Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Permission Not to Write

Ever heard the phrase there's no such thing as writer's block? Well, there is fatigue, stress and a mind and body on overload. What to do about it? Author Lois Winston is known for her invaluable advice, and she's about to give you some more. Please welcome Five Scribe contributor Lois Winston. ~ Donnell

Permission Not to Write

What do you do when you’re suffering from the literary equivalent of a bad day on the mound? You’re all set to hurl a fast ball that should nip the corner of the strike zone and send the batter swinging at air when you wind up tossing a lob that he hits out of the park. In other words, you’ve got writer’s block.

Some people insist that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Try telling that to someone who spent the last three hours staring at a blank computer screen. There are many reasons why the words don’t always come, but for me, often it’s because I’m just too tired to write. When I’m tired, my brain shuts down. But write I must because I’m on deadline, and if I don’t write, I don’t meet those deadlines.

When this happens, I’ve learned to listen to my body. I give myself permission to take a few hours off to rejuvenate. I’ll take a walk. Or watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see. Or curl up with a book by a favorite author or a new one I’ve been meaning to read. Whatever I decide to do, I give myself permission not to feel guilty about doing it.

And that’s key.

Most writers can’t afford to quit their day jobs. We juggle our schedules to accommodate work, writing, and family responsibilities. So when we have our writing time, we feel compelled to write and feel guilty when we don’t. We’re wasting precious writing time. What we forget, though, is that we’re not perpetual motion machines. Writers, like everyone else, need down time. Time to relax. To play. To do nothing but daydream.

I’ve found that when I give myself permission not to write, I’m able to return to my writing with fresh energy and a brain no longer blocked.

I know this is counter to the conventional wisdom that stresses you should write through the block. Just stick your butt in the chair, place your fingers on the keyboard, and start typing – that bad writing is better than no writing, and you can always go back to fix what needs fixing. To me, that’s just as huge a waste of time as staring for hours at a blinking cursor.

Don’t let the purveyors of conventional wisdom bully you. Listen to your body instead. If you give yourself permission not to write, you might find that when you next sit down at the computer, you’ll be far happier with the words you produce. It works for me. You have nothing to lose by giving it a try.


Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” The series also includes Death By Killer Mop Doll and Crewel Intentions, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mystery. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse is a January 2013 release.

Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning crafts and needlework designer and an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. She’s also the author of the recently released Top Ten Reasons Your Novel is Rejected. Visit Lois at
http://www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at http://www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers character blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.

Revenge of the Crafty Corpse:

Anastasia Pollack’s dead louse of a spouse has left her with more bills than you can shake a crochet hook at, and teaching craft classes at her mother-in-law’s assisted living center seems like a harmless way to supplement her meager income. But when Lyndella Wegner—a 98-year-old know-it-all with a penchant for ruffles and lace—turns up dead, Anastasia’s cantankerous mother-in-law becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Upon discovering that Lyndella’s scandalous craft projects—and her scandalous behavior—made her plenty of enemies, Anastasia sets out to find the real killer before her mother-in-law ends up behind bars.




LD Masterson said...

You make a good point. I go a slightly different way. I do other things that will engage my body but not my mind - housework, a long walk, etc. I don't force myself to think about writing but when my body is busy doing something else, my mind usually wanders in that direction. An idea will surface and I'm ready to head back to the keyboard.

Lois Winston said...

LD, you've found what works for you, and that's all that matters. As for me, I avoid housework at all costs!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Lois, I just finished writing a contracted book and editing another contracted book. The idea of sitting down and writing a new one boggles--and stresses the mind.

I read a comment by a writer that said finish one book, start the next. Right now is my renew time, time to catch up on reading and to let a new plot gel. I fully agree with your sentiment. Thanks for being with us once again.

Theresa said...

Hi Lois,
I couldn't agree with you more! Every year I give myself permission not to write between Thanksgiving and the new year--rather, during that time I make family and holiday a priority and writing takes a back seat.
I agree that I need to refill my creative well. Perhaps that's self-indulgent. I am lucky in that all my deadlines are self-imposed, but I just am not sure I'd be happy functioning any other way.
I write because I love telling stories. I want to entertain, teach and touch people's hearts through my stories. I write because it's fun. Life's too short for me to be devoting the time and energy it takes to write a book if it doesn't bring me joy.
Thanks for helping me to embrace my process instead of adding to my Catholic guilt.

