Friday, July 2, 2010


By: Mary Alice Monroe

I do all of my writing on the computer, so the rapid clicking noises my fingers make on the keyboard are the sounds of progress, a story in the works. That is, until the so-called “writer’s block” strikes, forcing my cursor to a blinking halt.

The most recent time it happened was while I was working on THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER, which is now in revisions and set to be published May 2011. The specifics of my struggle are not as important as what my husband said to me while I was venting my writing frustrations to him. He reminded me that my temporary storyline roadblock, was just part of the process I endure with every novel; a metamorphosis of sorts that I must go through for my story to emerge into what it is intended to be.

Looking back, I see now that I was much like the monarch butterfly I was detailing in my story. This period of writer’s block was similar to the chrysalis stage when the caterpillar quietly transforms into the beautifully painted winged insect. The struggle lasts for days, but soon enough, I emerge renewed, refocused and ready to return to the creative process.

Before the creativity returns, the period is a source of temporary anguish and frustration. American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne acknowledged this struggle when he once said,
Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
There are a few things I do to move beyond the writer’s block. I sometimes call my sister whom I lovingly refer to as “my muse.” I can talk out a scene with her to get inspired again. I have also done this countless times with my husband, another special person whose conversation opens up my storytelling vision.

Sometimes I just have to step away from my work. Immerse myself in something else to temporarily forget about the book. Taking time to garden, swim, walk the beach and step outside of my writing cave is often just what I need to feel inspired again.

When I am not writing, I am reading. I like to revisit the classic works of my most favorite writers when I need inspiration-- Charles Dickens, William Blake, Henry David Thoreau, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, John Steinbeck and Edith Wharton. Sometimes, I’ll re-read southern classics by Marjorie Rawlings, Eudora Welty, or Tennessee Williams. And I also find modern poetry to be inspiring as well.

My final tip-- don’t ignore your dreams. The images and words provided by the subconscious mind can be a great source of creativity. I trust my dreams, and I often feel most creative and ready to write first thing in the morning.

Whatever you do, just don’t dwell on your frustrations or fears during a state of writer’s block. Instead, take heart knowing that you will find your way back to your story again.  What things do you do to move beyond moments of writer’s block?

Mary Alice Monroe is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of eleven novels.  For more information visit or her weekly blog.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter


Peggy Webb said...

Mary Alice, I love the quote by Nathaniel Hawthorn.

Like you, I have a few trusted friends who are my sounding boards. One of them is thriller writer, Debra Webb, my 'Twisted Sister'. Though we aren't sisters and actually are not even kin, we're so much alike it's downright scary. She's brilliant at pointing out exactly where my plot train derailed. Another gem is long-time friend, Johnie Sue Street. She's not a writer, but she's the best listener on earth - patient and frank and ever so wise. She lets me talk and talk until finally I emerge on the other side of the dilemma. My sweet daughter-in-law Anita is my other sounding board. She's a writer's dream, a true book lover with a quick and creative mind.

I'm looking forward to your next book. You're a writer's writer, one of the few who can make me forget the process and enjoy the story.

Karin Gillespie said...

For me a five mile run will take care of any writer's block. I also get my best ideas while on a long run. For people who want to save their knees, a walk would also do the trick.

Joshilyn Jackson said...

I, personally, do not believe in writers block, she said staunchly, then added, in a hushed voice, because it is like the underbed monster, which I also do not believe in, because if I DID believe in the underbed monster, even for a second, he would ABSOLUTELY pluck out my eyeballs. *nodnodnod*

These are great tips---these things you say ALL work for me, too, when I have that thing I NEVER have because it doesn't exist. *grin*

Michael Garretson said...

I can relate really well. I know the feeling you're talking about. I do most of my writing on paper before I transcribe it into the computer---I find that my thoughts just seem to flow better. I too draw a lot of inspiration from favorite authors. Thanks for the advice!

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