Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer's Block: Battling the Bloat

Sometimes it creeps in slowly, while other times it hits with the force of an Indiana thunderstorm. Symptoms include an array of contradictions: sweating/cold chills;  racing pulse/depression;  panic/numbness;  nausea/gorging (particularly on chocolate). No one is immune and, if you haven’t experienced it already, you can be assured that it lurks somewhere in your future.

Writer’s block. Possibly the two most dreaded words in a writer’s vocabulary. They rank right up there with the terms “rejection”, “head-hopping”, and “telling” as far as things to fear and avoid. defines writer’s block as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work”.

As I’ve studied this malady, I’ve pinpointed three distinct types/causes, each one debilitating, but not fatal. So, over the next three months, let’s take a look at what I like to call Writer’s Bloat, Writer’s Blight, and Writer’s Block. Today let’s start with Writer’s Bloat.

Writer’s Bloat often comes in the plotting or beginning stages of a new work, but can also hit when you start a new scene or change the direction of your WIP. You have so many ideas and thoughts running around in your head as you make decisions about what to cut, what to expand, who and what to develop. It is during this pre-writing work that your head is puffed up with random, sometimes unconnected ideas. defines bloat as, “swollen, inflated” and “an excess”. This could almost be described as the antithesis of Writer’s Block because you have too many ideas. What you need at this point is focus. Here are some ideas to get you going:

1. Pray. Ask God to focus your thoughts, clear you mind, and organize your ideas. Ask Him to show you where to begin, to guide you to areas that need more development, and to show you if the lack of peace is His nudging that something (or someone) else needs your attention more than your WIP. Psalm 29:11 says, “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.” Ask Him for His peace.

2. Get organized. Make a list of what needs done first. Brainstorm. Use a mind-mapping technique by searching the web and choosing the method of organizing your thoughts that appeals to you. Use the Snowflake method of pre-writing formulated by Randy Ingermanson (

3. Get a move on—literally. Just the act of engaging your body will help to focus and engage your mind. Go for a walk—outside, if possible. I suggest that if your mind is racing with possibilities, walk quickly. If your mind swirls with ideas, take a more leisurely stroll. Let your mind wander and make the connections while you burn excess energy. Too yucky outside? Then jog in place, jump rope, play a lively game on the Wii, do aerobics, or Pilates.

4. Take your mind on a vacation. Sometimes just the act of staring at a blank computer screen freezes the creative juices dead in their tracks. Get out from behind the desk, leave the laptop behind, and engage in an activity that will keep your hands and body busy, but your mind free to process and make the connections you need. Clean the kitchen, organize a closet, wash windows. The act of completing or organizing something has a positive psychological effect on your whole being. De-clutter your surroundings and your mind will likely follow suit.

5. Exercise your brain. Brain Gym, International ( uses intentional body movement to aid in creativity, self-expression, and optimal learning. Let me share two of the twenty-six movements that target focus.

A. The Footflex. This movement helps with communication and concentration. It literally relaxes the muscles that keep you from moving forward. Sit in a chair. Put your right ankle on your left knee. Put one hand behind your knee and the other hand behind your ankle. Point your toes, then flex, stretching your calf and foot muscles. Switch legs and repeat.

B. Belly Breathing. This movement focuses attention and releases energy for use while it increases the supply of oxygen to your brain. Put your hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath, filling your lungs as full as you can. Release your breath in little puffs, kind of like Lamaze breathing. Do this several times.

6. Drink. No, shame on you—we’re not that desperate yet. Drink water. This is also a Brain Gym movement, but one touted by many others as well. Your brain and central nervous system cannot conduct the chemical and electrical processes needed for thought without hydration. When you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Continually sipping room-temperature water keeps your brain functioning at optimal levels.

Deuteronomy 20:9-11 says, “When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.” Writing can be a battle and the beginning stages are like attacking a city. You don’t go into it blindly; you prepare. The five steps above are your peace offerings to your story and its characters. When you do the pre-planning, the Bloat becomes manageable and the story throws its gates wide open, the characters willing to come under your leadership and work for you rather than against you.

What do you do in the beginning stages to focus your thoughts and work your plan?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus


  1. I pray. I also take breaks after about an hour of writing. I switch laundry, feed the dog, water the tomatoes, etc. That way, I'm stopping where I want to keep going later and that helps keep the block at bay.

    I also keep a list of ideas in a file on my computer so that I always have plenty.

    Walking helps, any kind of physical activity.

    I listen to music with headphones on. I get completely lost inside my head that way. I need to tune out the world. Usually it's music without words. My favorite is yo yo ma on pandora (cello music).

    But I reallllllly like hopping on my motorcycle and flying down the road. It's the best inspiration yet!

  2. Good post, Nikki! Such good advice. Thanks.

  3. Lots of good ideas in your post! I might take some to work at the factory.

    I blush to admit ... I get a lot of good ideas in the shower.

    I also like to take walks but don't have as much time for that as I once did.

    Like Karla, I like instrumental music, too, especially that might pertain to the time period I'm writing about.

  4. Thanks for you input, ladies. Ann, I also find water helps me think. It can be in the shower--but also if I ever get a chance to sit by a lake or the ocean. I even process better while watering the flowers.

  5. Good ideas. I just use the time to check email, facebook and check in with you guys here.