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Tom E. Sechrist, Jr is the author of The Devenshire Chronicles” Book One: “The Stones of Snamuh” soon to be released by CrossroadsPub.com. He has also contributed some fine articles to Dowse, such as this piece on every writer's nightmare: Writers' Block.

Writer’s Block: A Curse or a Blessing in Disguise?
Tom E. Sechrist, Jr.

There is a phrase that can strike mortal terror into the heart of any writer. A phrase that can cause the blood to run cold and the mind to churn with anxiety. A phrase that is far more feared than even a rejection slip from a publisher:


It chills me just to type those two words back to back. For years I’d heard of writer’s block but had never suffered from it personally. When the urge or desire to write came I would plop myself down in front of my computer and write my heart out, without hesitation or even a moment of pause. There were times that my fingers would cramp unmercifully from trying to get all the words out as fast as they were coming to me.

Then the dreaded day came last year (2000). I felt inspired to write, opened up the manuscript file, scrolled down to where I’d left off, positioned my fingers over the keys and…nothing! Not a single solitary word would come.

Whoa here! What is this? This is certainly strange; I’ve never had this kind of problem before. I thought that perhaps a change in music would help motivate the sluggish words. That was it! Since 99% of my writing is done to music, it only stood to reason that my sluggish start was due to a need of changing my writing music.

An hour later, after having gone through my entire music collection, the words still would not come. Oh no! This can’t be! This can’t be happening to ME! Could it be? Do I dare entertain the possibility that I have…you know…IT? Could it be within the realm of possibility that I have finally contracted that fatal disease known as…writer’s block?

As much as it pained me to finally admit, I had to face the awful truth of the matter; I had writer’s block and a beauty of a case of it too. What am I going to do? How can I possibly be a writer if I have writer’s block? Oh the agony of it all!

Okay. Putting aside the dramatics of the situation, let’s look at this phenomena that has plagued writer’s since the first word was ever put down on paper. When you break it down, writer’s block can be a very useful tool in your writing.

I know what you’re saying. I can almost hear the words now,

“He’s lost his ever-lovin’ mind!”

“Hey Tom! You need to put that crack pipe down!”

“How can you possibly say something like that? Writer’s block a very useful tool in writing? Get a rope!”

Before I’m committed, admitted for drug rehab or lynched, let me explain.

Writer’s block has scared the living daylights out of me in the time I’ve been exposed to it, but in that same span of time I’ve learned a great many things about my writing habits, what influences me to write and what can put up a block that an atom bomb couldn’t blast through. After talking to several other authors who have dealt with this crippling affliction, I’ve learned that writer’s block can be very helpful in its own sadistic, torturous way.

While there is no known absolute cause for this disease, my own research into it has yielded what I hope is some promising steps in helping cope with this writing menace.

Why, after 22 years of writing, would I suddenly become infected? What had I done, or not done, that would bring this monster down upon me? The answers were quite simple, once I got over the anxious moments of trepidation at realizing what had happened.

The first symptoms lasted almost six months. I was nearing the end of the manuscript for “The Devenshire Chronicles” Book One when it hit. I couldn’t understand why writer’s block would hit at this time. I was near the end of the book, the storylines were coming together, and I was building up to the climax of the book and then nothing! I couldn’t beg, borrow, steal or buy words.

What was the cause? Role-playing. While writing the book, I continued to role-play with the thought that “playing” Daimion Devenshire would help keep him “fresh”, would help me stay true to the essence of the character as I had created him. What I didn’t realize was that I was spending more and more time role playing and pouring so much creative energy into the story lines that Daimion was involved in that I had nothing left for the book, which was THE most important story line Daimion was involved in.

Once I realized that, it was a simple matter of bidding a fond farewell to role-playing. To prove my point, in the month after I left role-playing I was able to finish the manuscript. I wrote more in that one month than I had the entire six months before.

So I set about editing and cleaning up the manuscript while also searching and researching e-publishers to send it to. After two months I had found a publisher, had done all the editing I could do and submitted my “baby” to Crossroads Pub. Three days later I received the acceptance e-mail and the contract.

Needless to say I was in orbit for a long time after that. I couldn’t believe it! I had been accepted for publication! I was a published author! Not since the birth of my children had I been so proud and so excited. In the rush of excitement, my bout of writer’s block was forgotten and I just naturally assumed that I was finished with that horrible chapter of my writing career.

Yeah, right!

Even though I knew that it would be some time before the finished novel would be released, I immediately set out trying to learn all I could about what came AFTER the acceptance letter and contract signing. I signed up for all the promotional sites I could, tweaked my website till it screamed bloody murder and picked the brains of any published author I could.

All the while, in the back of my mind, I just knew that in a month or so, “The Devenshire Chronicles” would be released and I’d be well on my way. During all of this a little voice in the back of my mind was whispering to me that I should really start work on Book Two of the series.

Well there’s only so much promotional work you can do for a book that hasn't been released yet. So, reluctantly, I began work on Book Two. The prologue came right out. It flowed so easily from my mind that I never even thought about my bout of WB a few short months before. Then came Chapter One and…nothing! Nadda! Not a blessed word would come.

I was instantly seized by a fear and anxiety that raised some serious doubts in my mind, chief among them being,

“Oh no! What if I’m a one-shot wonder? What if all these years of writing were for nothing! What if one book is all I have in me? What happens now? What happens if Book One does really well and people start calling for Book Two and I can’t write it?”

