There is a whole lot of information out there about writer’s block – see here, here and here just to start. So when I sat down to write this post, I nearly abandoned it before I started. Who needs another post about a topic that has almost 9 million search term hits?
But as someone who supports a family of five with my writing – which means I write on demand, day in and day out, regardless if I’m inspired, energized, enthused or at all clear-headed – I thought I might as well throw my pen into the ring. I simply cannot afford writer’s block, so I’ve developed quite a few tricks to keep me from ever succumbing to this horrible affliction.
And it is horrible. I know one writer who became so blocked she lost clients, her income dropped dramatically, her mental health suffered, and eventually, she had to train for a new career just to keep a roof over her head and to feed her family. It was paralyzing, and it went on for years.
So believe me, I’m not a naysayer. And I’m not just one of the lucky ones who never experiences it. There are plenty of days I can’t imagine how I’m going to put those words down on the paper, days when every ‘a’, ‘the’ and ‘it’ written merits a cry of “Hallelujah!”
There may come a day when I do finally run up against a writer’s block that I can’t trick my way out of, but until then, here are a few tried and true methods that keep me going:
When the well of ideas runs dry…
Sometimes, you just can’t think of anything to write about, or a creative, not-done-to-death way to write the piece you’re trying to write. It’s tempting to moan and wail, but that doesn’t get the work done.
Solution: Write anyway. Write anything. Give yourself permission to write the most cliché-
ridden copy you can think of. Because the secret to writing amazing, brilliant prose – whether you’re writing fiction, a hard-hitting article, or fundraising copy – is not writing. It’s revising. So just write, and let the truly original ideas come later.
When your vocabulary has shrunk to that of your first grader’s…
I often feel like giving up on something because it seems like I’m using the same words over and over again. I have an English Degree and a French minor. In theory, my vocabulary is pretty impressive in two languages. But there are days you’d be hard-pressed to believe it.
Solution: Again, write anyway. Repeat as much as you want. Fix it later. Remember, typing a word is not the same as chiseling it into stone. You can always, always, always change it. Until it goes to the printer, and then you just need to let it go and move on. Also, keep a thesaurus – either paper or virtual – handy.
When. Each. Word. Is. A. Struggle…
Some days, it takes me 45 minutes to write 1000 words. Other days it takes me 4 hours. Those 4-hour days are sheer torture.
Solution: Ha! Gotcha. You thought I was going to say “Write anyway” didn’t you? Nope, my solution for this version of writer’s block is the opposite. Stop writing and take a walk. Clear your head, get your body moving, and chances are the words will flow again once you get back to your desk.
When the sight of the blank page and flashing cursor makes you hyperventilate…
If you think too hard about that blank page, it really becomes a daunting thing, a wraith that feeds on all the words you might possibly put down upon it. Terrifying.
Solution: This is where I haul out all my old writing class techniques. Try freewriting for ten minutes just to warm yourself up and fill up some of that page. Write a poem or story or movie review instead of the piece you’re trying to write. Write a big rant about how you can’t possibly write what you’re trying to write because you suck or your idea sucks or your subject sucks. Put it in all caps if it helps. Change fonts – you might just start writing so you can see what it will look like. Copy one of your favorite passages from a book or blog word-for-word. Do whatever you need to do to make that page a bit less blank.
And then, keep writing.