Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Avoiding the Unmentionable (Writer's Block)

By Ramey Channell

Part of the How They Do It series

Ramey Channell’s inspiration springs from a world where backwoods and backyards are visited by numinous creatures, and gardens are filled with echoes of enchanted song and laughter. An award winning poet and author, her writing has appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review, Alalitcom, Birmingham Arts Journal, Ordinary and Sacred as Blood: Alabama Women Speak (1999), Belles’ Letters 2: Contemporary Stories by Alabama Women (2017), and many other journals and collections. She has received numerous awards including the Barksdale-Maynard Award and the Thomas Brown Award for Poetry. Ramey’s first two novels are Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge (Chalet 2010) and The Witches of Moonlight Ridge (St. Leonard’s Field 2016).

Website | Goodreads |

Take it away Ramey...

So often when I’m giving book talks, conducting workshops, or just chatting with fans and readers, I’m asked about my writing process: the big “How do you do it?” As with all writers, my goal is to leap joyfully into the writing process and keep the flow of creativity as active as possible. No interruptions. No slumps. No self doubt. No ‘unmentionable.’

That ‘unmentionable,’ writer’s block? Never had it. Will not recognize it. If it slinks around like a pest, or a terrifying monster, seeking whom it may devour, I will not let it catch me! So, how do I manage to avoid and outsmart the beast? Here are some methods I have found to be most helpful.

Blindfolding the Judge

The greatest writers of all time had to deal with the same thing you deal with every time you prepare to put words down on an empty page. How to begin? Open yourself to your own spontaneity, allow yourself to free-associate. Discover your own personal method of reaching a state of receptivity, where thoughts produce images and images flow onto the page as descriptive words. Don’t over think or analyze before you write. Keep moving even if what you write sounds silly or inadequate. Tell “the judge” to wait till later. The writer has to write before the judge can edit.


The opposite of writer’s block is freedom. Give your creative self permission to give birth to an unusual, unconventional, quirky character or characters. Give your characters permission and freedom to do quirky, unexpected, and really impressive things. Give yourself permission to write about difficult things, frightening things, illogical things. Give your characters permission and freedom to go off the beaten path, tell secrets, break trusts, and live up to incredible expectations. Mystery is at the heart of creativity.

Affirmations will help you give yourself permission to work with mysteries and do something magical. Tell yourself: “I am in a safe place when I write. I have permission to freely write what I am writing. When I give myself freedom to create, mysteries are solved and something magical happens.”


One of my “secrets” for writing fiction, in fact the true basis for all my writing, is seeing the action unfold in my mind, and writing what I see. Characters appear in my imagination exactly as they would appear on a movie screen, and I simply write down what I see them do, what I hear them say. This works as long as I pay attention to what’s happening on the big screen, write what I see as it happens, then later go back and embellish, fill in, and expound. Trying to control and force the character into a specific preordained direction may cause frustration and difficulties. Remember, those characters have a mind, and a will, of their own. Pay attention to what the character is trying to tell you about himself, and boldly capture all the details. Don’t fence yourself and your character in, don’t back your character into a corner or a dead end. Give them free range, then record details of what they do with their freedom.

Adventure and Exploration

Our creative life retains and requires a sense of adventure. Go for a walk. But always take a little notebook and pencil in your pocket. Sit on a rock, under a tree, or beside a stream.

Daydream. Let your mind wander. But always keep that little notebook and pencil ready. Scribble a note and later develop it into a fresh, new path on the road to unbridled creative flow.

Read a book. See where other writers have gone, what new worlds have been explored, what uncharted territories they have left for you to discover.

Take a nap. Get a good night’s sleep. But keep that little notebook and pencil beside the bed. Never hesitate to flip on a light and write down that burst of inspiration, no matter how brief, no matter how meandering and lengthy. When imagination leads you toward adventure, follow it as far as it takes you.

“I never know when I sit down just what I am going to write. I make no plan. It just comes and I don’t know where it comes from.” — D.H. Lawrence

Don’t let the unmentionable deter you with initial fears of imperfection. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move forward. Give yourself permission and freedom to unleash your creativity first; use the first draft to explore the world of your story. Then you can safely and fearlessly unblindfold “the judge.” Only after the writer has written, then the judge can edit.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.” — Les Brown.

About Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge

Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge is a sweet slice of Southern life from a time and place, in the not-too-distant past, that most people have never dreamed of. Rarely does a book come along that makes you feel good, that makes you wish you had known these characters, that makes you feel as if you had spent some time on Moonlight Ridge and filled up on the warmth, love, and magic that surround this mountain in the South.

The sweet music in this novel is abundant everywhere on Moonlight Ridge. This is a short book with a powerful, uplifting story. The book, its message and its characters will remain with the reader for a very long time.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound |


  1. Thanks so much for this post. Just what many of us need.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Rosi. Fiction University is such a great place for helpful suggestions, advice, and inspiration!

  2. Beautiful advice! I think sometimes we allow just the FEAR of writer's block to manifest itself as writer's block, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your ideas are great ways to kill that fear before it can turn into "the unmentionable".

    1. Thanks for reading, Buffy. I agree; I think of writer's block as nothing but a scare tactic by our own subconscious.

  3. There are times when I do not let my mind wander where it wants while writing a draft. That is where most of my problem lies. Somehow I restrict my imagination. Like you, Ramey, I do not believe in writer's block. On the other hand, I do believe there are obstacles that get in the way of creativity. I just have to define them as they barge in and find away to resolve them. This constraint I put on myself is bothersome though.

  4. Thanks for sharing your comments, Glynis. From my viewpoint and experience, writing is not always easy! Encouragement and support from other writers is so important.

  5. Summation and final thoughts on this subject:
    "Don't let being scared frighten you." - Ramey Channell
    "If you're going to do good work, the work has to scare you." ~ Andre Previn
    "The expert at anything was once a beginner." ~ Helen Hayes