)

    It usually helps get my "mojo" back, but doesn't always lead to an original idea.

  6. I read your post as I was struggling with my own "stuckness." It helped inspire a poem about the issue. I posted the poem and a link to your excellent blog post a minute ago. Thanks!

  7. Fighting stuckness with, err, stuckness?? Genious!!!
    "If you can write all the time, then something is wrong."
    ...AHGREED!!!!!! ;-)

  8. You are Right............! I suddenly just couldn't write...So I am taking a break but is 3 months too big a break for a small blog like mine?

  9. Thanks all - this was written from a state of perceived stuckness, so it's great that you all got something from it -- and indeed, perhaps the lesson (for me and for you guys!) is that writing with the stuckness, is perhaps as useful as not doing so. I don't know.

    semi - take as long as you need. Do what you want. It's a free world! But I hope you write soon :)

  10. When you get stuck and people tell you to just keep writing its like, write about what? Unless your a writer i guess you just cant understand this sort of thing :3

  11. I agree. You should go outside and try something new and excites you. Forget about writing for a second.

  12. "Of course, your path is the path, but all paths take on new directions. I'm bored of talking about paths already. This is the stuckness!"

    Brilliant. This IS the stuckness. I live in the stuckness, like a barefoot farmgirl lives in the sticks.

    Get off the train, and go walking with me for a while... ;)

    I've been 'dead' these past few months...

    Yes, I got your emails...

    Want me to write a piece about the scenery in Stuckness?? ;)


    A happy New Year to you, Kid! I hope you're well.

  13. Kid!!! That's exactly how I feel when I have (need) to write but can't because I know it won't be good so I stay (get stuck) in this frustrating stuckness!!!

    Happy new year! May we get plenty of (gazillions) serendipitous moments!

  14. I am an educator, an artist, and people tell me that my writing is very good, not half bad; but I often think its at least 75% bad. Hmm, maybe that's what they think too. Bastards. Anyway, moving on to your discussion about "stuckness." Once I invited Chinese Master Calligraphers into my sixth grade reading classroom to demonstrate their use of large brushes, dipped in watered down india ink, to make the beautiful symbols of their language which they "read" in their country. In the course of their use of the brush we were told that the brush is never to leave the paper until the symbol is done. When the brush loses the dark black pigment it begins to make grey lines and they call that "flying white." I loved the term so much I started saying I was "flying white" when I encountered writer's block, or stuckness, as you refer to it. I thinnk in this white space, this nothingness, we are always percolating. It's the brain procrastinating. Hey, it has a right! It says, like Ellen, "Procrastinate today! Don't put it off!" Anyway, I just thought I'd share. Happy Muse Year!