Is it Writers Block or Burn Out? by Cynthia Woolf

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fiery_bride 200 x 300On a recent blog I wrote, I talked about my writer’s block and how my friends helped me to overcome it. I’m beginning to think it’s something more serious, perhaps even burnout.

I can’t seem to get started on this new series. It’s about three brothers who come to Deadwood, SD at the beginning of the gold rush there in 1876. They’re there just in time to witness Wild Bill Hickock’s murder. I’m using real people in the background to give it that true to life flavor that I’m looking for with this series, tentatively titled Destiny in Deadwood.

I started with the middle brother. I thought I had the story all figured out in my head, but I got sixteen pages into it and found myself stuck. Okay, I said to myself. I start with the youngest brother. I’m about fourteen pages into it and it’s slowing to a standstill. I just don’t know what happens next. I’ve got my standby remedies for overcoming writers block. They are:
1. Just Write sessions with my critique partners. There is a great energy working and writing with other writers in the room. We not only bounce ideas off each other we bounce energy off each other.

2. Load my current work in progress into my kindle and read it that way. It will sometimes spark your brain into action because I can’t edit. Whenever I read my work on the computer or on a paper print out, I can’t help but edit it.

3. Write description. Now I’m not much for description in my novels. I give enough that the reader can picture the background but I don’t wax poetic about the doilies on the table. But if I’m trying to overcome a bout of writer’s block, I start writing about the doilies and anything else I can describe. Sometimes it sparks me to move on to the real action of the scene.

4. Read a book or watch TV. Getting my mind away totally from writing will sometimes work to get me motivated to work on the story and begin to see again where it will go.

Why am I going through all this? Because I’m trying to avoid burn out. I need to recharge my well and maybe my story will come to me. I live in fear that this is burn out that I’ve written all the stories that are in me, but I don’t believe that. I have the stories there, I just can’t seem to get them down on paper (or into the computer as the case may be).

2013-06-09 10.09.02Part of the reason I go through this is because I’m not a plotter. I’m what they call a pantser. I’ve tried and tried to learn to plot. For some reason, my brain rejects it. But I continue taking plotting classes, hoping that some of it will stay. It would make my life a lot easier if I’d learn to plot. Then when I hit a wall of writers block, I would be able to say, well I know that this is going to happen, so I’ll try writing that scene now. And maybe that is something that I should try. I do know that there are some scenes that will ultimately be in the book. Maybe if I write them down, it’ll get the vibes flowing again.

I can only hope.

28 thoughts on “Is it Writers Block or Burn Out? by Cynthia Woolf

  1. Cindy,

    Like you I’m a pantser, and the minute I force myself to plot I lose interest in the story. What’s the point of writing the story if I already know what happens?

    When I get stuck like you are it’s normally because I haven’t nailed down my GMC. I like Debra Dixon’s GMC book and try to write down my GMC for my two main characters. You could try writing down a list of things your character would never do, then find a way to make him do them and write about the resulting fall out.

    I think that these days writers are expected to write quickly and produce 3 or 4 books every year. When we fail to keep up this pace and we see our friends and fellow authors pass us, we feel pressure and it affects our writing. It’s really important to take time out and not to let writing and promotion take over our lives. I travel and leave the writing at home. The breaks always refresh me and I come back to writing full of enthusiasm.

    Love the Deadwood idea, BTW. Hubby and I had a ball when we visited and also enjoyed the TV series.

  2. Too much pressure can be counter productive… i can’t really help you since i’m not a writer ( a few fanfictions doesn’t count) but for me i need to write on paper not computer (too slow on computer) and i’m dreaming what i write so perhaps a real break of a few days far from home just to avoid thinking about writing will be able to help you becausei’m certain you still have a lot of stories in you ^^ ( perhaps even too many and that’s why they get nagry one was chosen instead of them and thus the block^^)

  3. Sometimes the best solution is to go back to basics. What is it you love about writing? What elements in a story get you excited? Start with what you can get most enthusiastic about and don’t worry if you’ve got a chaotic jumble of scenes. You can always expand on and connect those scenes later. We’ve all been there. Sometimes the books that fight you the most come out the best.

  4. Cynthia, I know just where you are, but I suspect it’s not burn-out. More likely you need to get away from that series and work on something else.
    Whether you’ll ever be able to come back to that series, I don’t know. I’ve got one book that I got 2/3 finished and just like that – poof! – the rest was gone. I have no idea where to go from there, and still don’t. It’s my only book to date that remains unfinished. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to it. I’m still waiting for my muses to come out of hiding.
    I, too am a panster. I sit down with an idea and start writing and let my characters tell me (more or less) where they want to go and what they want to do.
    So above all else, don’t give up. Take a break and do something fun. Then keep writing. Keep working.
    All the best….

