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End Writer's Block with 7 “Stops”
Your words won’t flow and you’re struggling. Writing isn’t fun for you anymore. You believe you have run out of words. Your literary well has gone dry. Writing used to be so easy, but now it is far too hard. You once had visions of grandeur and six-digit advances. You dreamed of getting 300,000 hits a day and a hundred glowing comments per minute. You saw a dream house, a soul mate, and a jet-setting lifestyle as logical extensions of your writing career. Notoriety and fame were almost in your grasp—
Listen to yourself. You are not normally this whiny in your daily life, so why are you whining about your writing? Whining will not help you. You don’t want to be part of the problem, do you? You want to be part of the solution, and for you to solve your problems, you need to make several stops.
Seven "stops" to defeat writer's block
1) Stop writing forever.
This is, of course, the ultimate cure for writer’s block. You cannot be blocked by what you don’t do anymore. Therefore, quit writing and find a real hobby. Collect rubber bands. Clip coupons. Raise ferrets. Watch grass grow. It is essential that you give up because writing is not worth the pain and the heartache. No one understands you anyway because you're weird. You’ve got better things to do. Writing won’t help pay the rent. You’re giving yourself carpal tunnel syndrome anyway. You need to stop.
Besides, writers are boring people. You don’t want to be boring. Writers hunch over their laptops and little notebooks long into the night and waste so much valuable sleep and late-night television time. Writers are so wrapped up in their work that they often don’t interact with real people on Facebook. They’d rather fuss and fume over nominative case, objective correlative, characterization, and other polysyllabic words no normal people use anymore …
Did my attempt at using reverse psychology work on you? No? That means quitting writing cold turkey is not an option for you. If you can’t or won’t stop writing, I suggest that you keep reading and make some other kinds of stops.
2) Stop writing what you’re working on and write something else.
What you’re writing isn’t working, so stop working on it. Why are you wasting your time, ink, and angst? Save what’s upsetting you in a “fits and starts” folder. Send these evil poems, short stories, novels, and articles to their own files so they can think about how bad they’ve been to you. Put them in time out. Banish them without dinner and only let them out if they promise to be good. Lock the door on them for good measure. Let that folder languish for days, months, and even years before reopening it, and only then might you find solutions to every blockage. Until then, give your blocked work the silent treatment.
Once the offensive writing is safely hidden, change what you’ve been writing completely. If you’ve been writing a poem, write a short story. If you’ve been writing a short story, write a song. If you’ve been writing a novel or novella, write flash fiction. If you’ve been writing fiction, write nonfiction. If you’ve been writing a how-to article, write a how-not-to article. If you’ve been stressing over iambic pentameter in a sonnet, write a haiku. If you’ve been trying to write a full-length play, write a single conversation instead. Stop writing what’s blocking you and write something that doesn’t.
3) Stop thinking so much.
You think too much. You can’t deny it, so don’t even try. That’s one of the main reasons you write. You want to get all those thoughts down on paper before you get old, decrepit, and forgetful. Oh, stop. You’re not that decrepit.
Why not become random in your writing? Your linear, systematic way of writing isn’t working. Your "system" is down. Try embracing some chaos for a change. Watch your hands and fingers work. Let your fingers type whatever they want to type about anything. Spew. Rant. Rave. Scream on paper. Purge your soul. Channel your inner child. Channel your outer child. Channel Julia Child.
Whatever you do, empty yourself. You may have a sonnet sequence, an experimental novella, a killer recipe for deer jerky soup, and a how-to article on saving the planet inside you that you have been blocking out. Free them now!
Learn from an old Bob Newhart routine: “If an infinite number of monkeys sat at an infinite number of typewriters, eventually they will write all of the great books.” If you let your fingers fly, eventually they’ll come up with something good despite the brain they’re attached to. Play your keyboard as if you were playing a Rachmaninoff concerto. Wield your pen as if you were painting like van Gogh. If nothing else, at least try to doodle with words.
If you must stop writing in order to stop thinking, do be creative about it. Trace objects within your reach. Sketch your hand. Get some clay and sculpt a new nose. Find some crayons and draw smiley faces on all your Styrofoam cups. Whittle a walking stick. Sew on a button blindfolded. Dump a box of toothpicks on a table and create a nifty castle. If you add jellybeans, you can make your castle three-dimensional and edible. Make a ransom note out of old newspaper and magazine headlines. While these endeavors have nothing to do with what you’re writing, they will calm you down, keep your hands busy, and allow you to be creative. Stop thinking and start doing something.
4) Stop writing in the same old place the same old way.
