Writers Block: Myth or Reality?
When you first begin writing, writer’s block is very real. One popular cure is reading books and websites about writing to get yourself in the mood. Those readings sometimes reveal cures for writer’s block. You try them out and, if they work, you’re back on track.
Most writers also invent their own cures. You try something different and occasionally it works. You add this to your collection of cures.
After many years of writing, you’ve found so many cures that it doesn’t seem to be a problem any more. You come to what could be a block, do “something”, and continue writing. It becomes second nature.
I’ve been writing seriously for 22 years. I still read books and websites about writing. All of this reading and practice caused me to declare writer’s block a myth in a previous article. It seems like a myth to me because the cures have become automatic.
Wouldn’t it be great if every writer had the resources available to turn writer’s block into a myth? Not after reading countless articles about it. Not after years of trial and error. Right from the start. Right from now.
But It Keeps Coming Back
Writer’s get blocked, search until they find an answer that works, and continue writing. Later, they get blocked again. They try the cure that worked last time and it doesn’t work. They conclude that writer’s block is a huge powerful obstacle that they must learn to live with.
Writer’s block is not an obstacle. It is many obstacles. There are many causes and there are cures for each.
There are also more powerful cures that can wipe out the block without knowing the problem. Sometimes they leave a lot of work for the editing phase but they get the job done. You continue writing.
Is there a way you can visualize the problem?
The Auto Mechanic Analogy
An auto mechanic finds many obstacles to getting the job done. Some cars require manufacturer specific tools. Many repairs go faster with specialized tools. And there are times when the right tool isn’t available, so they use a power tool to destroy the obstacle and rebuild with new parts.
Mechanics are only limited by the number of tools they have. Backyard mechanics have enough tools to fix their own car. Professionals have hundreds.
When the only thing you write is emails, you don’t need many tools to avoid writer’s block. When you start publishing, take advanced study courses, or try to write a book, you’ll need a lot of tools.
Demythologizing Writer’s Block
Once you have all of the tools you need to overcome writer’s block, it will become a myth for you. When it appears, you will defeat it quickly. It will disappear so fast that it has no reality.
There are three kinds of solutions to writer’s block.
The first kind of solution is addressing the particular problem directly. The second is ignoring the problem and powering on through. The third is using processes that reduce or eliminate the block.
There are several ways you can build up your writer’s block toolbox.
1. Trial and error. Write lots and learn first hand.
2. Read lots of writing books and articles.
3. Search for articles on “writer’s block” and read as much as you can stand.
4. Research “writer’s block” and create notes on the blocks that get you.
The next three sections describe some methods of overcoming writer’s block.
.Problem Specific Cures
These are cures that work when a specific problem is causing writer’s block.
The Blank Page
Start writing about the problem to yourself and segue into what you really need to write. Come back later and take out the garbage.
Take care of whatever is in the way. Do the other task or research your subject. Make yourself ready.
Write the interfering ideas right on the page within brackets. Now they’re out of your head and you’ll be able to retrieve them later by searching for the brackets.
Writing in Your Head
You’re doing two revisions when you write it in your head first. Just write it all down directly and everything will be available for revision later.
Starting in the Wrong Place
If you can’t do anything at your current spot in the piece you’re trying to write, mark your place and go write another part.
If you’re physically tired, take a nap. If you’re mentally tired, get some exercise.
For nonfiction, write the case against your main thesis. If it’s fiction, write one of the bad character’s sections.
You become a perfectionist because of the deadline and slow to a crawl. Write whatever pops into your head and fly through. Fix it in the revisions.
Only good if you’re editing. Determine you’ll do a bad job and get it done. Your internal editor can have a turn when you revise.
These are cures that ignore the problem. As a result, some are more difficult than the problem specific cures.
Just making your way to the keyboard, typewriter or notepad at a set time makes a huge difference in how much you write each day.
When you have several writing projects, as soon as writer’s block appears you can switch projects. Return to the first later and the block is gone.
Take a break from writing and do some writing exercises. This puts you in the right mood for writing and speeds you up.
Write a two person conversation at the spot you’re blocked. Give the two speakers conflicting viewpoints on what comes next.
Why Are You Writing?
Remember why you’re writing in the first place. Hate your current job? Use it. Love writing? Love it now.
The Ten Paths
Can’t move forward? Make a list of 10 possible paths forward. Obvious, impossible and ridiculous are all okay. Then narrow it down to the best and continue.
Take a Break
Just walking away from your writing project for five or ten minutes can be very refreshing. Try not to repeat this more than once an hour.
This is a good cure for too much thinking while you’re writing. Close your eyes and type everything. Fix it when you’re done.
Write the investigative reporter’s list of questions for the problem at hand and answer as best you can. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
These are ways to write that reduce your chance of getting writer’s block. Some of the cures above involved smaller processes. These are broader.
The Multi Draft Writing Process
This way of eliminating writer’s block uses steps to ensure you always have a plan. You revisit your writing piece in several passes. Each pass broadens and improves your writing.
You start with a file of article or story ideas. You add to the file every time you get a new idea.
You pick some good ideas and turn them into short synopses. You add these to your synopses file.
You pick a good synopsis and create an outline for it. You keep expanding the outline until there are enough ideas to give you the right length piece.
The outline is used to write a first draft.
The second draft is created by editing and expanding the first draft.
When you’re only finding minor problems, you’ve made it to the final draft and are ready to submit your work.
The Anti Block Ritual
This process is very individual. Everyone has a different set of steps that get them set up for writing freely. I’ve made a bit of a long list of rituals here. Cut out the ones you don’t need and add those you do.
Set a daily time for writing. Include break times.
Schedule interruptions for after the writing period. For example, call your friend who likes to drop by and plan a meeting later in the day.
Kill all distractions. Turn off the TV and radio. Shut down all other computer applications except those you need for writing.
Separate yourself from your family. If you can’t go to a separate room, put some headphones on. Music in a language you don’t understand can block out surrounding sounds without pulling you into the lyrics. You can get free mp3s from independent bands all over the world at Jamendo.
Open two writing projects you want to complete. If you find yourself stopping while writing one, switch to the other.
When switching between projects doesn’t work, write at different places in them.
When writing in different places doesn’t work, edit what’s already written. Go from start to finish and add where needed. When you come to the place you got blocked, write something, even if it’s just “I got blocked here.”
Stop at the planned stop time.
Can you banish writer’s block from your writing life for good? Will you tackle the problem head on? I know I’ll be writing more as I write for more sites. Can I induce writer’s block in myself to remind me what it’s like? Can writer’s block solutions also banish procrastination and distractions? What a great adventure writing can be.
The next post will be part three of the screenplay series: second drafts.
Article by Ivan Izo.