  5. I’m not sure this will help you, but it works for me. I am a plotter with panster tendencies. By that, I mean that I have the overall picture in mind in a very general way when I begin, including themes, POV characters, setting, plot direction, ending, etc. Everything else is added as it presents itself during the writing. I am convinced that if I didn’t have a general framework within which to work, I wouldn’t get anything done. Plotting should provide framework, but it should also be flexible enough to allow for moments of absolute creativity. For me, the most important element in the framework is theme. Once I know what it is that I really want to say to readers, then everything else falls into place.

    I see that you are a prolific writer. This makes me wonder if perhaps you might simply need a true vacation. All workers need to get away sometimes. That’s why employers give paid vacation. It renews and rejuvenates the employee, always a good thing.

  6. Ah Cynthia, being “afflicted” with ADD my problem is that there are forty million stories going in my head all the time. But I’m still a pantser with the one I’m then writing. Unfortunately, commitments limit me to 11 pm – 1 am writing whatever my character says or does (s/he has total control there). All night I dream of what else they’re doing, but its rare I get to write it down before my day starts at 5:45; I just finished my vampire book #3!LOL

  7. Sometimes I work on another story, Cindy. Totally different genre. I need to write my next in the Highland wolf series, deadline Dec 15. And I couldn’t figure out how to start it. So I began working on one of my Highland medievals, all the while, trying to come up with a different opening for the other book. Staring at a blank screen doesn’t work for me. Total pantser here. But I lay down and kept mulling, and then I had it! When my daughter was still living at home with me, she’d say, “Do you have writer’s block?”
    “Nope,” I’d tell here. “It’s not in my vocabulary.” And then I’d just write or work on something different. 🙂

  8. Cynthia~

    Been there, done that, girlfriend. I can sooooo empathize with your situation. But I will say categorically that you are NOT suffering from burnout. You’re just stuck right now.

    I’ve written as much as 25k when the brakes hit. The culprit then is usually as Shelley said, the characters’ GMC isn’t nailed. I’m not one to do character interviews, but at times like this, I’ve gone to bed asking a specific character to tell me what I’m missing. Most times (not always) the answer shows itself in a day or two.

    Another suggestion would be to write the blurb, if you haven’t already. I used to wait until after I’d finished a story to pen the blurb. I now find it a useful tool before typing the first word of the story.

    Hang tough! I have every confidence you’ll figure this out and be back in the saddle very soon.

  9. Cynthia, I started out as a panzer, but became a plotter and now I swear by it. The story is plotted out in a scene by scene outline before I even start writing the first draft. But right now, I’m trying to switch genres and have started on a contemporary baseball romance series, instead of the historical and historical/paranormal romances I usually write. It’s a bit of a stretch for me and I’ve gotten a little stuck in the early plotting stage, but reading in the genre I’m writing or even in another genre works to get my wheels spinning again.

  10. I have a computer that doesn’t automatically connect to the internet. I can connect it to check email etc, but I have never made all those convenient bookmarks and usually don’t plug in the wireless stick. I can kind of cocoon myself from the wild world of writing that way. No twitter, FB etc. I can’t check sales on my Amazon acct easily. It seems to help me stay focused. My retreat, sort of.

    I am a plotter–I kick back and imagine the story like a video, then write out a scene list. Right now am using a spreadsheet which I hope will make me faster–planned out pov, settings etc through the scenes I get excited to write as small snippets of scenes come to mind.

  11. Cindy,

    Okay, first, STOP WORRYING. Worrying has got to be one of the biggest creativity killers around.

    This does happen to me, though I don’t write quite as fast as you 🙂 My guess would be it is mostly burnout. Besides your novel writing, you do promo, blogs, help other authors, etc. All of this takes time and energy. That includes creative energy. Your well is not dry, it’s simply low right now. Give yourself a well deserved break.

    Read a book, or watch tv for fun. Did you catch that last word? FUN. Not because it might spark something, not because it will help you get a better handle on YOUR characters, not for anything else but FUN. Pour yourself a _____ (you fill in the type of beverage); get comfy on the sofa; grab the remote or book; and relax. Don’t critique, don’t comment – other than to laugh or cry in appropriate spots, just relax and enjoy.

    Being Indie authors we push ourselves so hard sometimes we forget the creative batteries need some down time to recharge fully. If you let go of your ‘worrying’ over being ‘blocked’ and turn your focus to other parts of your life (totally separate from writing), you may find your characters starting to nudge and prod you back to the keyboard sooner than you think. It usually happens when you don’t force them.
    Take care and I know your fingers will be itching to get back to typing before you know it. ~~ Sandra

  12. Pantser here. I’ve just completed a novel I began 2 1/2 years ago. Something just always came up. The problem for me was each and every time I returned to it over 30 months, I was faced with the fact I was no longer that writer. Each book changes us, and I’d written four between starting and finishing that one. Once I surrendered to that fact, I was able to take scissors to it. The concept of the story was good, just the writing so much less than what I’m able to do now. I saved my best lines and paragraphs and chopped off the rest. The editor has it now. Yay! Try scissors Cindy. 🙂

  13. It’s good to find out I am a ploder. I thought I was just disorganized.
    I have been blocked on occasion and believe it was due to stress from unreasonable and vindictive employers. Twice I’ve quit jobs and returned to writing shortly after. I believe that stress keeps the right brain working to resolve problems and that keeps the left brain from kicking in. Since creativity starts in the left, something is needed to jump start the shift. I sometimes go back to unfinished stories and write a bit and find when I return to my current project, I can get back into the story.
    Discovering stressors and dealing with them may help.

