Dealing With Writer's Block: Eight Things To Do While You're Waiting In Limbo
by Jamie Walker
Published: Sunday, December 31, 2000

        Having writer’s block is no laughing manner. Some writers, for example, take it very seriously—so much so that they begin to doubt themselves, their craft, their stories, and their keen, novel ideas. Some writers get so upset that they become frustrated and angry, often times slipping into various stages of depression and blocked creativity. You, however, don’t have to let such madness, insecurity, and “blockage” overcome, overshadow, or plague you. You can literally choose what role or emotion you wish to play, as well as which direction your life and book will take, whenever you experience writer’s block. 

        Of course, there is nothing like the feeling of finally being able to say, “I am writing again!” However, there will be times in your writing career when you draw a blank, when your mouth, thoughts, words, personality and Spirit seem to have run dry. There will be times when you just don’t want to see, edit, look at, revise, or touch your manuscript ever again. There will be times when you just want to throw your computer out of the window or yell at the top of your lungs when you lose an unsaved document or fail to produce any outstanding words, paragraphs, chapters, or material for the evening. Know, then, that these feelings are OKAY! For all artists and writers can relate to the feeling of not having work, not producing work, or living up to their full, God given potential. 

        When we are writing again, however, it seems as if our Spirit’s are back up, our vibrant, bubbly personality has returned, and that we are walking on cloud number nine. When we are writing again, we seem to feel connected to other people, to other writers, to God, the Universe, our angels, our purpose, and all other life. We feel in sync with our literary ancestors and predecessors, as though we are following our calling, lifting as we climb, and contributing literature to the world that may, very well, last for generations. Blockage comes to us when our minds, lives, and thoughts are clouded and cluttered, when we are not actively being “bitten” by our muse, when our energies are not being channeled more productively. Below are eight things to consider while your in limbo, waiting for the Word to project from your lips, fingertips, and pen again:

 1. Get Organized!

        You wonder why you can’t write anything or are inspired to be creative. Well, it because you are not organized! Now that you have writer’s block is an excellent opportunity to start “spring cleaning” and clearing up your writing space so that you can have “open space” and a clearer outlook on you, your home life, characters, articles, and future writing career. Now is the time to rid your Self of all of the clutter in your home or around your office space that is blocking your creativity, preventing you from receiving the next idea, creative, artistic, thought, illuminating chapter, or blessing. Something to consider, for instance, is investing in a file cabinet (as well as file folders) from such places like Staples or Office Max to keep track of all of your writings, articles, short stories, poems, quotes, miscellaneous ideas, calls for submissions, and marketing strategies for your book. In my own file cabinet, for example, I have numerous file folders with some of the following headings:

  • Novels and Short Stories
  • Marketing for the Book
  • Recent Emails
  • Poetry
  • Calls for Submissions
  • Resume’s
  • Bookstores
  • Book Clubs
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Recent Articles
  • Literary Agent
  • Copyright Info
  • Blurbs
  • Useful Websites, etc etc

        In this way, I can easily access what I am looking for when needed. I don’t have to worry about shuffling through piles of idle papers on my writer’s desk, junk mail in my junk drawers, scraps of paper in my purse, or “hard copy” from three different manuscripts in my brief case. I don’t have to fret over where on earth I placed a chapter, poem, telephone number, email address, website, article, or short story. I don’t have to do this (or waste precious time from working on my book) because I am organized! You too can do so by choosing to clean out, file, and organize around your writing and desk space today. 

2. Return To Your Outline

        If you are stuck in the middle of your coming of age, romance, sci-fi, humor, psychological thriller, nonfiction, Christian, children’s, self-help, or future e-book, make sure that you consider going back to your outline to access each character’s wants, needs, motives, desires, objectives, and goals, if any. Are you sticking to the plot, your tentative book proposal, or outline as planned? Are there places in your novel where dialogue or more imagery can be placed to drive the story along? Are there places in your nonfiction manuscript where you can expand and make the piece sound more authentic? Are there repetitious places that can be deleted? Similarly, are there places that can be expanded? 