After weeks and weeks of this self-torture and doubt I was finally able to wrestle these fears aside long enough to take a long hard objective look at why I couldn’t write any longer.

The answer? Me. I was my own biggest obstacle in writing. I was so wrapped up in Book One being accepted and the pending release, which I had convinced myself was just a few weeks away, that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was very plainly told by my publisher that they had a backlog of manuscripts to edit and release and that it would be a while before mine was released. Yet I chose to cling to the idea that it would only be a short while.

I was the cause of the flare up of writer’s block. While I tried to write, my mind was wandering to my e-mail program and the e-mail I just knew was there, telling me that my manuscript was now in the first stages of editing. So it was little wonder that I couldn’t write. My mind was not on what I was writing; it was locked onto what I’d already written.

After realizing that it was going to be a while before the manuscript was handed over to an editor, I was able to write quite well. While the words and thoughts didn’t flow as they had before, they came and I was so thankful that I didn’t really mind the slower pace.

Then, out of nowhere, it hit again. Every morning I would come home from work, check my e-mail, put on my music and open the manuscript for Book Two. One morning I opened the file and realized that I’d been afflicted once again. So, again, I calmed down, stepped back and took a long hard look at what was going on around me.

What did I find? I found that, once again, the trigger for the flare-up of writer’s block was me. I had accepted the fact that Book One was going to be in the editing queue for a while and that I should be taking advantage of this time to get as much work done on Book Two as I could.

In this subtle transition from Book One to Book Two I had begun writing every day, as much as I possibly could. On days when the words wouldn’t come, I’d force them, which as any writer will tell you, is a cardinal mistake. Don’t EVER force yourself to write.

In essence I had begun treating my hobby as my job. In my mind I HAD to write at least a chapter a day or I wasn’t doing…my job. In turning my hobby into my job I had lowered my passion to the mundane level of work. Once your hobby becomes work, it’s no longer a hobby and the love for it fades quickly.

There is no way that I can possibly say that what causes writer’s block in me is what will cause it in someone else. Writers are as different as the works they produce and no one set rule will apply to everyone. It was the intention of this article to reveal what I’d learned and hope that it applies, in some small way, to what someone else might be enduring and show a few tricks that I’ve learned to help break through this complete mental and creative shutdown.

So how, after all of this, can I say that writer’s block can be a useful writing tool? Very simple. My bouts of writer’s block were as crippling to me as they are to any writer. The trick is not trying to figure out how to get rid of writer’s block, but finding what caused it and what steps you need to take to overcome it.

Writer’s block is, in a way, your minds way of telling you something is wrong. Writer’s block is your mind telling you something; all you have to do is figure out what your mind is saying.

Many times I’ve found my writer’s block was telling me that my mind wasn’t on what I was doing. As the grind of day-to-day life builds up, your mind ponders all sorts of different things. What bill is due when and how much is it? Do the kids have some event or practice they need to be at? Have I fed the dog? Have I forgotten any errands I needed to run? Is that blasted e-mail in my inbox telling me that my manuscript is out of the editing queue and in the hands of an editor?

In essence, writer’s block was telling me that I needed to decide what I was going to do: write or worry about writing. It has been my experience that writer’s block is simply another one of those mysterious mental mechanisms that the human brain is wrought with.

I’ve also noticed that dividing my attention between projects has helped alleviate the more severe flare-ups of writer’s block. If I can’t get anything flowing on Book Two, then I’ll work on the next issue of my newsletter or work on my next article, or work on a short story or another novel that has nothing to do with “The Devenshire Chronicles”.

When none of these tactics work? Then I don’t write at all. I play a video game with my son, watch T.V. with my wife and kids, or just take a trip to town with the family. I do something that has nothing to do with writing.

I like to think of it as writer’s block is telling me to take a break, let the creative batteries re-charge a while. Now here is a critical part of the “taking a break” scenario: While you’re taking a break from writing, DO NOT worry about not writing. Don’t let it seem like you aren’t doing something you should be doing, like you would at your job. Always remember that you have a job because you have to have a job, you write because you love to write, not because you have to write.

When writer’s block hits, don’t panic and don’t let yourself become anxious about it. It’s a temporary thing and it will pass, just as soon as you dig deep enough and discover what your mind is trying to tell you by erecting this wall between you and your creative talents.

Most times, if you just calm down enough and look deep enough, you’ll find that your writer’s block is just that…yours. It comes from your own mind reacting to any number of situations that you may or may not be aware of. Your mind put it up and your intellect can bring it down or, at the very least, climb over it. In finding out what has caused the block, you’ll learn a great deal about your writing habits and that, beyond anything else, is a very valuable piece of information to have…in writing as well as in life.

One final tip on dealing with writer’s block: Talk to a new, aspiring, unpublished author. Ask them to tell you about their writing and watch the raw enthusiasm with which they talk about their passion and then remember how passionate you once were. Remember when writing was fun and then do whatever it takes to make it fun again. More times than not I think you’ll find that at the core of writer’s block is something that has made your passion less passionate. There had to be a passion for writing that set you down the path of a writer, find that passion again and the writer’s block won’t be quite so daunting a thing after all.


Visit Tom's website at http://www2.1starnet.com/tsechrist/default.html

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