Friday, 18 March 2005

Breaking the Block:
How to Overcome Writer's Block

Writer's Block.
Two words that strike fear into the heart of all writers. Each of us, at one time or another, has come face-to-face with the dreaded Writer's Block. We have sat, staring, pen poised hesitantly over a blank sheet of paper and thought, 'I can't write.' 
Well, my fellow writers, I'm here to tell you a very important secret. Listen closely; you don't want to miss this. A little bit closer... Good. Here it is:


Block: A solid piece of a hard substance.

What part of this definition actually applies to Writer's Block? It's not solid. It's not hard. It's not even substantial. Therefore, Writer's Block is not real.

That's right. Writer's Block is NOT standing before you in full Gandalf gear, white Staff of Obstacles raised in the air, shouting "You shall not pass!"

Writer's block is nothing more than an excuse. And a bad one at that. Imagine if you will, and this won't be hard for some of you, that you were a teacher. 
If a student walked up to you and said, "I couldn't do my essay on the American Revolution. I had writer's block," would you accept their excuse? Hardly. Why, then, do you accept the very same excuse from yourself?
Let me say it again: Writer's Block is nothing more than a bad excuse. You are the only thing stopping you from writing. But why?

There are two reasons that we use the fabled writer's block excuse, on opposite ends of the spectrum:

1. Laziness. I know, I know. None of us like to think of ourselves as lazy but we are. It's so much easier to just say, "I can't do it, I have writer's block!" than working through a lull. Instead of actually just getting on with it, we waste our time complaining about how we can't write.

2. Overwork. There IS such a thing as trying too hard. Staring your manuscript down is not going to help make it perfect. If you feel as though you've made it as far as you possibly can in one day, you probably have. You're not blocked, you're exhausted. Taking a break is not the same as giving up.

Whether you just don't feel like writing or your fingers already feel ready to bleed, you don't have to give into excuses. There are plenty of ways to get back into the swing of things.

Ten Ways to Break the Block:

1. Write. I know that at least a few of you are thinking, 'smart ass.' Or worse. Trust me, it works. If you're straining your brain, desperately trying to think of something to write, just stop. Thinking that is. Get a clean sheet of paper and a pen (or pencil, or chalk, or lipstick, or whatever you prefer) and just write. It doesn't matter what about or how bad it is. Write the first word that comes to mind. Then the next. And the next. It doesn't matter if they're totally unrelated. Just keep writing. In the end, you may find yourself with a sheet of complete nonsense. On the other hand, you may find a hundred different ideas to write about from that nonsense.
2. Keep a diary/journal. It's not just for teenage girls, you know. Take fifteen minutes each day to record your life, your daily activities. It may not seem like much but, if you do it everyday, you will never again be able to say, "I couldn't write today, I had writer's block." (And if you ever have the audacity to actually WRITE those words then you deserve a lump of coal for Christmas.)

3. Read a book. I've heard all my life that readers are the best writers and it's true. Just look at me. (That's a joke, if you missed it.) Every book that you read opens you up to a new style of writing, new words, new ideas, etc. When I'm stuck, I pull out one of my favourite books and remind myself why I was inspired to write in the first place. Just one word of warning: plagiarism. Don't do it.

4. Get the hell out. Don't sit at your computer, staring out the window at a beautiful spring day thinking, 'Goddess, I'd love to be out there right now.' Get out there! Go take a walk in the park, go have a picnic, go fishing, swimming, biking, running... anything. Make memories that you can come home and write about.

5. Join a writer's group. There are groups out there designed to support the struggling writer. Get involved. Join your local Writer's Group. Meet other local writers. It can't hurt to have other like-minded people to bounce ideas off.

6. Stop obsessing. Don't freak out over every small punctuation mistake and incorrect use of a pronoun. Just write. Stop tearing your writing to (proverbial, hopefully) shreds. We're usually our worst critics and, usually, it's unfounded. Just write your heart out and let other people worry about the little things. They're called editors and that's what they get paid for.

7. Put down the pen, pick up the mouse. Change the way that you write. If you find yourself staring hopelessly at a computer screen, get away from it. Try writing long hand instead. Alternatively, if you write everything out, try typing instead. Sometimes you just need to break up the monotony.

8. Write somewhere new. Go to a coffee shop. Camp out in your backyard. Rent a little cottage on the lake. Just... move it. And by ''it'', I mean you. Write anywhere and everywhere. I get some of my best ideas while I'm walking; when I'm out and about. Of course, when I get the urge, I usually whip it out right then and there and start writing. (And by ''it'', I mean my notepad, which I carry everywhere.)

9. Try a prompt. There's an endless supply of writing prompts out there, you just have to use them. Prompts are great because it means you don’t have to think of something to write, you just have to obey. Sometimes, a few lines you've scribble in response to a prompt can become something bigger.

10. Know you can. Take the word "can't" out of your vocabulary. It isn't that you can't, it's simply that you aren't. Just because you're not writing at this exact moment doesn't mean that you can't write at all. Start telling yourself that you can write and see what a difference it can make.
Why are you still here? There's no excuse! Get writing!
© Wondra Vanian 2005

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