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     The concept of writer’s block has always interested me. My father, in his infinite wisdom, once told me: “You can’t be a full-time writer. You’ll get writer’s block and starve.” I stopped listening to his negative advice years ago, but a smidgen of doubt still persists. So what exactly is writer’s block? The dictionary defines it as: “A problem that writers have when they cannot start or continue with a piece of writing because they have no more ideas.”

     While I might believe Hollywood filmmakers have run out of ideas, I can’t imagine a serious writers suffering from this mysterious affliction for long. The human imagination is limitless. If it weren’t, we’d still be living in caves. So how could a writer have run out of ideas? Maybe they’ve stopped listening to their imagination. There could be a million reasons for this, but I envision two basic problems. One: The writer has lost confidence in his or her abilities. Two: The writer’s mind is so consumed by some personal problem that his or her creativity is stymied. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

     How does one build confidence? By believing in oneself. By setting and achieving goals. Consistently achieving small daily goals does build confidence. They don’t even have to be about writing. A simple exercise program is great for building self-esteem, a sense of daily accomplishment. When goals are achieved consistently, this feeling of well-being evolves into a relaxed, I can do anything, attitude. And that kind of relaxed attitude leads to a creative imagination. Confidence also leads to a never-say-die mentality. Confident writers find ways around obstacles, because they believe they can do it. Their relaxed, confident, mindset allows them to overcome temporary lapses in creativity. They don’t pout, for long, over rejection or unjust criticism. They don’t lose their confidence over bad reviews. Confident writers learn from constructive critiques and get on with their goals. So, if you’ve lost confidence in your writing, set some small daily goals, any goals. Work toward them without fail. Reward yourself by feeling good about your achievement. Let those good feeling translate into creative writing.

     Here’s a personal note on not letting rejection destroy confidence. I don’t worry about things beyond my control. I can’t control the minds of my readers—yet. So, until I can, I don’t worry about what others think of my books. I do my best to learn from my mistakes and write entertaining books. That’s all I can do. At the very least, I keep myself busy and entertained.

     Dealing with the stress of personal problems could be another reason for a lackluster imagination. Some people don’t perform well under pressure, others excel. I’d guess that most writers are of the former temperament. They prefer a relaxed, stress-free atmosphere where their imagination can reign supreme. Still, personal problems pursue us even in our dreams. If a writer doesn’t have the confidence to set aside these troubles for a time, her or his writing suffers.

     The obvious method of eliminating worrisome problems is to not have them in the first place. And we’re often our own worst enemies. Everyone’s guilty of shooting themselves in the foot through their own behavior. We procrastinate. We ignore smaller problems until their large enough to be worrisome. We take on more tasks than we can realistically accomplish. We terrify ourselves regarding something that’s inconsequential. The list of self-defeating behaviors is endless. How do we reduce this type of behavior? By setting realistic goals, prioritizing, and sacrificing. One must decide what she or he wants the most, and if it’s a realistic desire. If it is, then that goal gets top priority. Lesser goals take a backseat, to be handled as time permits. That’s where the sacrifice comes in. There might be a great movie on TV, but is that chapter finished? Watching that movie will only lead to feelings of guilt for not achieving goals. Guilt is another of those self-defeating emotions to avoid. Don’t be your own worst enemy.

     What about those other countless problems that seem to assail us on a daily basis? The kids are sick—again. The grocery shopping needs done. The car needs repair …. First: One must have patience and keep their composure. Know the work will get done. Second: Prioritize and establish a plan of action. Don’t procrastinate. Deal with the most important things first, and don’t allow them to become a major problem. Once that plan is accomplished, one should feel rewarded for doing it. Third: One can’t waste energy worrying about things beyond their control. Gas and food prices are always too high. The North Koreans may or may not nuke us. Stuff happens. No amount of worrying will change that. Obviously, no life is worry free. Ambiguity and hardship are what make life’s accomplishments so rewarding. But one must have confidence in themselves and believe their goals are worthwhile to be a success.

     Finally, one must have a comfortable working environment to be creative. If one isn’t relaxed, comfortable, then their writing ideas will continue to be elusive. Putting oneself in a positive, relaxed mindset can differ from one person to the next. I plan my day the night before, set my daily goals, and prioritize them. I put a certain time aside to handle routine tasks, knowing something will always come up that needs done. I also set aside time to walk the dogs, do daily exercises, make the family dinner, and socialize. The rest of my time is devoted to writing and reading, often late into the night. My sacrifice? Not a whole lot. I’m doing what I love.

     How do I keep the ideas flowing daily? Before sitting down to write, I finish any task that might provide a distraction. I don’t like to feel pressed for time to do something else while writing. Next, I organize my thoughts about where the next part of my story is going. I’ll normally reread the prior day’s work. This helps me remember exactly what’s going on, find missing plot points, and often generates new ideas. While writing, I’m always thinking ahead in the story, asking if my current writing is consistent with the plot. At the same time, I keep an open mind for new twists and possibilities. I always have a clear idea of where the story is going when I finish for the day. That gives my mind something to work on while I’m not writing, and it makes the next day an easy start.

     Have I ever been stumped on what to write next? Sure. For long? No. All my stories are well thought out before I ever begin. I even dream about them. The mind is always at work, twenty-four hours a day. But without direction, it will wander endlessly about unimportant things. One must give their mind direction, a task to work on, even while sleeping. If one tells oneself: “I want a new science-fiction idea about teleportation,” or simply, “Give me a new romance idea,” their mind will begin the search. A good time to make this demand is in the relaxed state just before sleeping. Then the mind can work on it while unoccupied by other interruptions. The ideas may not pop up for a day or two, but they will come.  

     Reading about a similar subject of interest is another good method for generating new ideas. I don’t mean copying another writer’s work, but reading similar novels as yours can inspire new avenues of thought for your own ideas. Besides, reading a book, good or bad, always inspires one to write.

     Another tool that inspires ideas is research. This is particularly helpful for science or historical fiction. Research a topic that’s interesting, and all the “what if” questions and ideas will flow from an imaginative mind. Plus, it’s always fun to learn something new.

     One cure when stumbling for ideas with one story is starting another. Begin working on a new idea until things get moving again in the old story. The two stories can feed off each other—anything to keep the imaginative juices flowing.

     These are just a few ideas to inspire creativity. Obviously, everyone has their own methods and preferences. But two things are a must. A writer must have confidence and persistence. Like the saying goes: “If you think you’re beaten, you already are.”