You must change your routine. Your old routine isn’t solving anything. Write standing up. Write lying down. Write in a corner. Write upside-down. Write at a big desk. Write at a little desk. Write on the kitchen table. Write in bed. Write while lounging on the couch. Write while driving. It’s dangerous, of course, but so far it’s not illegal to do most places. Stop-lights are safest. Take notes on your shopping list as you wait in line. Write outside. Write while sitting on the porch or the roof. Write at the park. Write on the bus on the way to the park. Write at your favorite coffee shop and use a napkin instead of paper. Write where your scene actually or approximately takes place. Take your writing into the bathroom. Take your writing to the doctor, the dentist, the grocery store, and the department of motor vehicles--especially if you're going to write an epic.
Your usual writing space has become contaminated, hasn’t it? It has become toxic. Because it has become a veritable crime scene, cover the entrance with some police tape or put up a sign that says, “Off limits!” Change your environment and you will have no choice but to change your perspective. Maybe all your writing needs is a change of scenery to do it some good. Stop writing in the same place, and your writing will go places.
5) Stop the silence.
You say you prefer stillness when you write. “It has to be quiet as a tomb,” you say. “I can’t even begin writing if there’s the least little sound,” you say. “All it takes is one false noise, and I lose my inspiration,” you say. Oh, stop. Isn’t your writing blocked in that sea of stillness? Aren’t you drowning in silence? Too much silence has silenced you.
Sheer bedlam can help you break through. Crank up the stereo and sing along, especially if you don’t know the words. Open all the windows to hear the traffic, dogs, shouting children, sirens, parents shouting at their children, and the wind. Go to the mall or other crowded places and bask in the conversations, hustle, bustle, and bad attitudes of the people who work there. Turn on the TV and tune in to a show or movie you’ve never wanted to see before. Put in an instrumental CD and feel the rhythms as you write poetry that mirrors those rhythms. Crank some love ballads while writing your way into and out of a love scene. Play the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan and feel the noise of war. Call someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise and take notes. Talk back to the foolish weather reporter on the TV who says foolhardy things like, "It's raining." Argue with the radio, the laptop, the page, the dog, and the mice multiplying in the walls. Look at strange videos, the viral ones with the cute kids, kittens, and puppies saying and doing the most amazing things.
Let noise fill your head when what’s in your head isn’t fulfilling your writing. Stop being so quiet so your writing can become loud and proud once again.
6) Stop reading and rereading what you’ve already written and read something else.
Read anything but what’s blocking you. Rereading what led to the blockage is usually a waste of time. Pick up a magazine. Read your own shirt or blouse label. Study how-to articles like this one. Marvel at all the strange ingredients in a box of cereal. Try to find perfect haiku in cookie recipes. Chuckle over ridiculous warning labels. Decipher instructional manuals. Actually look at your junk mail. Enjoy your newspaper backwards. Study how-to articles like this one. Add another panel to your favorite comic strip. Recite a book of poetry or a short story. Crack that novel you’ve been wanting to read. Open the dictionary or thesaurus to a random page. Study how-to articles like this one. Follow the news crawling across the bottom of the TV and look for typos. Howl at the irrationality of celebrity news. Memorize someone else’s horoscope. Try to rhyme street signs. Did I mention studying how-to articles like this one?
It doesn’t even have to be great writing. It could be seriously bad writing. It could also be the worst writing you have ever seen. Allegedly, authors are supposed to read the so-called “great books” to soak up their greatness and awesomeness in the hopes that said greatness and awesomeness will seep into their work. Not you. You’re not looking for perfect inspiration. Ordinary inspiration will do. Look up the “joke of the day.” Browse funny Google pictures and make up preposterous captions. Find some Russian poetry online and run it through an online translator. The translation will be priceless because it will be completely wrong. Go to quotable quote websites and bask in wisdom. Stop reading your blocked words and read anything that flows.
7) Stop worrying.
Because you are a writer, you’re special, but you’re not that special. Every writer has blockages. The greatest works of literature did not arrive on this planet in one sitting and without struggle. Don’t take it personally when the cursor blinks impatiently at you or your pen smirks at you. Even serious writers don’t take their writing seriously twenty-four hours a day. If they did, they’d all become university professors, wear tweed jackets with elbow patches, and have inches of dust on their shoulders.
Do something instead. Go for a walk. Do jumping jacks. Jump rope. Play a game. Walk your dog. Find your cat. Make some tea. Scream into a pillow. Stare at your face in the mirror until you crack up. Clean a bathroom. Do some laundry. Make a sandwich. Your life does not have to stop because the so-called “magic” words have stopped.
There is absolutely no need to stop the entire world when you have writer’s block. Sometimes you have to make many stops before you can continue and finish your journey. Follow these “stops” whenever you feel blocked and your words will flow unimpeded once more.