Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Battling The Block

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor)

“If you’re feeling stuck, don’t stop. Write anything.”—Mark David Gerson

I never thought Writer’s Block would consume me. It’s not that I believe I’m above it, nor do I doubt it exists, I’ve just always had the opposite problem: too much to say and not enough time to say it. So to be beaten by The Block….?

It’s weird.


And I will confess it’s downright depressing, and that is part of the irony; writing is my sunshine and solace, so to not be writing depresses me profoundly. And the more depressed I become, the less I can force myself back into the groove, a vicious circle that feeds itself while starving me.

Yet I am starting to pull out of it bit by bit, and in doing so am analyzing it, extracting the problems from the solutions so that I know what to do when The Block bites again.

Here’s what I know has derailed me:

My Novel is Finished

The final line edits are finished, the hard work is done, and I’m now kicking it out to agents in batches of 10 queries a go to see if it will sprout wings and fly. This project was an emotional one; it drilled a lot out of me as both a writer and a social worker and while the result may well be the finest piece of fiction I’ve written thus far, it has nonetheless drained me. I’m spent and also grieving a little—I invested a lot in the lives of these characters and they grew incredibly close to me. I miss them now and it’s difficult to write about somebody new.

Solution: I’ve written a short story featuring my hero and his antagonist, setting aside concern that the piece doesn’t really have high stakes or goals. ’Cause who cares? It’s a story about characters I love and I’ll likely be the only one who reads it—so what does quality matter? My pen is on the page and words are flowing. That’s the point. 

Emotional Turmoil Has Me Pre-Occupied

Life happens. Tragedies occur. Upsetting events rock everyone’s world from time-to-time. Without sharing graphic details, I’ll offer an example that’s occurring for me: I am a counselor in a very small town that’s been hit with rapid succession traumas. A triple murder, a separate homicide, a rape, and armed robberies have all happened within the span of six months. I’m also a parent who is raising two daughters in a clearly troubled environment. These perils and challenges have my imagination so caught up in potential conflicts and catastrophes that it just can’t conjure stories.

Solution: Read. Read comedies. Romances. Read wisdom lit or even adventures. Although…I would be remiss as a counselor if I did not toss in a caveat: If you have had recent exposure to trauma, avoid true crime, horror, or graphic grit-lit for now, even if they are your genre of choice. When stressed, the human brain has difficulty differentiating between fact and fiction, and it struggles to compartmentalize when all it is exposed to is trauma after trauma. So be kind to yourself. Fill your mind with images that are the antithesis of the real-life ugliness you are enduring. The balance will be something you’re grateful for, and if you require a real-life example look no further than me. On top of all I described, last weekend our community was dealt another murder—this time a 14yr old girl. So whatever possessed me to pull a true-crime book from my to-be-read pile utterly mystifies me. Clearly, a Guiness World Record’s worth of nightmares must be on some secret bucket list I don’t remember writing. Sigh.

Alternate Solution To Too Much Upheaval: Try writing something funny or light. So what if it’s not your genre? I write high-concept supernatural explorations of character and romance, yet confess that right now that genre feels too heavy and burdensome for me. I will return to it again because that’s where my passion lives, but for now I am playing with a concept for a rom-com I came up with last summer—a total deviation for me, but who cares? It’s got my butt back in the chair and it’s making me smile, and that’s all that matters. 

Maybe You Don’t Even Know Why You Have The Block

And that’s okay. We don’t always have a grasp on why we do the things we do—or why we can’t do the things we do.

Solution: Try journaling. Journaling not only gets your pen moving on the page, it also fosters insight and is an emotional purge. And don’t worry if you don’t know what to write or if it feels awkward to “talk to yourself” in diary form. Just start out stream of consciousness—jot down what you had for dinner, how it tasted, whether the sky held rain, snow, or sun, and see where your head, heart, and pen go. You might surprise yourself with how much you really do have to say and voila! You’re writing.

Alternately (And this one’s a therapy trick): Journal a few entries from the point-of-view of your Writer’s Block. What is it trying to tell you? What insight can you allow it to help you build if you lend it a voice? The Block itself may well know why it exists, and exploring its voice might help you to also know.

Writing is hard. And wonderful. And uplifting and confounding and full of lots of days when we scratch our heads and say “I shoulda been a plumber.” But…we’re all on this leaky ship together, and I for one am grateful for forums like this to discuss the pinnacles and pitfalls of this craft with people like YOU.

Cheers, all!

Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

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About Divinity & The Python

Divinity - Where deception and desire both hide in the dark...

The Cards Forecast Work

Shaynie Gavin is so much more than the sexy siren who mixes cocktails at The Python. A carpenter with a business plan, Shaynie is trying to amass enough funds to launch her own dream - Divinity, a place where up-cycled furniture from the past is sold alongside Tarot readings forecasting the future - and all in a setting that could not be more perfect: a former funeral parlor. Shaynie's belief that Divinity is attuned with the passions, the loves, and even the lies of its departed souls, allow her to feel satisfied when the cards she draws there reveal Wands, the Tarot's symbol for work. And yet...Shaynie would be so grateful if the Tarot would also, just once, illuminate a Hellnight from her past. A lost evening whose scars still slither over her skin, Hellnight haunts Shaynie. Yet when she calls the question of that chilling evening into her deck...

The Cards Forecast Love

...and love appears in the form of pro hockey star Cameron Weste. Weste is haunted by scars and superstitions of his own, and he wants Shaynie's Tarot to answer far deeper questions than she first guesses this sexy Lothario to be capable of. Who knew Weste was this intense? The Tarot, apparently. And yet...

The Cards Forecast The Devil

When Cameron Weste lands in her life, a stalker surfaces too, dropping clues to a connection between Shaynie, Cameron, and her lost, brutal Hellnight. Suddenly every card warns of deception, and nowhere feels safe. Shaynie and Cameron have to fight for their love - and their lives - as The Devil, their stalker, is determined to turn the Death Card for them both.


  1. I'm so sorry you've been living through such a stressful time. Being a counselor, investing so much into other people, must be an emotionally draining job at the best times, never mind when everyone around you is struggling. Please take care of yourself. <3

    1. Thanks Chicory, and not to worry: It's all good. This article was written back in March and I'm happy to say I'm over the blahs, querying my project, and have dusted off an old novel I wrote in '05, retooling it and hanging it up chapter-by-chapter on my own blog.

  2. Oh another social worker! I am so glad you are writing and am astounded that you write and serve your community as you do. I am only writing now that I have semi-retired. You are my hero.

    1. LOL - a hero?! Yowza! Thanks!
      Where did you practice social work?