The power of writer’s block – Cynthia Ellingsen

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By Cynthia Ellingsen

Some say writer’s block is a myth. Others claim it’s an excuse. Still others think it’s real. I’d never given it much thought… until it happened to me.

I’d just finished my second novel, Marriage Matters, about three generations of women who plan to share a wedding. The book was so much fun to write. When I was finished, I had a hard time letting it go.

The thought of stepping into a new world with new characters and new situations seemed so daunting. Plus, I knew I had to write something “appropriate” for my genre but the typical plotlines seemed played out. My writer’s group told me not to panic, that I had time.

So, I didn’t panic. I read a lot. Watched movies. Reminded myself I had time. But then, weeks turned into months and months into a year. It was official: I had writer’s block.

Imagine my terror when my writer’s group’s annual retreat rolled around. Every year, we spend five days away from real life to hide out in a farm house in the country and write. A painful process, when you have nothing to say.

That first day, I sat staring at the keyboard. Finally, I decided to just do something, anything creative. I put together a slide show with images that spoke to me. At the time, I was obsessed with shipwrecks and buried treasure.

I put those images together and watched them on a loop while playing Midnight by Coldplay. The song and the photos captured a mood and suddenly, I started to write. Random stuff, about a lighthouse and a ship going down. A lost treasure.

For the first time in ages, I was getting somewhere but I knew I couldn’t use it for anything. I mean, I couldn’t base a contemporary women’s fiction story around a shipwreck.

Could I?

Yep. Those early writings became the backbone of The Lighthouse Keeper: the story of a woman who buys a lighthouse at government auction and while remodeling it, confronts a century-old scandal about her great-grandfather, a ship captain accused of stealing lost silver.

In the future, I plan to listen to writer’s block. The Lighthouse Keeper was the story I was longing to write but hesitated, because it was unconventional. In the end, it was the exact story I was meant to tell.

Cynthia Ellingsen is the author of three novels, The Lighthouse Keeper, Marriage Matters, and The Whole Package.

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