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The Long, Dark Tunnel - Writer's Block & Stress

There are many challenges that authors and writers are faced with; tight deadlines, extensive research, legal implications, less-than-glowing reviews and so many more. The most prominent one I have come across is Writer’s Block. Many of the great and the good have spoken about times when they have run out of creative energy and hit the proverbial wall in their writing endeavours.

I might be stating the obvious for you here but…this can lead to periods of stress (I sense a few muttered comments from my fellow writers out there).

Edmund Bergler described these “neurotic inhibitions of productivity” back in the mid-Twentieth Century and the concept has been around since the beginning of the creative writing industry. Stress has been around even longer! Sometimes periods of writing slowdown can last months, even years. I see these very much as long tunnels on the otherwise-scenic train journey of writing and recently, I came out of the other side of one of these tunnels.

I published the first instalment of my ‘abducted’ trilogy (a science-fiction mystery thriller following a group of humans discovering that they had been abducted by aliens and abandoned with no way home) in 2008. It was one of the easiest stories I have ever written. As soon as I started the first scene – my hero waking up from a long sleep and escaping his alien prison – the words seemed to flow effortlessly and I had written half the first book with barely a pause for breath.

The second instalment came out in 2010 and everything was lining up nicely to deliver the third and final instalment. Fans were getting in touch asking for more information and wondering more about their favourite characters. I had even drafted half of the story with few problems and I was pleased that the work was progressing.

Then…I stalled.

I made plenty of excuses; my day job was getting in the way, there were other projects I wanted to develop, I had plenty of time to finish this journey and so on. The reality was that I was stuck. I needed to tie together three books into a big climactic finale worthy of the readers’ attention and dedication to following my work.

But it was harder than I thought it would be. Weeks turned to months, months turned to years. Overthinking and second-guessing resulted in the electronic equivalent of crumpled paper in the waste basket. The tunnel was a never-ending tunnel, pitch black growing darker every time I tried to pick up the story.

This turned into stress. There are many forms and sources for stress, I know. This was different though, this was stress caused by inactivity, a failure to progress with my planned activities. Whenever I tried to return to the story, that block was still firmly in my path so each failed attempt ramped up my levels of stress. Each failure was a body blow to my confidence, every day in that tunnel pushed me further back along my path. I eventually found myself avoiding the thought of even attempting to get the story back on track.

This was where I learnt my top tips for dealing with stress arising from Writer’s Block:

  1. Avoid too much isolation; being a writer broadly means working in isolation but being alone with your frustrations can be destructive so even if all you do is phone someone or go for a coffee, take time away from your “shut off world”.

  2. If you feel frustrated, change activities to do something completely different even for just a short space of time (especially if you are writing about difficult/emotive subjects or themes).

  3. Do not be afraid to change tactics or take a different path if you feel the one you are on is blocked; this can include ripping up something you have already created and starting again (the necessary “evils” of evolving/self-editing your work).

  4. Be aware of the early warning signs that indicate you may be stressed – which are different for different people – and try to avoid any activity that makes them worse.

  5. Manage your overall wellbeing to maintain a balance to your mental health so that you are ready to deal with any stressful challenges in your writing. From good diet to simple breathing techniques lie 7-11 breathing, you can find plenty of information and advice about maintaining good mental wellbeing online.

Thankfully, I emerged through that long, dark tunnel into the warm, glowing light of progress. The final scenes are being drafted for the final instalment of ‘abducted’ and my confidence is back! I hope the end result will validate everything I have had to endure in order to complete this journey.

I started writing at the tender age of ten and I never thought of a career as a writer being a stressful one. The image I grew up with was the happy writer in a comfortable chair plucking at a typewriter in a solitary but tranquil scene that was awash with light and colours and harmony. The reality is so different and I am sure that I have only scratched the surface in my own career to date (and I am sure there will be many more dark tunnels ahead).

Being a writer – whether you are a successful full-time professional or a plucky part-time enthusiast – can be stressful. No matter how long the writing journey you embark upon, there is something so satisfying about reaching the destination but remember to be aware of your own wellbeing as you go along that journey. Take time to focus on your own development as well as the development of your plot and characters. This may result in a better story for you as well as a better story for your readers.

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