There is no more horrible a feeling than to be unable to express yourself. A mental block in writing or any other creative venture is akin to Earth being knocked off its axis.
Well, OK, maybe – and just maybe – there are scores of things that make a person feel worse than writer’s block. But for the sake of discussion – and this blog – let’s say writer’s block is the very worst thing going, worse than Pango Pango flu, foot fungus and left-handedness. Combined.
Growing up in the Deep Dark North Woods of Maine I knew I wanted to write. I didn’t always think I would be paid to for doing it. And right now I am not being paid for it, but that’s a different story.
There were many times in the 22 years I have been a journalist, columnist, editor and blogger that I suffered from the grip of dreaded writer’s block. And over those years I have come up with a few tips for breaking the grip of writer’s block. I now offer these tips to the world – and at no charge whatsoever. That’s right, something that is free, free, free!
And if you are a writer or artist and have your own tips for breaking the grip of writer’s block, please feel free to keep them to yourself. This is my blog, after all, and I don’t need anyone stealing my thunder. … I’m kidding, of course. Please, please, please, if you are a writer or artist and have your own tips, add them to the bottom of this blog entry. The more help and tips the better.
Let’s get started.
1. Take a walk. A brisk stroll around the block – or around several blocks – is a great way to clear the mind and get exercise, too. It also gives a writer the opportunity to get his or her mind off “it.” The “it” is that seemingly insurmountable barrier to a smooth writing path. Once the mind gets a break from “it” and the writer later returns attention to “it,” the solution often presents itself like a breath of fresh air. Or a thunderclap. It really depends on the quality of the solution.
2. Ask a writer, editor or mentor for ideas. Yep, I just outsourced a solution to writer’s block! Trust me that all writers and editors have been in the same place and each of them will have a tale of how they were able to break the grip of writer’s block and move forward along a smooth writing path.
3. Ask a non-writer. Some of the best ideas about what to write and how to write come from people who don’t write for a living or for pleasure. I know, I know, I know, everyone thinks they can write. Everyone. But more than that, everyone has an opinion, especially about what they like and what they dislike. Everyone has an opinion about what is funny, touching and compelling. And everyone is willing pass on those nuggets. So, go ahead, ask the wife, ask the husband, ask Mom and Dad what they would do to break the grip of writer’s block. Heck, ask a complete stranger.
4. Talk to a dog. Now, stay with me on this. This is sort of like No. 1 on this list. Doing something that is at least slightly physical – and, therefore, distracts – such as throwing a stick or ball to the family pooch will get the mind off “it” long enough for the solution to seep to the surface. If throwing a ball for Spot doesn’t work, simply sit down, look deeply into Spot’s big browns, and talk it out. It might be best to do this in private or, at least, out of earshot of others given that it is kind of odd to be talking to a dog. Anyway, family pets have a natural ability to know when something is wrong. And when to wag a tail, place a floppy-eared head on a knee, or land a well-timed, well-placed doggie smooch. Trust in the pooch.
5. Steal something and make it yours. Let me be very, very, VERY clear here – I am not talking plagiarism. That is just plain wrong. Taking the creative efforts of a writer – or artist, poet, sculpture, whatever – and claiming it for your own is wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead, what I mean is read, read, read for ideas. Read good stuff, read bad stuff, read the back of cereal boxes, streets signs and the side of refrigerator boxes. Spending more time reading than writing will flood you with ideas and greatly improve the writing quality. Take the great ideas – from the good writing, bad writing or the writing from the cereal box – and form your own original work.
6. Wait it out. Writer’s block is not terminal. It’s not even acne. It will pass and what will be left is a clear, smooth writing path.
7. Grab a sandwich. Or a latte. Feed the soul by feeding the hunger. Or thirst. I cannot tell you how many times that the grip of writer’s block has been released while sipping on a caffeinated beverage or mid-bite into a turkey and Swiss on wheat. Seriously, eating and drinking are essential to life. Writing – although it feeds the soul … for some, anyway – is not a basic human need. It’s not. Bring a pad of paper and pen to lunch and to the coffeehouse. Or get used to writing ideas on napkins. (Just an aside: While working as a cops reporter in Woodland, Calif., I was having drinks with friends one evening when the newspaper’s chief photographer came in and called for me to follow him. Of course, he didn’t tell me where we were going until we were down the road on our way to a plane crash. I didn’t have a pad or pen. So, as he’s driving down country roads to a small airport outside Davis, Calif., I’m diving into his back seat to find something to write with and write on. I found two fast-food restaurant napkins on which to write and dug out a battered Papermate from the cluttered glove box of the photographer’s S-10 Blazer. Um, part of the notes I used to write the story where written on the palm of my left hand since the napkins just weren’t enough. Lesson: Always, always, always keep a pad and pen in your pocket.)
8. Always, always, always keep a pad and pen on the bedstand. Countless times I have been lying in bed about to drift off to a blissful night of sleep when I’ve sat bolt upright with an idea for a story or column or series or how to handle a certain layout problem. And if I didn’t have a pad and pen on the bedstand, well, that idea floated off into slumberland because it was simply gone. When the pad and pen are there, the idea is written down, sleep comes, and the idea blooms the next day into what it should.
9. Sleep on it. Putting aside a writing project overnight is sometimes much, much better than trying to force the issue.
10. Turn up the music – really loudly – and dance, dance, dance. If you didn’t get the point by now, much of writer’s block comes from focusing so much energy on the problem that the solution often is overlooked. So, if you’re facing the grip of writer’s block, close the laptop, put on your favorite tunes, and turn it up, up, up and dance, dance, dance. You’re more likely to crack the grip of writer’s block by twisting and shouting than you are by staring at a blinking cursor on a computer screen.
OK, that’s it. That’s all you need to know when trying to get past “it.” Well, that and patience. Really, writer’s block will pass with time and everything will be fine if you just loosen the grip on the problem so the solution can surface.
And if it happens that these tips don’t work, don’t blame me. I offered them for free, after all, and I am perfectly willing to offer a money-back guarantee.
Good luck on all your future writing pursuits.