The Writing Wall

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Every long writing project has one: The wall.

Research paper, novel, non fiction book, even a massive web site rewrite. They all have that moment when I want to run away.

Believe me when I say this, the writing wall is worse than your average writer’s block. It’s a malaise.

I feel like I can’t go on, that the project will never get competed. I look at the screen or paper empty inside, dreading the work.

It’s the metaphorical wall, the one marathon runners always talk about. If I don’t push through, the project dies.

For me, it usually seems the wall happens about 3/4 to 4/5 of the way through a project. In the case of Marketing in the Round, there was no wall for my half of the book, but I had a really hard time getting started thanks to a flood that hit my house.

But I have experienced the wall since then, and know I am not cured.

Here are some personal tips to break through the writing wall:

  • Flush the endorphins with a long bike ride or heavy work out. Another source of bad thinking is brain chemistry. I won’t take “writing PEDs”, but I have no qualms about intentionally scrubbing my head with a serious work-out.
  • Focus on blog posts for a few days to balance the writing diet while maintaining everyday writing discipline.
  • Go somewhere else for a few days without any expectation or pressure to write. Literally, yield to the wall and give myself license to unplug for a couple of days.
  • Inject personal fun. Sometimes I hit the wall because I am working too hard, and have no sense of joy outside of Soleil time. Go see a movie or catch a game.
  • Sleep, a lot. Mental exhaustion can create the wall.

Individually or in combination these acts power me through the wall. Do not quit. Once I break from the pattern of regular writing and editing, it’s really hard to regain form.

Have you experienced the wall? How do you break through?

19 Replies to “The Writing Wall”

    1. For some reason, I don’t seem to write when I go other places on vacation or to write. I just go to other places. But then I do come back with new perspective to write. So maybe it does work.

  1. I get it regularly and just have to step away – I have no other option and if I try to force anything it becomes rubbish and I just end up even more frustrated.

    I’ve had up to an 18 month hiatus in the past where I just gave up – your choice of the word malaise is perfect.

    Writing is incredibly habit forming and the longer you distance yourself from it the harder it is to get back in the grove. I find that my emotional state largely dictates when I can write and if I don’t finish something while I’m “in the zone” then I can’t replicate the though processes later and complete it.

    1. I agree. Once you stop writing, the mind atrophies. Quickly.

      Also, I find that if I don’t write down ideas as they pop in my head going about daily life, that I tend to lose them all together. It’s so important to pay attention to that flash moment.

  2. Oh my, I could write pages on this! Hey…maybe that’s how I break through the wall, haha!

    I struggle more with getting into the starting blocks on my big writing projects, several of which are in various states of existence. It’s not so much a wall…it’s my “possiblities paralysis”…which one to return to?

    What I know is this: I must behave as if it’s my job to write, not something I will get to once everything else is done. Because after all, everything else is never done:)

    You’ve given me my best inspiration. Do not quit. I did. I mustn’t. I will now get back into the blocks. Thanks for this kick in the butt that was sorely needed. Cheers! Kaarina

    1. The best thing about multiple writing possibilities is you can pick one up one day, and a new one the next day, and weave in between. I often do this with my essays, which usually take 2-3 days to draft, and not necessarily in a row. Sometimes you need to process after drafting.

      You’ll get back to it!

  3. I find that my walls are frequently caused by dehydration or big time lack of sleep. Lots of water and lots of sleep usually take care of the problem. Thanks for the great tips and other ideas.

  4. I hit a huge wall after grad school. I don’t think I wrote poetry (or anything else for that matter) for almost a year. I started blogging as a way to get back into the writing rhythm, then I rededicated myself to writing poetry at least once a week.

    I’m such a perfectionist that I constantly have to remind myself to set realistic time frames. The goals may be realistic; I just expect to be able to accomplish them all in one month or something insane like that.

    1. That’s so funny. I had a similar issue after grad school, and didn’t do anything except work sleep, eat and play for a whole year. Must be grad school, a very draining experience, especially when you work while going to school at night!

      1. It must be! I worked my way through school, too.

        The funny part is that a few of my professors warned me about the wall. I didn’t think much of it until the last semester. That semester did me in.

  5. I don’t believe in writer’s block but I know the wall. I know the place because when I arrive it is with a sick feeling that my work up to that point is weak and the new stuff is even worse.

    Exercise, sleep and just doing something other than writing is usually how I knock it down.

    1. It’s usually fatigue so this makes sense to me! And yeah, that feeling of content weakness is not a good one.

  6. For me, the wall occurs around 30% into the project, or at 100
    pages if I’m writing a book. At that stage, I’ve lost the original inspiration, and it seems like WORK. :-)

    When I hit the wall, I take a couple of days off. Then I rethink the project, doing a lot of brainstorming, until I find the kernel of inspiration/ passion again.

    If you expect the wall, you’ll find your own methods for coping with it. It’s only disabling if you’re blindsided by it — then you can doubt yourself.

    1. Yeah, I have that same sense. You trudge through the book, the piece of work, and it sucks. There’s no fun in that! But writers write when they have to, not when they want to so cope we must. Great insights.

  7. I get the wall everyone’s talking about, but I think long-term hiatus is a different animal. I once left writing for 10 years without much of a glance back. At the time my 100% focus was survival–keeping a roof over my kids’ heads. Now that the financial pressure is (mostly) off, I worry less about falling into hiatus than I do about running out of time. I still hit walls-often–but switching projects usually works for me. So much to write!

  8. Geoff,

    I think walls seem to appear in many instances in our lives. Writing is only one of those.

    What about the walls that derail your work ethic? Or, the walls that keep you sequestered for periods of time? Or, what about the ones that stop you from reconciling with your brother, your father, your cousin?

    Sometimes we all need to take a break from the every day world. Look at ourselves from a different perspective. Take a deep breath and think about something else.

    Then, begin anew. Fresh with new energy. Fresh with new thoughts. Fresh with new resolve.

    Cheers,

    Marc

  9. Whenever I think about writing a book…I read a post like this. Hmm, maybe I’ll just stick to the day job, becoming an empty nester and grandfather, and playing tennis. Well, and perhaps do your suggested bullet points – minus the book writing thing.

    I’ll leave the writing to bright folks like you who can overcome the walls.

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