Writer’s Block – Nikola Scott

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By Nikola Scott

Before I started writing, I was rather in awe of this thing called Writer’s Block. I used to imagine it as a sort of anti-creative avalanche that would descend without warning, leaving you staring at a massive wall of blackness between you and your imagination. Obviously, I’ve come to realise that writer’s block comes in all shapes and sizes – and that none of those are nearly as thrillingly dramatic as that avalanche.♥

To me, Writer’s Block is more like a swamp. A sticky, frustrating mental syrup that spreads lazily as far as the eye can see, and the more you try to push back, chasing tired and elusive thoughts that lead nowhere at all, the more it oozes its terrible goo. Writer’s Block is sitting at your desk, skin crawling with frustration, trying not to watch the clock ticking away towards your deadline. It’s lying awake at night staring at the ceiling and trying to breathe through the panic because what if this was how it was going to be forever? What if there came a point when a writer would just be empty of all good things? What if every story had already been told and all you were going to do from now on was to add yet more tired drivel to the morass of mediocrity?

I’m exceptionally good at imagining the worst, which is a nice reaffirmation of my choice of profession but not necessarily a helpful trait when it comes to talking myself back from the edge of The Swamp. Consequently, I’ve had plenty of opportunity over the years to figure out what can help if not to banish Writer’s Block, then at least alleviate its midnight moments of panic.

Move. Every now and again I see a scientific article floating around linking movement with creativity and every time I nod along as I read it, because my number one strategy when my mind get paralysed, is to get up and move. Doesn’t matter where, as long as it’s linear because linearity, to me at least, is a very effective antidote to the directionless ooze of The Swamp. I have an ancient cross trainer in the basement and my family knows to stay well clear when they hear its dulcet squeak floating up the stairs, together with my breathless voice barking random ideas into my phone. Leaving the house is good, too. There’s an old cemetery near where I live, which always provides me with inspiration, or else I just walk up and down the streets, mumbling into my phone and buying pastries from every bakery I pass.

Write longhand. Not your whole story, just notes. It doesn’t have to be structured, it doesn’t have to yield a real result, it doesn’t even have to make sense. In fact, half the notes in my notebooks I will never look at again because their only purpose was at some point to steer me through the swamp and to a place where I can think more clearly. Go back to the last place before you got stuck and start asking questions. Write down answers, then ask why. And again. Write lists of anything and everything (including, perhaps, why you got into this profession in the first place). It also helps to do lots of angry arrows pointing from one idea to the next, and it’s even nicer if you do them in different colours.

Reach out to your tribe. My usual impulse is to hide from the world, convinced that no one on this good earth will truly get how awful it is to be stuck as a writer. But every other writer has their own Swamp story to tell, and most other, ‘normal’ people do as well. So after an unproductive day of grinding my teeth in silence, I will rally round a few sympathetic souls, occasionally to talk through plot stuff, but more often simply to tell someone and lighten the load, gather a few stories of shared misery – and then move on.

Born and raised in Germany, Nikola Scott worked as a crime and women’s fiction fiction editor in New York and London for over ten years before deciding to take the leap into becoming a full-time writer herself. She now lives in Frankfurt with her husband and two sons. My Mother’s Shadow is her debut novel.


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