“I’m blocked”

This lament came to me over the weekend from an author I’d met at a conference. There has been plenty discussion on blogs and writer’s boards over the legitimacy of writer’s block -whether it’s a figment of a writer’s imagination, ergo laziness, or a real result of the synapses refusing to play nicely with one another.

I call it vapor lock. According to Wikipedia, vapor lock occurs when the liquid fuel changes state from liquid to gas while still in the fuel delivery system. Yup, that about sums it up for me. Our liquid fuel (ideas) must go from our central computer’s delivery system (brain) to real words on paper. But somewhere along the way, the liquid fuel turns to gas while still locked in the central computer’s delivery system, and those thoughts fail to hit the paper. Vapor lock.

I can’t say I’ve ever experienced vapor lock, but I’m not so big an ass as to think it doesn’t exist. Just because I’ve never seen the wind doesn’t mean I don’t feel its effects. A vapor-locked author is no less real. It’s how an author deals with their vapor lock that separates the Twinkie from the cream – or the salt from the margarita.

Do they gut it out and write through the lock? Do they work on another scene? Do they act the scene out, like in a movie, in order to make the scene more real? Do they write a short story in another genre? Do they play on the freeway, or dance on the bar counter singing “I’m a Little Teacup”?

When I asked the author, she gave  me a strange look. “I drink when I get stuck.”

Yikes, I hope she has a good liver and kidney donor.

So short of doing damage to your innards, how do authors deal with vapor lock? Anyone? Anyone?


13 Responses to “I’m blocked”

  1. Lauren says:

    I’m a writer, not an author. That said, deadlines — rapidly approaching deadlines as in a couple of hours — work wonders for me. Something I have been wrestling with for days, even weeks can find inspiration in those last minutes. Amazing.

  2. I walk. Anywhere where I don’t have to concentrate on anything except where to put my feet and how lovely the trees are – so, not on a crowded street and not in a scary place where my imagination thinks I’m likely to be set upon by an axe-bearing maniac. And so, I walk, and walk, and walk. And lo and behold, I am unstuck.

    Oh, alternatively, I iron. But please don’t tell my famnily that as I tell them I don’t have time for (their) ironing. [Lynn: that is the funniest damn thing I’ve heard in days. Psst…I ironed last night and found it strangely relaxing, and I worked out several scenes in my latest WIP. I will tell no one because I. Hate. To. Iron.]

  3. Scott says:

    Normally, I pull away from the project and work on something else. If that doesn’t work, I go back to the point where the words were flowing freely and start again. More often than not, I went off on a tangent – those darn margarita bottles in the woods leading to the Margarita Shack – and the ‘block’ helped me realize the error of my ways. That and the blinding headache, but I digress. Writer’s block happens, and I just work through it to the best of my abilities.

  4. michael says:

    I soldier on, generally write rubbish, then delete it. Occasionally what I thought was rubbish turns out rather good. A little editing and the vapor dissolves, leaving something worthwhile.

  5. Cassandra says:

    I find that reading helps me out. I think it’s a combination of the taking of a break, the seeing what other people have come up with, and the feeling of ‘I can do this better.’

  6. Julie Rowe says:

    If I’m mentally blocked I do something physical like walk, clean house or fold laundry.

    Usually, however, I’m blocked because I’ve written myself into a corner. The best way to get out is to go back on step (be that a page or a scene or a chapter) and ask myself if there’s a better direction to go. Sometimes I will write that last scene or chapter in a different POV and that will often prove helpful.

    The worst thing to do is nothing.

    Cheers, Julie [Lynn: Julie, I just looked at your link, and all I can say is, “Sistah!” While I don’t write romance, I do write medical fiction. And you’re right; doing nothing is the worst crime of all – punishable by death by licking from the beagle]

  7. Julie Rowe says:

    Lynn, did you know there’s a whole posse of us medical-type writers over at Heartbeat RWA? I know it’s an RWA chapter, but we support anyone who is writing medical fiction. 🙂 [Lynn: shut right up. Really? I’ll have to mosey on over. My two MCs don’t do the Big Mambo, but there is serious lust and groping going on. Does that count?]


    Cheers, Julie

  8. Julie Rowe says:

    According to my husband lust and groping are my favorite things. 🙂

    Cheers, Julie

  9. Bob Truppe says:

    Doing a critique on some other work, a published book, a magazine article or television show helps me. Searching for flaws in others makes the flaws you see in your own effort diminish. When the barrier built by doubt breaks the words flood out.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I used to get terrible writer’s block.

    Then I started making myself write every day, no matter what.

    I’ve had ONE block this YEAR so far, and that was the ‘Okay, I want to write a story for this anthology, but what’ kind, not a real block.

    I write through it.

  11. Gutsy Writer says:

    So that’s what’s happened to our economy. It’s vapor-locked. Actually Mohamed El-Erian, Global Economist, CEO of Pimco said during his lecture this month that the economy is like a blocked toilet, and to me that’s the same as writers’ block. The solution is simple. Take the plunger out of your garage and keep plunging until you get the blockage dislodged.
    My plunger is to talk to others and seek advice. So now I’m talking about my blogging blockage. Usually after burdening my friends with my problems, a solution pops up.

  12. I’m like Cassandra–

    Reading helps me.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever been truely “blocked.” It’s either been laziness (or other priorities) or not having thought long enough to figure a kink out of the story.

    But for motivation it’s reading (the right book) that helps. Not that I think I could do *so much better,* just that I’m energized by seeing someone else succeed.

    Like when a fellow blogger (who doesn’t run a cooking blog) is doing a post on the beautiful dish they just created, and I feel all inspired to cook something from scratch, even if the mushrooms in their picture made me gag.

  13. Terese says:

    Screaming bloody murder helps. Blaming my husband for being in the room REALLY helps. However, if I want to get my brain in gear again and release the hounds… I mean the vapor cloud, I read.

    That works.

    Yeah, definitely. Definitely, reading.[Lynn: last time I tried screaming, The Hubby casually entered the office holding a fly swatter. “Spider?” “No,” sez I, “blocked.” I believe he poured me some wine (whine?) and suggested I take up badminton.]

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