Get Over Writer's Block
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” - Gene Fowler
What's Blocking You?
What is “writer’s block?” The definition depends on what is preventing you, the writer, from writing. Are you a blocked writer, or a procrastinator? A blocked writer “has the discipline to stay at the desk, but cannot write.” A procrastinator “cannot bring himself to sit at the desk, but if something forces him to sit down they will write quite fluently” (The Midnight Disease, by Alice Weaver Flaherty). Once you’ve identified which one fits your current situation, you can start to tackle the problem with greater success.
Help for the Procrastinator
The procrastinator doesn’t need help with time management, brainstorming, or inspiration. He or she knows what they should be doing, they just find other things to do first! Here are the things that will help this kind of writer to get back on track:
- Deadlines. Find a deadline that is soon enough that you cannot help but sit down immediately and write. Usually, this means less time than you think you will need. If you think you need two hours to write something, give yourself only an hour. Deadlines can also be in terms of page count or word count. Tell yourself you cannot get up until the deadline is met!
- Rewards. Find frequent positive rewards to get your butt in the seat. Take yourself to a café, give yourself a treat. Or, let yourself do something you really enjoy AFTER you have met a certain deadline.
- Removing distractions. If you find yourself doing dishes or surfing the Internets instead of writing, find a way to remove these distractions. Go somewhere else. The back yard, the library, a café. Don’t take your computer, or go somewhere without WiFi. Make a list of the things your mind leaps to doing instead of writing, and systematically find a way to get away from them.
- Really writing. Are you doing a lot of “research” writing, but no “real” writing? Filling your notebooks with plot ideas, chapter outlines, or lists of things to write about are fine, but they do not come out of the same state of mind as the writing of your story. When you sit down with your deadline, your reward ready and all distractions removed, make sure you are really writing. Get into the “lucid dream” of your story. Remember, a summary of a story is NOT a story!
As Sue Grafton said, "I carry a
notebook with me everywhere. But that's only the first step. Ideas are easy.
It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the
Need more? Try these great writing books:
Help for the Blocked Writer
The blocked writer is sitting there, at his or her desk, not a FaceBook in sight, and yet the writing does not come. Here are some things to try to get your brain in gear:
- Remove expectation. Forget trying to write the Great American Novel or the next Twilight. (Sorry.) Even forget that your writing group will be reading your new work. Just sit down and write a page full of garbage. Heck, write two pages of garbage. Don’t let your fingers stop typing or your pen stop moving until you’ve filled them up. Rinse, repeat.
- Listen to your body. As you write, are you tense? Getting headaches, or stomachaches? These often come about because of a conflict between your brain and your body. Your body might be telling your mind that the story you are writing is going in the wrong direction. Are you forcing something that doesn’t belong? Jeffrey Deaver said, "I've often said that there's no such thing as writer's block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen--whether I'm working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book--it's usually because I'm trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place." Mark Twain couldn’t seem to finish Huckleberry Finn for years until he changed the direction of his character’s journey from heading north (which was more logical) to south (a part of the Mississippi he knew well).
- Write “one square inch.” Anne Lamott writes in her wonderful book Bird by Bird that she gets overwhelmed thinking about writing a whole scene. Instead, she sits down and only tries to write “an inch” of a scene. She tries to get across, as beautifully or craftily as she can, one idea, one emotion, one small complete part of a scene.
- Re-write. Go back over what you have written and tighten it up. Enough of this can sometimes lead to a sudden rush of new ideas for the next part of your story.
- Read an author you like. If there is a book or an author that inspires you, give yourself permission to read for a while. Get into the cadence, the fluidity, and style of their words until you want to try your hand at it yourself.
- Use a writing prompt. Search for prompts online, or find your own from newspaper headings, lines from songs, or a bit of dialogue you overheard. Write for 15 minutes and see where it leads you.
- Go somewhere new. If you usually write in a café, go to the park. If you’re a typer, try doing it longhand. Changes in environment and the physical act of writing force new paths to be created in your brain. And new paths mean new ideas!
- Use a new system. Ask other writer friends how they write and give it a try. Some swear by Post-it notes—buy a pack and use them to switch ideas around.
- Watch some movies. Find a movie that deals with the issue you are stuck with. Having trouble with dialogue? Watch a movie that tackles it in the way you are interested—witty, heart-felt, fast-paced, or zany. Do the same for character development, pacing, visualization, or plot. Watch a movie you love and identify what you loved so much about it.
- Change the Time of Day. Are you sensitive to writing at a certain time of day? If you are trying to write first thing in the morning, when you are the kind of person that needs a day of processing to get the words flowing, see if a late afternoon or even night-time session words better.
Now Get Writing!
I hope these tips help you to continue in your writing path. It certainly helped me to put together this article on Writer’s Block!