Writer’s block. I heard someone – a non-writer who has to write sometimes because of his work – mention it the other day. Most people who have ever been charged with creating a document, whether a letter, or an article, or a script, have encountered the sensation of needing to write, and being frustrated by their seeming inability to do so.
As a journalist I ran into it, and saw others similarly stymied, which is particularly frustrating when on deadline. For some the deadline is all that’s necessary to crank out the words. But for many others, the deadline makes it worse. The stress of not-delivering your writing task on time can lock your brain down tight. But if you free your mind, the writing will follow.
So here are five time-honored tips that will help you get over writer’s block:
1) Face the fear – If you just know that you’re going to suffer writer’s block, it’s better to face it head on. And know thy enemy. Writer’s block is a result of fear – performance anxiety – and it’s usually a temporary condition. Most people find that after the deadline trauma has passed, ideas of what to write flow more freely. So keep reminding yourself that you’ve survived this in the past, you’ve pushed through to the other side, you’ve written things successfully before. Assure yourself that you can do it again.
2) Prepare yourself – At times, the blockage comes from feeling ill-equipped because you lack information. Solve that problem by doing more research on your topic. And then, before trying to write it, talk about it, to someone else, or even just to yourself. It’s incredibly liberating to hear yourself speak words that prove you know your stuff. Plug the gaps in your knowledge base, speak the words out loud, rehearse what you’re going to write. When you feel you’ve had a successful rehearsal, sit down and start writing. Repeat the process as necessary. And it’s best to start as early as possible to give yourself time and relieve the pressure of the deadline.
3) Do something else – One of my favorite columns by humorist Dave Barry referred to his need, when suffering writer’s block or just working through an idea in his head, to bounce a tennis ball off the wall of the garage. It works, and many writers find themselves gravitating to their own versions of the same technique – the do anything else method. Don’t sit and stare at the computer, or your notes, or the clock. Get up, walk around, feed the cat, fix the screen door, take a shower, mow the lawn — although it would be best not to do all of that at once. Doing something physical that requires a limited amount of concentration, something people often consider “mindless,” has the remarkable benefit of taking the pressure off the part of the brain that needs to write. Amazing the ideas that will come to you on just the point you need to write about. Some people also find that sound, whether white noise, some droning repetitive sound, or just very familiar music, helps in the same way. The main point: do not sit idly waiting for the words. Do something else.
4) Write anything. But keep it to yourself – When you’re suffering writer’s block, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the potential power of what you write: if you write the wrong thing, use the wrong words, something bad will result – someone will misunderstand, someone will take inappropriate action or fail to act, someone will get offended, etc. All of that is possible if you use the power of your words irresponsibly.So get control of your words by using some until you feel more comfort than fear. It helps to write about something else first (see point 3), even indulging in stream of consciousness, just to get the words flowing. That’s equivalent to singing scales to loosen your voice. When you’re ready, tackle a first draft of whatever you really need to write.Don’t let anyone see it until you’ve read over it, revised it, and read over it again. Take time to evaluate what you’ve written several times and if possible, get an editor.
5) Troll for inspiration, but be careful – I understand that Ben Franklin believed that a good writer will read more than he writes. When you find you can’t write, reading what other people write may be a good way to fire up the creative engine. Maybe someone else’s work will spark your own by suggesting an idea, or because they do leave a stone or two unturned. We can all get inspired by other creative types. But caution is needed; none of us wants to steal someone else’s work. That can be easy to do if you soak up ideas and forget where they came from. It can happen to anyone. So, get inspired by others, but make sure you give credit where credit is due. Avoid plagiarism at all costs. You can learn from other writers without cribbing their work. If you can absorb some of their spark, and use it to ignite your own writing, that may be just what you need to unclog your writer’s block.
One thought on “Five ways to unblock your inner writer”
Great tips. I find that I don’t really get writer’s block – probably because my migraines keep me from writing as often as I’d like. The well doesn’t run dry because I don’t get to go to it every day.
But I do find that sometimes a specific thing I’m writing just isn’t happening. I try not to force it because that probably would lead to writer’s block. I usually give up on it, if I can, and put it aside for a while if I can’t drop it completely.