        Have you truly revealed the  “humanity" or soul of your character, their inner and outer life (emotions, fears, psychological, physical, and “surface” traits)? How can your audience relate to each of your characters? Does Big Henry, the protagonist in your novel, ever overcome his phobia or fear of death? If so, how? Do you expose why Sarah Sue might be afraid of marriage and opening up to true love? Has her past history of abuse and domestic violence frightened and/or ‘hardened’ her, preventing her from merging with her soul-mate?

        Try summing up your book in one sentence and writing it in your journal. Try writing a summary about it, one that might possibly be featured on the back or inside flap of your book and asking other authors, family, and friends what they think. Send it via email attachment or send them a hard copy in the mail. Ask them if they are encouraged to read further? What is their first response? How do these trusted sources feel about your opening line, your opening paragraph, first chapter, or ending? How do you?

3. Study The Craft of Other Authors in Your Field 

        As writer’s, it is incumbent that we strive not to write inside of a vacuum; that is, naively thinking that we do not need to study the craft of other authors (both within and outside of our genre), to keep current and abreast of the recent changes and trends in the industry, or of what other people are writing (or will be soon) while we are busy slaving away on our manuscript, preparing to break into the world of publishing. Reading the writing’s and articles of other of other authors is a must. For as Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons For Black Writers, explains, “Studying other writers will help you become a better editor of your own stories.” It may help you with ideas, be very informative and inspiring, as well as help

Click to buy this book
Free within Ourselves; Fiction Lessons for Black Authors
by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Oct '99

 you to free up your repressed and blocked creativity. It can introduce you to a new way to tell a story, use a word, or experiment with your  voice and style. It can serve as validation, proof that you can produce such a work or a an even better one. It can lead you to expand, tighten up, or flesh out more material in your own book. 

        Study your competitors as well. What do you like and dislike about their works? Write it all down in your journal. How would you improve their book? How can you improve yours? How will you distinguish yours from your competition? What will be the key issues, story ideas, leads, or information that will make your book stand out, appealing, intriguing, and/or attractive from all the rest? 

4. Copyright Your Work 

        Garnering copyright for your work is probably one of the most easiest, cost efficient, and fastest things that you can do today. In fact, you can download all kinds of copyright forms right from the Internet! Go into The Library of Congress’s webapge at http://www.loc.gov and click on the link that says “Copyright Office: Forms & Information.” Once you have accessed the site, click on the link that says “Publications” and then download the appropriate forms. You can download TX forms for your published or unpublished literary works (poems, novels, short stories, anthologies, etc), PA forms for performing arts, SE forms for serials (newspapers, magazines, newsletters, annuals, journals, etc), SR forms for sound recordings, and VA forms for visual arts. Instructions about each form can also be printed along with your application so don’t feel wary about perusing the site. If you have any questions, you always call an author friend or The Library of Congress at (202) 707-3000. Once you have downloaded the application and filled it out correctly, you can then mail in the required $30.00 filing fee. 

        Your work is generally copyrighted the day that you write it. However, you should still consider copyrighting your work if you plan on publishing it or distributing it elsewhere—especially considering that other authors are hungry for your ideas, titles, and information. Most people don’t know this, but any work that you seal and snail mail back to your Self (without opening it) is also a form of a copyright. I call it “the cheap man and woman’s copyright.” So, if you have a work that you just KNOW you want to have copy written, put it in a manila envelope, place a stamp on it, drop it off at the post office, and then mail it back to your Self. Once you receive it, keep it in your file folder (as proof of your copyright) or store it someplace safe until you have the time to download a TX form from the web and submit it along with the appropriate fee. Karen Wiesner, who has an “Electronic Q & A discussion on http://www.inkspot.com, for example, lists several books authors may consider if they are interested in securing copyrights. Some of them are as follows:

 Kirsch's Handbook of Publishing Law: For Authors, Publishers, Editors, and Agents
 Getting Permission: How to License and Clear Copyrighted Materials Online and off with Disk
The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers  101 Questions about Copyright Law by Andrew Alpern (Dolver Pubications)

The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook:  (Wiley Books for Writers)

Every Writer’s Guide to Copyright and Publishing Law by Ellen M. Kozak (Owlet)

