Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Guest Post: Chris Votey - Writer's Block

Today I would like to welcome Chris Votey, a fellow writer and friend I met through the April AtoZ Challenge this year. He a very lovely chap and today he's talking about the familiar problem of writer's block and its causes. This is a very different take on your average discussion of writer's block, however, Chris knows far more about the psychology of it that I do, for a start :).


Writer's Block by Christopher D. Votey

For me, writing is the spice of life. Putting words on the page is exhilarating. I love building the world and giving life to my characters while putting them in peril as we get closer to the climax of the story just to see how they handle the situation. The only thing greater than that is finishing your story and rather than be a collection of words on paper, it has become a novel. It is a moment I live for.

I only wish it were as easy as talking about it. I am a writing addict; I can't get enough of it. But unlike any other drug, this is one that requires a lot of hard work, a lot of time spent staring at the screen and trying to put words down. Worse is when no words come from you, and your story is now in a pit of doom. Or as we call it in the biz, Writer's Block.

Now most writers from here will tell you how they overcome writer's block and some personal experience about it and be done with it. On my blog posts, we don't just identify what something is; I set upon myself to really understand what something is. I will answer the what, the how, and the why. So sit back and prepare to be educated.

Writer's Block has been around for a very long time, but the phrase itself was introduced into psychoanalytic literature by Edmund Bergler in 1947. It was coined to denote the "drying up of a writer's wellspring of creative imagination"; it gained recognition as a term due to its self-evident nature.

Bergler noted that writer's block may be total or partial, with early manifestations from feelings of insecurity centered on one's creativity, development of style, or distracted by ideas for other works.

Bergler cited the origins of writer's block to oral masochism and superego driven need for punishment. That's right boys and girls; your writer's block is you having a subconscious need to be punished. I'll take my spankings now.

Thankfully, the science of psychology has developed quite a bit since then.

Writer's Block is a complex issue that often takes a complex answer for us to get out of it and back to writing. Now our culture has tried to define what writer's block is, and tries to offer the same kinds of solutions over and over again and tend to be hit or miss. In order to tackle Writer's Block, we need to get to the bottom of what is it really, and finding the right tool to get the job done. Sure, we can use a wrench to hammer in a nail, but there is a much better tool for that.

Another nail.

There is a lot to say on this topic. To cut for space, I will only be covering one aspect of this complex problem. I recommend reading the article in full to get a more comprehensive guide on it. You can find that article here. I will be discussing what I thought was the more important element.

In our understanding of how and why Writer's Block happens, we must first get an understanding of creativity. We start with the model of creativity by J.P. Guilford. He divided it up into two parts, Divergent thinking and Convergent thinking. Divergent is about coming up with ideas, whereas Convergent is about narrowing down ideas. We'll be looking at Divergent thinking in this article.

Divergent thinking can be broken down into three elements: fluency (volume of possibilities); flexibility (variety); originality (uniqueness).

Let me give you a challenge. Name 5 things that are heavy. Anything at all. Seriously, go ahead.

Now I'm sure many of you picked something within sight of where you are sitting. Maybe something you possess or something you see. I'm sure many of you picked something in relation to weight. So there is a "volume of possibilities" (fluency) here. In relation to weight, there are my chest of drawers, bowling ball, TV, truck, Earth.

But is that the only kind of heavy? What about things of density? heavy smoke, heavy soil, heavy features. This is flexibility; we begin to expand the possibilities.

Let us take this a step farther. Championship class (heavy weight), something to excess (heavy drinker), grief (heavy heart). We are entering territory that most people may not have taken this. The examples above may have many similar answers, only a few get to this level. Not because their smarter, but because they really think outside the box. Most people will stay in the first level, and that is perfectly fine, or even get into the second level. This is the level of original answers.

Don't worry if you didn't get beyond the first level, this is an exercise for a group activity, not an individual one. Having mastery of the first level is an important skill to have. Now I say that, because when it comes to Writer's Block, we need to look at it as a problem of where are we lacking in our thinking. I look at the elements of Divergent thinking as 3 levels, and we must address each level in order.

Many people try to go for level 3, originality. However, you cannot have originality without flexibility, and you cannot have flexibility without fluency. Now we have level 1, getting a volume of ideas, and then trying to figure out which one is original; skipping flexibility all together. In doing so, you get sucked into the abyss that is Writer's Block.

So how do we become more flexible thinkers? For this, to describe the example above, we use the word Fixation. There are two basic types of fixation: mental set and functional fixedness.

Mental set is easier to spot and work around. Say you are given 10 math problems. The first 9 are solved using the same method. The last one, which is easier than the others, requires a different approach. Many people get stuck. Why? They got into the rhythm of what they were doing. Once they got to the 10th problem, they continued the rhythm. But the rhythm doesn't work.

This example is how writers get stuck. We are doing an action sequence with explosions and gun fire and martial arts... and now we have to write a romance scene. It's hard to go from one to the other, because you have to change gears, and you must approach it a different way.