Lois Winston said...

Donnell, sometimes I think those writers who say you have to start a new book as soon as you finish the last one aren't following their own advice, just spouting the "conventional wisdom" that seems to float around like some of the other bad advice that's out there. Everyone needs time to recharge. We're not perpetual motion machines.

Theresa, so glad you don't let anyone guilt you into doing something that in the end wouldn't be good for you or your family. Even writers need time to enjoy life -- especially writers since we get so many of our ideas from the world and people around us.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Brava, Lois!

"Listen to your body." So true. I was pushing myself to physical and mental exhaustion and the words on the page showed it. 2 book in under 8 months, 1 following the other in 4 months.

I learned this Dec. not to feel guilty when I need a rest or break and I've learned to schedule better!

Better for me and the story.

Love having you here at the Scribes.

~LA of the scribes.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...


And forget your surgery in all that. You've pushed yourself hard.

I'm glad you're taking a break.


Nancy Morse said...

Great post, Lois. Giving yourself permission not to write isn't just when you're hit with writer's block. Some years ago I had a series of personal tragedies over a 6 month period. My first impulse was to throw myself into my writing, but everything I wrote was very dark and, honestly, not very good. So I gave myself permission not to write for however long it took to crawl out of the abyss. That freed me from the guilt. I didn't have any deadlines at the time, which made it easier, but even if I had, I can't imagine any editor (or at least none of the ones I've worked with) not understanding tragedies like death and illness.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I love the baseball analogy. Writing everyday for me can mean letting my brain relax so the ideas can flow. I'm a runner and know that if I don't give myself a recover day once a week, my performance suffers. When I returned home from a month-long book signing tour that I'd scheduled after one of the busiest writing years of my life, I simply did nothing. But I was still writing in my head. Once I returned to my keyboard, I was able to fix those nagging problems with my latest mystery. Things are moving along smoothy now. Great post, Lois.

Loretta said...

I totally agree, Lois. I've found that my Muse works better when I don't stare at him, eye to eye.
I usually go "play", whatever play means for that day...and slowly, the thoughts start dropping in. At the moment,I was trying to decide how to present the last scene in my latest book. I left it alone, took the day off, and this morning I know why and how to open the scene.
As far as beginning the next book immediately upon finishing one, I must have read advice from someone different in the field. They always suggest you "break", and let your mind clear...start with a fresh slate...so, that's exactly what I do. I may write down notes, or concepts, but I give myself time off:)

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, LA. That was some grueling schedule you put yourself through. I'm not sure I could have written that much in such a short period of time without going bonkers!

Nancy, most editors are very understanding when it comes to family emergencies. And here's a little secret: that's usually taken into account when deadlines are set. Most deadlines have some wiggle room built in. They just don't tell you about it unless a problem arises that prevents you from meeting your deadline.

Kathleen, I think the stories are always in the back of our minds. The trick is allowing them to remain there while you take the time to recharge.

Owldreamer said...

I am an unpublished writer and have finished my fourth romance suspense novel.I started writing my current novel "Evolution of Monsters" three years ago and it is still unfinished.
Why haven't I been unable to finish this one is a long story.Suffice it to say that due to several traumatic incidents in my life I just couldn't face writing for an entire year.The words that had always flowed easily just stopped.Writers block or what ever one chooses to call it,bottom line was that I would just sit and stare at the page as though it was a snake threatening to bite if I touched my keyboard.So whatever I went through,writer's block or an odd form of post traumatic stress syndrome,I was unable to do something I have loved doing since I was six years old and wrote my first story.I am writing again now but the words still don't flow as they used to and there are days that I cannot write a word or face my still unfinished novel that I can hear beckoning to me like a sirens call.

Lois Winston said...

Owldreamer, I sympathize. Whatever trauma you experienced, you're obviously not over it yet. Give yourself time. You might also try writing in a different genre. I used to write very dark, angst-ridden romantic suspense. After 9/11, I also stared at my computer screen for months and months, unable to write. I finally realized it was because there was too much bad stuff going on in the world, and I didn't want to write more of it. That's when I switched to writing humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. Writing funny drew me out of my dark place.

barbara said...

