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Tested Ways to Beat Writer's Block

Updated on May 2, 2010

Is there really any such thing as writer's block? One cure is to get a job in journalism, public relations or ad copywriting. If you don’t produce, you’re out! You quickly learn to write something, anything to preserve your job… and never mind your broken arm.

That said, even veteran writers need a little early morning help to crank out those first few elusive words. Here are four tested tips. You can start at your breakfast table!

1. Write anything

Free associate. Paraphrase The Jabberwocky or Finnegan’s Wake (but I repeat myself). Copy the label on a ketchup bottle. Then rewrite it as a limerick. Or in the aureate style of the US Declaration of Independence. Or in hiphop. Or as a leader column for the Daily Express or New York Times.

2. Start your kitchen table talking

Alternatively, construct a dialogue between any two harmlessly unemployed things on your breakfast table: for example, the ketchup bottle and the salt pot.

Ketchup bottle: ‘I say, who was that lady I saw you with last night?’

Salt pot: ‘That was no lady. She was a cruet.’

‘Is that what she titles herself now? I remember the days when she was happy to be called a condiment.’

‘Sir, you are a saucy varlet. I’ll wager you would not dare to speak so roundly to the pepper pot!’

‘Ho, I can tell you a tale or two about the pepper pot...’

And so the drivel goes. Totally silly. But, suddenly, you are writing historical fiction (or a mystery tale, or a children’s fable, or whatever). You no longer have writer’s block.

3. Try the Book End technique

Write some nonsense, anything that's passably coherent, off the top of your head as the first paragraph of a story. Then write a last paragraph for your story that in some way echoes or reverses the first. Ham it up. Have fun. For example, the story might start:

‘"Damn you, you fiend!" I gasped to the smirking red-eyed brute that clutched within his filthy claws my beloved bride, so virginal and beautiful in her Mothercare™ wedding gown.’

You then write the last paragraph of the story.

‘"You win,’ the sullen chaplain snarled. Reluctantly, he released my beloved. With a cringing delicacy and a puff of Febreze®, the versatile air freshener, he wiped the filthy smudges of his fingers from off my wife’s radiant David Emanuel™ wedding veil, only twice pre-loved.

‘"Until the next time!’ he hissed at me. And in a last spiteful breath of Domino's® pizza sauce (with added garlic), he was gone.

‘"Darling!’ my wife trilled. ‘We owe it all to Febreze®, and its patented odour elimination technology®!’

‘"Very true," I averred. "It banishes the wedding guests that normal air deodorants cannot reach."’

You just can’t write as ridiculously (and unpublishably) as that, and enjoy yourself, and still have writer’s block! Moreover, so far as your subconscious mind is concerned, your story is now complete. There’s nothing left for it to do but to fill in the words between the first and last paragraph, it reasons. Child’s play.

Now you can write a real story. And throw away the tosh you just wrote.

This method does work. Even if you have a hangover (sorry, migraine), it’s midnight, you’ve written nothing yet, and you have a strict deadline of 9am the next morning to present your draft.

4. Let somebody else be your taskmaster

If all else fails, get a job in advertising or public relations (as I’ve said). The excuse ‘writer’s block’ does not impress a client or employer. But they’ll be quite happy if your first draft is nonsense. They’re all frustrated copywriters. They'll welcome any opportunity to chide your incompetence and improve your drivel.

True, I jest. But not by much. The point is, you write something.

A final tip: you can get even more tips for improving your skills as a story writer when you accept the Writers’ Village newsletter, brought free to you every week! Please click here.

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