Medicine for Writer’s Block

IMG_0946When you reach a boring spot in your story and lose interest, it’s writer’s block.  Act fast or you’re trapped, maybe for years.

Everything is on the line, so go ahead, let the dogs out.

Opinionated propaganda stories don’t work for readers, but a little of that sort of thing saves blocked writers. And you can always go back later and clean up your ugly mess.

Writer’s block is simply your subconscious mind feeling that she has no dog in the fight. Nothing to win or lose.

To cure it, you let the dogs out.

I write fiction to show my heart, soul, and ideas to my great grand kids – not to whine about gun control, tax code or space debris. And yeah, I want to write a page turner not an opinion piece.

But, like all writers, I have strong opinions.

If you had a friend who understood you, what would you talk about?

For me, it would be psychology, religion, scientific enigmas, writing songs, being funny. And we would come around to discussing my life of self-inflicted suffering…

I’m a doctor.  There’s a special hell for us – life sacrifices, the physical and emotional abuse of training and the disappointment of finally, in your 30’s, landing your first job and discovering a new brand of misery: Being despised by people you care about and want to help. Being legally held to perfection and to a computer’s efficiency.  Living society’s guilt trip: “If you had a conscience you wouldn’t make money by taking advantage of people’s suffering, you’d work for free.”

President Obama implied that we cut off healthy legs and tonsils for an extra buck. Nobody blinked.

For me, I chose this profession to become a medical missionary. The childhood dream carried me along for so many years. But reality struck in my last year of college when I realized that even missionary doctors have to somehow be paid for their work, or they can’t continue. And they have to be hated for being paid. It’s the law.

My dream died, but it was too late to turn back. I’d spent my whole life (since 8th grade) studying like a madman. Few on earth have a clue what that’s like for a person without a nearly photographic memory.

I specialized in pathology. And I get paid.

How do you feel about your paycheck? I feel guilty. Thankful, too.

And maybe “there’s a reason for everything” because there’s an upside to all this nonsense.

As a writer, every strong feeling or opinion is the cure for writer’s block.

You have your own unique suffering. Mine is a piece of cake compared to yours, but that’s irrelevant. Mine is mine. I care about it.

And I use it when I’m in trouble.

When you’re blocked, use yours. Your subconscious mind would like to get things out, I’m sure. Turn the air blue!

Last week, two of my characters were stuck in a concrete conversation on a plane from Portland to Honolulu. I lost interest and felt the familiar early signs of writer’s block.

Some how-to books on writing say that every chapter should have a hook, a climax and all that.

Why not?

From that perspective the chapter was hollow…

1. Max didn’t want anything desperately.

2. There was no organic conflict or fear.

3. There was no interesting idea or theme coming through.

4. There was no ticking-clock phenomenon.

5. There was no hook at the beginning or cliffhanger at the end.

I worked up a few ideas for problems 1 and 2, but nothing happened.

Then I hit problem 3 (no interesting idea or theme)…

I listed some things. Here’s that list, verbatim:

“The nature of reality based on quantum physics and consciousness.  The existence of a creator.  Genetics.  The Ten Commandments.  Forgiveness.  Sociopaths.  Standing up for yourself.  (That would be ironic.)  That’s perfect!”

When I thought about standing up myself, I wanted to write.


All my life I’ve failed to do it. I’ve trashed decades under the spell of a lie that says taking abuse makes you a better person.

Example: I never saw a penny of my sizable inheritance because I wouldn’t fight to get it.

Most of my life I was a fundamentalist: Jesus didn’t say a word when they came after him, why should I?

The point isn’t about my stupidity or my, no doubt, idiotic distortion of Christian fundamentalism.

It’s simply that I wanted very much to have my characters discuss false martyrdom and the virtue of standing up for your own interests. Maybe hearing it would help some reader someday!

I started writing furiously.

New ideas came. The villain would sit next to Johanna (my precious protagonist). Since Johanna hadn’t seen the villain yet, she wouldn’t know who she was talking to. They would talk about “sticking up for yourself.”  This would give depth to the final scenes where the two clash.

I wrote all that day without noticing a minute’s work. All fun!

Oddly, I was so excited about Johanna talking freely, heart-to-heart, with the villain that I forgot to bring up false martyrdom and self-preservation. Later I came back and tucked in a tiny little bit of it gently. That may have been the opposite of what I should have done, but hey, call it a “theme” and it’s supposed to be OK.

Obviously there’s good reason to avoid “message fiction.” Preachy stories, especially political ones, don’t carry readers off into magical worlds.

But when you’re blocked, you have to break the rules or the rules will break you.

Never be silent. The rest of us need to hear your voice telling us what you’ve seen and felt. I’d rather you blatantly preached to me than sat staring at your computer wondering why your story died.

M. Talmage Moorehead

By the way, I recently wrote an ebook for fiction writers. (It’s free: here.) The MailChimp software requires a real email address, but you can fake your name, then “unsubscribe” as soon as you get the download. That way I’ll never see your email address. At least I don’t think I will.

Anyway, if you don’t “unsubscribe,” don’t worry about privacy. I won’t share or sell your email address. It’s been months since I started this mailing list thing (as of January 2015), and I still haven’t written a single email to the list, so no worries about spam. After all, what would I say at this point? “Thanks for your eternal patience. I’m re-writing Johanna as a 5 year-old this time. Should be done in twenty years. Mahalo.” Haha. I am truly slow.

4 thoughts on “Medicine for Writer’s Block

  1. Genuine Poetry

    “Never be silent. The rest of us need to hear your voice telling us what you’ve seen and felt.” Good advice!

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