laryngitis of the writing variety

I was talking with my writer friend Kathleen yesterday about things that can derail one’s writing. There are small, insignificant distractions like mouths to feed and children to shepherd. No big deal.

Then there are uncooperative characters, half-filled screens, and frozen fingers. They usually occur during large blocks of time you’ve designated for writing, days before looming deadlines, in the middle of important scenes, or any other time you think you know what’s going on with your story. They’re like the mutant version of writer’s block because you know where you’re going. You have a direction. And then your characters become toddlers in the middle of the store on the last errand of the day: thrashing, protesting, planking, deadweights.

Not that we have any experience with this or anything.

If you’re not a writer, you’re probably going to look at me like I’m waving my hand over a crystal ball, trying to examine your aura or something, but fellow writers will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Emma Thompson as Prof. Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban

Sometimes when your characters are staring you down, challenging you to a duel of sorts, it may be indicative of a more serious problem. You may be suffering from laryngitis of the writer variety, the kind that has nothing to do with the vocal cords (That condition might actually be welcome to a writer, as a matter of fact) and everything to do with the invisible force that propels words from a writer’s brain or muse, if I want to sound even creepier to my non-writer friends, through his or her fingertips.

I’m here to tell you that when a writer loses touch with his or her voice, it’s not permanent. And it’s not the end of the world.

Laryngitis happens to the best of writers and affects fiction and nonfiction writers alike. Everyone copes with it differently. Sometimes a small break is all that’s needed (if you do this, make sure you set a firm date for when you’re going to come back to your project). A change in scenery, particularly people-watching, can serve as a distraction and get those subconscious wheels back in motion. Or some quality brainstorming, talking to other writers or friends can release the floodgate.

But the number one thing that helps me in this situation, whether I’m writing press releases or working on a manuscript, is reading. I pack a book or two in my writing bag at all times or take a break while working to read a few good quality journalists when I need an intervention — not to steal ideas or imitate them, but to simply be reminded of what complete, well-constructed sentences look like in succession on the page.

Once my muse has had a little exercise, usually my voice whirrs back to life and my characters begin cooperating again. And then we have a little moment and all is right in the world.

How do you deal with laryngitis/writer’s block?

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  • I’ve found the reading does the trick for me as well. I don’t know if it has to be an entirely different genre than what I’m working on, but that seems to produce the best results.

  • The biggest thing for me to get past my block as a writer is to look at it like a reader and ask myself what I want to read. What would please me as a reader at that moment: a plot twist? A confrontation? A fight scene? Big emotion?

    If I get stuck it’s because I’m bored with the story. And if I as the writer am bored, how could I expect anything different from my readers? When I approach it from my reader POV the disconnect becomes apparent and I can fix it.

    • Exactly! I love the big ah-HA moments when issues like that are resolved and scenes go from just okay to fantastic.

  • Hi Laurie!

    Ooh, the dreaded writer’s block. I get this a lot, especially when I’m a little stressed. Three ways I cope are as follows… 1. I open up a new document and start scribbling down whatever comes to my head, yeah, it can be funny. 2. I listen to music. 3. I clean. 🙂 And when I’m just not sure where to take the story, I get out a piece of paper and write 1-10. Then I list possible plot directions and go with the one that seems the least expected.