5. Begin Early Publicity for Your Book

        As Marilyn and Tom Ross, co-authors of Jump Start Your Book Sales, repeatedly tell their readers, “It is never too late or too early to begin garnering publicity for your book.” Get online and start doing your research! Find website’s appropriate to what you are writing about and email the webmaster, if possible, to see if you can do a “link exchange” with them. In this manner, a link to your “temporary” or permanent website for the book will be featured on someone else’s (hopefully a reputable person) site. This will be to both you and their advantage. It will make their site look more “informative” and “interactive” and it will bring you greater exposure, provided that you now know how to seek out “free publicity.” I have found that by doing at least two year’s early publicity for my first book, 101 Ways Black Women Can Learn To Love Themselves, I was able to create a “demand” for it. Because I took some sort of initiative and Self responsibility, editors at magazines and newspapers, family, friends, and the general public were already expecting my galley’s and the official “date” my book would be released. For this I was extremely grateful!

        You can also make fliers for your book or you can hire a graduate in the Graphics Design department at the local college to do your art work or logo if needed. You can treat your Self to the next American Booksellers Association Conference and not only pass out our business cards there, but also copies of your manuscript as well. You can do radio and talk show interviews. You can advertise in the city paper, at the University, in local and college bookstores, through book clubs, newspapers, newsletters, and by mass mailing a self-made brochure. Consider joining a Writer’s Guild, networking with other authors, and attending as many literary salons and retreats as you can. Find a mentor, subscribe to an email discussion list, as well as magazines, newsletters, and e-zines in your field (like this one!) Write a summary of your book in an email and then forward it to family and friends. Ask them to forward it to the world! 

           Know that most authors don’t necessarily make it to the top of a bestseller list just because they were published by a major publishing house or because they had an outstanding publicist. Most authors make it to the top of a bestseller list because they understand the power of marketing, networking, and helping to spread the Word about their own book. They know that 98% of successful book publishing relies on Self promotion. You should too! For as John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways To Market Your Books, notes, “You will have to sell your books. No one else can do that for you. Even if you sell exclusively through bookstores, it is still your responsibility to see that potential readers know about your books and where to buy them.” 

6. Work On The Next Book

        I used to beat my Self up whenever I got writer’s block while writing my first book. I felt so out of touch with life, other people, and my innate, intrinsic gifts. I felt as if I needed another corporate job (in addition to the one I already had), more ‘available’ friends, an exciting vacation, or something to cure the incredible silence and loneliness that, often times, comes with the pangs of editing. One thing that got me back on track, however, was to continue writing. For example, even though I might have been at a roadblock with the first book, I decided it best to not only keep reading and to stay abreast of what was  “trendy” and “hot” in my field, but I also kept writing—even if my writing was reduced to a mere sentence or two a day. I made sure that I had journals, pens, and writing utensils all around me. I kept writing poetry and publishing online. I finished many short stories, began a biomythography, and a series of children’s books.    

        By continuing to hone in on my craft and work on other books in the process, I was able to produce other great works that I might not have imagined possible were I to throw in my cards (my 3 1/2 floppy, yellow legal pads, and pens) and call it a day. I increased my potential of having what Barry White terms, “staying power” (at least in the literary market place) and helped to ensure my visibility and longevity in the publishing world. When you work on book two and three in the process of writing your first, you give your Self “options” and publishers as well--about whether or not they will consider giving you a “two-book deal”. You keep your fans interested in your new content and mysterious titles. 

        By having the opportunity to tell friends, family, radio dj’s, book reviewers and such that you are working on book number two or three, you feel much more validated as an author. It gives other people a reason to take you seriously and to regard you as a serious, committed, and disciplined writer. It makes you feel that you are not just moping around, waiting for your muse to strike again. It shows that you have taken it upon your Self to produce, to follow your calling, to express and share your greatest gift, to develop stories from your experiences, dreams, current news events, past, present, or made-up relationships. 

Free-lance for magazines and e-zines like this one! Free up your creativity by writing about what immediately comes to mind. You never know, your little writings in the margins of your books (as well as the short essays in your journal) may, very well, turn out to be your next bestseller!