  14. I have more starts and stops than I want to consider. When I look back at them I see things I didn’t see when I started writing them. I have a few story starts fermenting. Those I will return to eventually. But usually when I stop it’s because the characters aren’t “big” enough to hold a whole story.

    We write romance. (Boy meets girl, problems to overcome as they fall in love, and then the HEA.) If there’s not something more to the story, then we just have another little love story. Whoopie-do. We have to have something more to our characters so they aren’t just another little common story. They need something BIG.

    What’s BIG? It could be almost anything from something in their past to something that will happen to them. Maybe the heroine is all wrong for them. Maybe it’s the wrong setting for them.

    Does that cowboy/character need to trade in his gun for a galactic nanobeam or maybe a sword and kilt? Is there something really special about the time and place? Or have you put the wrong characters in it? Instead of three brothers, should they be three friends?

    Toss those characters and that whole idea to one side. Let it mold a little. LOL

    You write very strong women. Start with her! Is she really a bounty hunter who rides the gambling cars on trains or maybe plays in the nicer gambling houses in San Francisco in order to get her man? Is she hot on the trail of a serial rapist? Is she a major player in the underground railroad in 1845 or 2542? Let her pick the time and place.

    Another author said it was like dating, you don’t have to marry them. So you went out for dinner and it was nice, but it just didn’t set off fireworks. Let her do a little speed dating in Deadwood! When sparks fly, you’ve got a story worth writing. LOL

  15. I’m definitely burned out. The last book took forever to finish. I had to get my deadline extended–and I almost never do that. I finally made the decision to quit writing, ’cause if it’s not fun, I’m not doing it. I’m not putting a time limit on it. I’m not going to write until I feel so compelled to that I can’t NOT write.

    I say give yourself as much time as you need.

  16. I am with Shelley – I am a pantser and lose interest if I try to plot. I bought a book once about plotting and followed it to the letter and had the whole story summarised, including photos of the characters, settings etc. and was very proud of myself. Then I started to write it and it was the most painful process I have ever experienced. I got to page 50 and gave up. It is still sitting somewhere on my hard drive.

  17. Cindy

    I’m a pantser too, I’ve never platted anything but my character’s. For me when I get block, I walk away form whatever I’m working on and just take a day or two to let my brain relax. If I still have a problem when I go back, I try reading the last chapter and seams to work.

  18. Sounds like an interesting series. Maybe start writing another book not in this series first?

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  19. Wonderful blog, Cynthia! I think a number of authors go through writers block, but it sounds like you’ve got some great ideas to get rolling again. Best of luck with the series, and thank you for sharing your tips to get past that hurdle!

  20. I’m a pantser too. When I run into a snag in a story, I need to go walk. Walking seems to open the flow of ideas. Another thing I do is jump ahead. Write a future scene, or perhaps a potential ending. Good luck overcoming the ‘block’. ~Dawn Marie

  21. I’m a pantser who does tiny plots…like a story sentence or paragraph. I just can’t plan out my scenes. Believe me I’ve tried. I do character sketches, but small ones. Sometimes when I get totally stuck, I look at the GMC. When this happens it’s usually because I don’t know enough about my characters. Sometimes I have to go back a generation or two to discover a goal or motivation or to find my character’s biggest fear. That’s what usually works for me. What if you tried the third brother’s book? That might help you find what is missing.

    Other times when I hit a wall, I write the end of the book. Doing this has also helped me go over the wall, move the wall, or find the answer I need.

    Good luck. I hope we all helped you.

  22. Oh, wow. You sound so much like me. I like your list and will try loading the book that refuses to move beyond a certain point onto my Kindle. I’ve tried reading, and I mean reading a totally different genre than what I write. I’ve started other stories. I’m now up to 3 that I’m working on at the same time–when I’m not totally stopped.
    On the upside, I did write one random paragraph today that fits in one story. Sigh. A book, a paragraph at a time …
    Ah, to be a plotter with a nice orderly synopsis that lets the story write itself.
    Good luck to us all!

  23. Cynthia,
    The problem with taking all the plotting classes is that you aren’t respecting your process which is pantsing. You can’t psyche yourself out, you need to be honest and embrace that you’re a pantser and just let the story flow.
    You might also try sitting down to figure out your best writing environment. Think back to when you were writing the other stories. What did it look like? What did it feel like? What did it sound like? Walk through all of those things very carefully and with as much detail as you can, then carefully examine how you’re writing now. IS anything different? What’s the same? Take the time to really assess the environment and the way you feel when you’re writing. That may give you an idea of what you might need to get the writing mojo-jojo back.

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