Writer's Block Remedies
There are the marvelous hours during which the words and pages flow like
beautiful music from my fingertips. But there are other hours, too, when
each word is like a note sung off-key, or when words simply donít come at
This condition is known as writerís block. Writerís block arises from
many different situations, so although the result may be the same Ė your
writing is either absent or poor Ė the treatments vary. Below I give you a
list of some of the remedies I have encountered or developed for writerís
Send your judgmental you on vacation
Years ago, I read a marvelous article by Nancy Kress1 in
Writers Digest, which talked about how a writer needs to be two people.
The first person, responsible for the first draft, is a creative type, who
needs to be encouraged. The second person is the editor, who makes all the
corrections, who refines and polishes and even engages in major surgery.
This creature is also necessary Ė but not in the beginning.
My judgmental me can paralyze my writing. I particularly notice this
after finishing a long project, which, in its final stage, was sheer
delight, because the story thrilled, the words sang. I could actually sit
back and admire my own talent.
But my confidence is shattered when I start a new project. Each word
feels like lead; the story stinks; everything Iím writing is bad, bad,
bad, and that voice in my head keeps telling me so. My previous
satisfaction with my abilities was obviously misplaced and delusional. The
phrase ďpride goeth before a fallĒ comes frequently to mind. Sometimes I
wonder if aliens replaced me during the night with some other person?
My problem is that my judgmental me, who was necessary for the polishing
stage, blocks me with too-early and too-harsh criticism during the
difficult, sensitive, creative stage of the new work. I have to accept that
my first draft is after all, only a first draft, and that the words can be
rearranged, deleted, replaced. I have to turn off the carping voice in my
head and instead encourage the words to flow, no matter how poor they are.
Besides, itís often easier to re-write than to create the first draft.
Write when youíre at your writing best
I like to write first thing in the morning. Actually, thatís a lie. I
like to write second thing. I need to have coffee first, and I need to stop
beating myself up for the initial twenty minutes of unproductivity while the
caffeine takes effect.
I have also recognized that with the schedule of my day-job, I canít
expect to write every day. Mondays and Tuesdays are usually too demanding in
the office for me to expect much of myself at home. During some parts of the
year, the work intensity continues the entire week. My goal is to hit five
days out of the week Ė usually Wednesday through Sunday - and stop
chastising myself for missing the other two.
You should study your own rhythms during the day and the week and find
when youíre best suited for writing. If you need to reorganize your
patterns, do so. One writer told me he used to exercise in the morning and
write in the evening Ė but then switched them, so that he could take
advantage of his morning mental high. Night owls will be better in the later
part of the day.
Sometimes it helps to engage in a ritual which helps you settle down to
write. Many people like a cup of tea or coffee. I read one article where a
fellow put on a business suit, drove around the block, and then entered his
office to start his work day as a writer.
Lighting a candle is how I summon my muse. Classical music is also good,
as long as itís not too intense. I have written thousands of words while
listening to Beethovenís Pastoral Symphony. Pachelbelís ďCanon in DĒ is
another favorite, as are many pieces by Bach.
Defend your time from others
Once you have found a peak writing time, you have to keep other people
from intruding. This may mean shutting the door, hanging up the phone,
explaining to people that you really are busy.
Defend your time from yourself
I donít need other people to help me waste time; I can manage this all by
myself. I have to turn off the television and unplug the internet, or even
disable my wireless connection.
I also have to keep myself from doing things which are not exactly time
wasters. For example, aerobics and straightening up the house are both
worthwhile activities Ė but they keep me from writing. Itís very hard to do
it all. Itís even harder to do it all simultaneously.
Take care of yourself
Often, other things take priority over writing. Something physical or
emotional may prevent you from putting good words into your story. Although
writing can be therapeutic of itself, or simply a pleasant escape into a
fantasy world, real life demands attention.
Figure out where your story goes next
Often, you donít know what to write next because you really donít know
what happens next. Recognize this and figure it out. Perhaps itís time to
end this scene and move on to the next.
Write out of sequence
Computers allow us to write in any order that we like. So, when you donít
know what happens next in your story, write a scene that you do know and
worry about creating the transition between those scenes later.
Outline your story
Sometimes, when youíre blocked, it helps to take a big picture view. I
will write out brief summaries of what is happening, either scene by scene
or chapter by chapter. This allows me to get a better for feel for the big
picture, to see where I am repeating myself, to see what is missing in the
story, to see which threads need to be worked on.
Use pen and paper
When I am really stuck, I sometimes revert to the old-fashioned way of
writing: pen and paper. This is annoying, because it means that I am doing
everything twice: first on the page, and then typing it into the computer.
On the other hand, pen and paper are more mobile than my laptop, and
sometimes the words flow better through the pen than through the keyboard.
Prime the pump
I feel that I should write after my day job as well as before Ė but often
itís not easy to get myself sit down when I get home. Occasionally I write a
few sentences before leaving the office, or perhaps, work schedule
permitting, during my lunch hour. Then I e-mail these words to myself. That
means thereís something fresh to look at, a little bit of progress, when I
Another way to prime the pump is simply by thinking about what I want to
write next when I have a few extra moments Ė for example, when riding in a
car, or sitting on a subway or tram, or standing in line at some cashierís.
I need to concentrate on specifics, though, not on global generalities. When
I have imagined a scene, or worked out parts of an article, the words flow
much more easily.
Use small amounts of time
Even though there is little more rewarding than sitting down for hours
with the knowledge that I can write for a long, uninterrupted while, when I
have only a few minutes they can be useful too. I can use these minutes, not
to always write with elegance, but to jot down what I want to happen in the
next scene. Sometimes, twenty good minutes produce 250 good words. Moreover,
when I donít have a lot of time, these small increments make me feel less
alien to my writing when I finally do get back to it.
Break up large amounts of time
Sometimes I have managed to have some time on my own Ė perfect for
writing Ė yet instead of being productive, Iím squirming in my chair. It
helps to break up the time or the writing. I might break up the time by
putting on a CD and writing during it. I might want to write 1,500 words
that day, but give myself points for each 250 words achieved. I use 250
words as my usual block, because it more or less represents a page, or at
least it used to. Sometimes I will write for a spell and then do some
aerobics Ė or, I confess, take a nap.
Vary your approach
Once, when I was struggling with a chapter that was in bad shape, I
printed out the relevant pages and put them in my knapsack with some paper
and a pen. Then I went to a place where I often walked, and began my usual
hike. But this time I walked for twenty or thirty minutes, then took a break
and forced myself to write a page. When my route allowed it, I stopped for
tea and pie and wrote in a tea shop. This turned out to be one of my
greatest writing memories.
Sometimes, there is no cure
Occasionally I work on a piece that is not going anywhere and really
should not go anywhere. Itís time to put that piece away and work on
something else. Maybe I will get back to it; maybe not. Hopefully I console
myself having learned something.
In short, if you want to overcome your writerís block, it helps if you
understand what causes it. Your reasons may be purely physical, such as
exhaustion, or that being so busy that you have no time. Your problem may be
that something in your life requires so much emotional energy that none
remains for your writing. Or your difficulties may arise from your
relationship with the story that youíre working on, in that you donít know
what happens next or that it doesnít really inspire you. If you write for
years you will encounter many variants of writerís block, and will have to
resolve them by different means.
How do you manage it?
Iíve given you many of the techniques which I use to combat writerís
block. If you want to share how you overcome your writers block, then drop
me a line at Grossackva at Yahoo dot com. Iíll collect responses for a future
1I could not remember in
which article Nancy Kress used that idea, so I contacted her and asked.
Although she remembers writing it, she could not remember which article
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