Writer’s Block: On the Value of Manure

Yes, manure. I’m not being funny. (Well, maybe a little.)

Before I go into that, however, a quick update on my status. My YA steampunk novel, The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, is back to the agent, so I am trying to focus on other projects (like brainstorming through some of the plot details for the series and editing my urban fantasy). This week it will be easy as I am attending the PNWA writers conference. My focus is on perfecting my pitch, which I will then change seven or eight times before I actually get to my agent and editor pitch appointments. I am pitching the YA steampunk. In case the current agent decides not to take it, I hope to have a few more agents interested by the end of this week.

Anyway, back to the manure.

Many things can cause that irritating phenomenon we call writer’s block -- when you just can’t seem to make any forward progress on your writing. I’ll list just a few here.

1.       You’re ready to start a new project and haven’t figured out what you want to do.

2.       You’re not clear how to progress from one scene to the next or how you want the current scene, chapter, subplot, overall plot, etc. to work out.

3.       Lack of confidence in your own ability.

4.       External influences (relationship problems, etc.).

One of the best things you can do when you hit a block, in my experience, is just sit down somewhere and start writing. It doesn’t matter what you write, just do it. Let your subconscious have the wheel and run with it. But that solution doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need something more. Sometimes your subconscious unwilling to step in while your conscious mind is blathering on about it’s many woes. That is where the manure comes in.

I have horses.


I love my horses, but they are a lot of work and they make a lot of manure. It turns out, however, that during the tedious process of shoveling manure each day is when I do some of my best brainstorming. Cleaning a horse stall doesn’t require deep thought. When I go out to clean stalls, my conscious mind goes into autopilot, scooping along to the music I put on the stereo. Scoop, dump, scoop, dump, and so on. Whatever I was working on before I went out ruminates in my subconscious without the hindrance of my conscious. Then… revelation! At some point during the process of picking little balls of compacted, chewed up grass out of the bedding, I get bombarded with ideas from the backseat driver. My conscious mind wakes up and the two parts of me bounce ideas around. Before I know it, I’m eager to get back to my desk and return to work.

What if you don’t have horses?

Not a problem. Find something else you do or can do that turns off that pesky conscious, because that is what usually permeates a block and escalates it. Find some process that puts your body to work and your conscious to sleep. I do think putting your body to work is important to the process. There is a lot of energy in your physical self that needs an output and letting it become too pent up can lead to distraction, making it harder and harder for your subconscious to get through, especially when it is already fighting your conscious.

A few ideas for those not fortunate enough to have manure flinging in their daily schedule:

·         Take a walk or bike ride

·         Exercise on a treadmill or similar workout equipment

·         Garden

·         Dig a moat around the house (Who doesn’t want a moat?)

Do whatever works for you. I have found certain things don’t work well for me, such as kayaking, horseback riding, and caving. All of these activities are great for later inspiration, but while I am doing them, my subconscious and conscious mind are busy keeping track of my environment because of the risks involved in those sports. When writer’s block is the issue, it is better to do something that isn’t going to draw on all your resources.

Next time writer’s block has you in a stranglehold, think about manure. Try something that doesn’t require deep thought, but that does get you moving. Go into it when you have your work in mind, then forget about it and see what happens.


Happy writing!