Anatomy of a Writer’s Block

Writer’s block.  It’s a cliche, it’s not real – is it?

This Writer’s Block

In 2010 I started writing my first novel.  (We’ll forget about the train wreck of a novel I wrote in the 1990s).  It was planned as part of a trilogy called When I Was, Other Than, What I Now Am, which is a quote from a short story by Greg Bear.

Greg Bear, SF Author
Greg Bear

By late 2012 I thought I had finished writing When I Was (HO-HO-HO, I’m still working on the latest draft in 2018) and I moved onto Other Than.

With the benefit of hindsight, this book was probably suffering from Second-system syndrome.  I deliberately kept the first one simple, with one main protagonist and everything written from his point of view.  Not so with number two! There were three main protagonists and multiple points of view.  Did this contribute to the problem?  I’m still not sure.

Anyway, all seemed to be going well.  I was using a detailed chapter plan, a first for me as I recognised the complexity of what I was taking on.  The words came easily and the characters, who I knew well from book one, were doing most of the work for me.  By March 2013 I was 30,000 words in and then … nothing.  I just ran out of steam and could go no further.

What Happened?

Looking through the files from then it was a very creative time.  I sketched out ideas for several novels, including one that evolved into Jubilee (a current work in progress, see this page) and another book in my planned alternative-crime series, The Oxygen Thieves, which is still on my to-do list.  Perhaps I just burned myself out.  After all, we’d just moved to Australia with a stroppy teenager (don’t try this at home) and I was just setting out on a five-and-a-half-year roller-coaster ride on a massive project at work.  (Incidentally, this ride comes to an end at the end of this month: synchronicity, anyone?)

In the end, I wrote my way out of the block, by starting a new project, writing the first 12,000 words of The Daedalus Soul; since then I’ve built this story to 50,000 words.  Eventually, I was able to go back and take the first draft of Other Than to 80,000 words and a conclusion.


Sometime later I discovered that another name for writers’ block is the thirty-thousand [word] doldrums.  My grateful thanks to Emma Darwin and her excellent blog site This Itch of Writing.  As always, Emma provides wise advice and a useful perspective, from which the aspiring writer can see a way ahead.  Thanks, Emma!    Emma Darwin, patron saint of struggling writers

Emma Darwin

I am now returning to Other Than in order to complete it (note to self: must learn to FINISH a novel).

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Simon writes science fiction stories about individuals caught up in huge events, where outer conflict is reflected in their inner lives. As the son of an immigrant, he writes about people who don't always fit in. In his day job, Simon is an engineering consultant of many years’ experience. He has been lucky enough to speak at conferences in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

8 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Writer’s Block”

    1. Dear Tony,

      Thanks for your comment, not that it made much sense to me! Are you a taxi driver in Clifton, Bristol in the UK? It is a beautiful place. However, your website doesn’t seem to work, so I can’t tell – good luck with that!

      Regards, Simon

  1. Thanks for taking part in the blog chain, Simon. I had no idea you had so many works in progress. Writing your way out of writer’s block is encouraging to hear; I found it interesting that starting something new did the trick for you. Cheers, mate.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer,

      As I said to Fontella, I don’t really have that many WIP. Starting something new did do the trick – eventually – but I did have to write 12,000 words to do it! There must be an easier way?!

      Cheers, Simon

  2. Great read Simon and I’m seriously impressed that you’ve got so many WIPs (dealing with one WIP seems to be enough for me lol). Very interesting perspective with the 30,000 word doldrums.

    1. Thanks, Fontella,

      I don’t really have a lot of WIP, as I am submitting and editing When I Was (now called something else actually) and I am writing the first draft of Jubilee, albeit very slowly, for the Adelaide Writers’ Group. I am planning on having an ‘OctoWriMo’ blitz on Other Than, which will probably run into November; I hope to write it from 80K words up to around 100K.
      Regards, Simon

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