Got writer’s block? No you don’t.
That was a trick question. There’s actually no such thing as writer’s block.
That may surprise you as you sit there, staring helplessly at the screen, trying to get started on that presentation or report.
I know, I know, you’ve seen the movies with the tortured artist holed up in his mountain cabin, the desk and wastebasket overflowing with piles of crumpled paper.
Forget about it. That doesn’t happen with professional writers. They’ve got deadlines to meet and bills to pay. They don’t have the luxury of feeling blocked.
That doesn’t mean they always write well. Some days they don’t. But they always, always write.
Why Are You Stuck?
So what’s happening? Why do you feel blocked? I believe there are two main reasons people get stuck:
- You don’t know enough. If you’re at a total loss and don’t even know where to start, it’s possible you don’t have enough information. So do more research. Gather up as much material as you can and devour it. Talk to experts. Only by immersing yourself in your subject matter can you be fluent enough to begin to write effortlessly about it.
- You’re second-guessing yourself. We are always our own worst critics. It’s hard to turn off that internal editor who tells us our stuff is junk. Endless second-guessing can be paralyzing.
So if you’ve taken care of the research part and are still feeling stuck, the thing to do is just write.
You may be unable to write the thing you want or need to write, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write something. And that’s the key to breaking out of a funk. It’s like loosening up your muscles – once you get warmed up, your workout will be easier.
Seven Ways to Get Unstuck
Here are a few tips for turning your brain cramp into a writer’s cramp:
- Write something else. An email, a blog post, a grocery list. Anything to get a little momentum going.
- Free associate. Put pen to paper or fingers to keypad and write continuously for 15 minutes without stopping. Seriously. Whatever comes to mind. What you had for breakfast, what you see in front of you. Just do it.
- Try some creative writing. Write about your childhood home, your first memory, a favourite teacher or best friend. Turn on the TV. Take a line of dialogue you hear and use it as the starting point for a story.
- Go online. Find something that really fires you up – sports, politics, the weather – whatever floats your boat or gets your goat. Read the comments and you’ll see how regrettably few people online are impeded by writer’s block. Join what passes for debate there and post a comment of your own. You might find that all you really need is to stir the passions a little.
- Change the scenery. Go somewhere else to write.
- Get moving. Get up out of your chair and take a walk or go for a run. Get energized.
- Read. Great writing inspires me. See what it does for you. Pull out a favourite book, or go online and track down the screenplay to a favourite movie.
Just Get Started
So stop staring off into space. Get to work. Take it from artist Chuck Close:
“The advice I like to give young artists…is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
Or as one of my writing instructors used to say, “Craft liberates genius.”