7. Begin Soliciting Blurbs For Your Work 

        A blurb is a small or lengthy quote usually given to you by another author or a reviewer of your book. Blurbs usually graze or are displayed either on the cover, back, or inside flap of your book. It usually says something somewhat to the effect of, “Laura Jenning’s book is a novel laden with humor, grace, wit, and style. It is a beautiful coming of age novel sure to bring back precious memories and knock you off your feet!” (Well, it could be better than this). What is great about blurbs, however, especially when you are able to obtain ‘testimonies’ from other well known authors in your field, is that it makes your book appear credible from “reliable” sources.

         Know that there is no one way to solicit a blurb for your book. You can email a good author friend you know and ask them or you can be a little bit more professional and snail mail a cover letter to the designated party, along with your galley or partially completed manuscript if you choose. You can call the author’s publicist, fax a request, and ask this way or you can send your galley’s to several local and national magazines who can review them for you.  

8. Create A Temporary Website Until Your Book’s Release

        Having an attractive, interactive website that is easy to navigate is very important in today’s technically driven society. It not only provides “free advertising” about you, your services, and your book to consumers from coast to coast, but it also makes you “international.” When you have a website, people who you don’t even know can surf your site and find out all about your book, instead of you having to repeat (over and over again) about what it is about, where they can find it, review some sample chapters, get on your email list, or find out more about what you’ve done. Plus, the website can reveal much about your “jazzy” or wise personality!

        No, it’s not hard to create one. You don’t even have to know JAVA, HTML, Dreamweaver, Indesign, or Flash 4 (some of the basic building blocks of web design) needed to make your website look attractive, interactive, outstanding, or professional. For there are now several applications such as Microsoft Front Page, Microsoft Pubisher, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Pagemaker, Quark Xpress, and a number of others that make use of the “drag & drop” method (an easy route for writers who are swarmped by other books and activities). With these applications, you can drag & drop text, graphic images, and other miscellaneous items on your site. You can upload photos (as well as your book cover) to your site, create a stimulating background, add links to other sites, and certain colors to fonts all with the click of a button! It is really that simple! A few online vehicles that allow you to create your own webpage on their site are: http://www.geocities.com, http://www.angelfire.com,   http://www.blackplanet.com, and http://www.aol.com,

         If, however, you desire something more professional, then inquire within about webmasters, webmistresses, and web designer’s who may be able to design a site for you at a reasonable fee. Just know that you MUST have one because the Internet is the vehicle through which you can effectively reach consumers at a much faster, easier, and “cost-free” rate. Know that websites are no longer a thing of the past. No longer are consumers willing to stay at your site for long periods of time to be in awe of all of your exciting animation, video, and graphic images. For as Professor Lee in the Electronic Studio Department at Howard University notes, “You have approximately 22 seconds to keep visitors linked to your site. If you have large ‘jpeg’ or ‘gif’ files that take too long to download, your visitors may be leery about hanging around—not unless they are friends, family, or die-hard supporters of your new book or product.” 

           For instance, if you have Flash 4, streaming video or animated graphics on your site, and it prompts your viewer on the screen as to whether or not they want to download the video (before they can continue), the probability of them saying “yes” and sticking around for the download is highly unlikely. Hence, make sure your site doesn’t have files that are too big and is not too cluttered. Make sure that you don’t lump everything onto one page and that the colors chosen for your site are not too bright, dark, or “hard on the eyes.” Know that white is usually the best background to choose when placing a lot of text on your site so think ahead.

            Visit other author’s websites and see what you like about theirs that you can consider trying to incorporate in yours. Maybe your favorite author’s webpage is more interactive than yours. Maybe they have intriguing quizzes that pop up on the screen about their book. Maybe they have their own domain name, provide free giveaways, feature reviews about their book, have a newsletter, a key counter, a message board, chat room, and a list serv. Maybe they have sample chapters of their book on their site and a link to amazon.com, barnes&noble.com, or borders.com that you might want to consider so that customers can also order your book right away. Maybe you like the colors they use and the overall layout of their site, how they provide information about inclusion in other web ring’s and circles. Maybe you are intrigued by the jazz music that plays softly in the background while you surf their homepage. 

            Start experimenting today! Somebody needs to get an email forward, which includes a summary of your book, your signature, and link back to your webpage, right at this very instant!