I used to say this myself...writer's block was a frame of mind'. I never, to this day, have a shortage of things to write about.
But, I decided that I had no right to say W'sB is just a state of mind. Like the dr's used to say women did not have heart problems!!! I now think anyone can and should be able to write whenever they can/want to. No one else can set rules like that.

ckcrouch said...

I did something similar to this earlier this afternoon. I returned home from my great niece's award ceremony and did a little editing. I was so sleepy I couldn't focus so I shut it all down and went to the bed and curled up and took a 2 hour nap. I feel much better now. I'm hoping I'll make progress now.

Lois Winston said...

Barbara, sometimes we buy into what others say because we think they know more or know better.

CKCrouch, hope you had a productive nap!

Linda Thomas-Sundstrom said...

HI Lois - I'm typing this because I'm in between deadlines for my books. Otherwise, nada on time for things. LOL. I don't usually get writer's block... I have too any ideas in my head right now. But I've had two weeks off from deadlines, and at first didn't know what to do with myself. Of course, I wrote every other day anyway, since I have to keep things moving... but I got to go shopping! And clean my office! And do some things with family and friends. And once I relaxed, guess what? MORE ideas came, and I had to get back to the keyboard.
True writer, eh?
Thanks for the post.

Lois Winston said...

Linda, sometimes it's hard to turn off the ideas; other times it's hard to turn them on. If the ideas are flowing, as they are for you, that's great. It's when they stop flowing that you need to take a step back and recharge.

KL Grady said...

Great advice, Lois. Everyone needs downtime, even from the things they love. The authors I work with are all fantastically creative and always ready to rock out a new story. But they also give themselves permission to be normal human beings and hang with family, friends, or self for a while. I don't think they'd be as prolific if they didn't make time away from the computer.

Mia Marlowe said...

Everyone needs to refill their creative cup from time to time. However, if I'm just in writing avoidance mode, I find housework sends me scurrying back to my keyboard in record time.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, KL!

Mia, I never have that problem because I'm never in housework mode! ;-)

Elizabeth Jewell Headden said...

Lois, Thanks for the great post! I've been going through a period of writer's block that I just can't seem to get out of. I finally just took a break over the holidays and am taking a class this month that is inspiring me to get back to writing! It's nice to hear from someone else that's it is okay to take a break once in a while! Thanks for the advice!

PS I came over to the blog today because you made the comment on the RWA Elements loop regarding what you were going to discuss today!

Mary Marvella said...

I agree that sometimes we need to take time off. I told a friend she was not allowed to write for a month. She lasted less than a week before she had to write. grin

Marni said...

I've learned to listen to my body's rhythms, which is why I take off every year from the novels between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I still blog but I use this hectic time to make notes, prewrite in my head, etc. It has relieved my stress unbelieveably~

Anonymous said...

I used to work in academia. One professor I knew took two months completely off every year (during the summer). During that time she didn't do anything connected to her field. She was a very intense and productive person, and it kept her love for her discipline fresh.

I think people are different, and a lot of popular writing advice (BIC etc.) ignores that.

For myself, I can't remember a time when I had writer's block (=no ideas, stare at a blank screen, unable to find the words), but if I'm writing a lot over a period of time then everything else goes to hell (house gets messy, to do pile grows like Mt Everest, etc) and I find it harder and harder to get to the computer. For me, the best thing to do then is to take some time off, clean the house, get everything squared away, and then get back to work. Turns out I'm not good with a maintenance routine.

I also can stay away from my writing for _long_ periods of time through avoidance. It's always hard to find the line between avoidance and No, I Really Should Take Care of this Other Problem and it's just going to take a while to do that.

Thanks for the blog post--enjoyed it.

Deborah said...

This topic hits the spot because it's tough to put the pen down with a deadline looming for a first draft. I find that a mini respite - like dropping a writing day for fitness or spa time or a mind-numbing nothing with a great glass of wine helps to loosen the juices. I find ways to make myself excited about getting back to the keyboard so I'll me more willing to stay the course when the butt gets sore!