Both examples demonstrate what is called mechanized thought. You are set in a single thought pattern and it is hard to break out of. You set yourself into a mindset and to break out of it, you realize that your mind has become inflexible. You are fixated on a single approach. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps, instead of changing gears, you move onto the next action sequence. Most likely this is not a permanent problem and when you come back to it a different day, you can write the part that gave you trouble.

Just because the reader starts at the beginning and reads to the end, doesn't mean that's the order it must be written.

As far as Function Fixedness and Convergent thinking, I refer you to the article, as it has a great way of explaining it.

It should be stated that this can also be an emotional response. Stress and pressure can definitely lead to Writer's Block. Self-esteem plays a big role into that, whether of ourselves or our work. We are always our toughest critic, and it can be hard to find people to support us. The best advice I offer you is really get yourself out there in the Writer's Community. There are a lot of great people out there wanting to help.

In the end, your Writer's Block is for you to determine how to get out of it. Try to understand the problem, before fixing the problem. Definitely look more into the article, but don't be afraid of trying something new.

Before I depart, I will tell you my techniques. My problem is not always a lack of flexibility or making assumptions, sometimes the words are not there:
  1. Work on something else. I've got more than enough to do. If my writing is not there, work on my website, work on research, work on marketing, do some proofreading, write articles.
  2. Look at my wall. I have a wall dedicated to Writer's Block, starting with the Writer's Cheat Sheet. Be sure to give a shout out to @peter_halasz It is an awesome resource. Every time I look at this, I generate ideas for my story.
  3. Reread my story. By reading it, I can think up new ideas to insert or remember where I was going with my story.
  4. Work on Character/Plot Development. Look at the why I'm doing things and how I'm going to get to the end goal. Perhaps do some background work on how people or things got to where they are now.
  5. Rewrite my story. In retyping it, I find ways to expand upon it that rereading doesn't enable me. Often times I find ways to expand it or make it more concise. Sometimes as I develop the story, something that happened later in the story requires the beginning to be changed.
  6. Work on a different part of the story. I'm stuck here right now, but I know what another part of the story looks like. Perhaps by completing A and B, then going to E and F, I can figure out what C looks like. Be a nonlinear writer.
  7. Take a walk/Take a shower. Whether walking outside or taking a shower, it is great to be naked. :D. I generate so many ideas in the shower or taking a walk and have resolved so many issues that way. Sometimes you just need to get away from it.
  8. Tell someone else. Yeah… make it someone else's problem. They say the best way to learn is to teach. So by telling someone else your story (tell, not have them read it), it can help generate ideas, especially when they ask you questions.

Christopher D. Votey was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1980, first son of Steve Votey and Jolene Knight (née Nichols). He is a college graduate in Computer Science at Collins College in Tempe, Arizona and has worked in the computer field for 10 years. After a debilitating work injury, Chris decided to take up writing, producing 2 books.

Chris currently lives in Mesa, Arizona awaiting Social Security disability and working to recover from his condition of Post Concussion Syndrome to return back to a normal life.

Website: http://home.chrisvotey.com/
Blog: http://writing.chrisvotey.com
Twitter: @authorvotey
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChristopherDVotey
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+ChrisVotey
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7733607.Christopher_D_Votey

Title: Terran Psycosis:
Links: Amazon US Amazon UK
A man who thinks he is an alien finds himself in a mental institution. He has been visited by many doctors, but none of them were able to help him. The hospital has brought in a specialist to try to get some answers. This specialist is the top of his field and he may be able to unlock the secrets of the patient and be able to answer: Is he an alien, or simply a man seeking attention.


  1. ! don't have a wall of inspiration - I feel I should have a wall now :) I really identify with the 'mechnical thinking' problem - more for me in between books than in between scenes - I think as well as being stuck back in the previous piece and not wanting to let it, it's characters, or it's pace go, it's also to do with the frantic flailing of my brain as I try to focus down on the next thing I want to do.

    1. Definitely check out that Writer's Cheat Sheet. It is so wonderful and when I get stuck, it is something that helps me generate new ideas.

  2. Laziness does NOT help. Get out. Get some exercise (as you say) and you'll soon see more than one benefit - but I advise when you go out, you remain clothed :)

    1. I agree, exercise and clothing... all good things.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to post an article. I hope people find great value out of it and I welcome everyone to visit my blog to find other great articles like this.

  4. I'd never thought too much about the actual origins of writer's block. This was very informative. Thank you!

  5. All great techniques to end writer's block. I've tried them all and they all work. I also listen to music to help me get in the frame of mind for a specific scene/event.

    P.S. I nominated you for the Liebster Award, Natasha. :) If you want to accept it, you can find more info here: http://writewithfey.blogspot.com/2014/05/liebster-award.html

    Happy Memorial Day! :D

    1. Music is a good choice for frame of mind. When I worked on my novel "Karma's Repentance" there was an action sequence through a complex and I used Immediate - Electric Romeo for inspiration


  6. What a great in-depth article. Far better than the blah-blah-blah-get-over-it type of ones I'm used to seeing. Thanks for sharing.


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