Recently Emily Blake wrote “writers block is a lie“.
“If I’m ever completely uninspired, I make a note of what goes there, highlight it in yellow, and skip to the next scene. And if I’m still stumped, I write whatever crap I can come up with until I ease into something less crappy.”
Too bad Emily wasn’t around to give this advice to Coleridge, Ellison, Mitchell and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Writers have been blocked throughout the history of the written word. Some have been unable to work for years, leading them to abandon their careers. Enough reason to look into some techniques to fight it.
First of all we need to establish whether you’re suffering from short term or long term block. Today, let’s be optimistic and assume it’s only short term.
SHORT TERM WRITER’S BLOCK
- Is it block or is it a distraction? Remove the distraction or remove yourself from the distraction.
- Find outside triggers. Pick words from song lyrics, a magazine, the news, look for inspiration in the voice message(s) on your phone.
- Write what springs to mind. If your inner voice says “This is stupid”, write down: “This is stupid”. Continue for as long as it takes.
- Try asemic writing. My 4-yr old ‘writes’ these doodles, then I ‘read’ them aloud for him. Makes him proud and sharpens my story skills.
- Call a friend, tell your story and ask: “So, what happens next?” You may be surprised at the outcome.
- Change your circumstances: Leave the keyboard, start using pen and paper, change your writing room or write in a cafe.
- Change Point of View. Re-write a scene from a different Point of View. Continue this past the point where you got blocked.
- Change your habit or method. Write in the morning instead of at night (& v.v.), go for a walk before your writing session.
- Try a different medium: record your story to your phone or mp3 player/recorder, draw it as a comic book, etc.
- Decide not to write for a set period of time: 5 mins or 5 hours. Don’t even try. Good chance inspiration will start flowing.
If you’re still blocked tomorrow, consider the following:
LONG TERM WRITER’S BLOCK
- Do you have a structure? Where is your story going in the first place? Work this out before anything else.
- Create a habit. Write every day, at the same time, for the same duration. It reduces the chances of block.
- Call your story consultant for advise. Perhaps it only takes a minor change in the story to unblock you.
- Look for a co-writer. This may improve the speed and the quality of your writing. Or join a writers group.
- Go back to your research notes or do more research. Become an expert in the world of your hero.
- Re-write everything. Try a different POV for the whole story. Continue past the point where you got blocked.
- Go back to square one. Perhaps your story sucks and you need to abandon it? Or start it completely from scratch.
- Take a holiday. Resist the urge to write; take notes only. Next, you’ll be so keen you can’t stop the creative juices.
- Start a new story. Brainstorm new ideas and alternate 2 (or more) stories. Have stories cross-pollinate each other.
- Look after yourself. Is another problem keeping you from writing? Sort this out first, or learn to live with it.
You may have stopped being a writer. Or you’re just procrastinating.
In the latter case, let’s dig a little deeper into the causes of and solutions to writer’s block. It helps to understand how the mind works and how creativity happens (or doesn’t happen).
Here are three wonderful resources:
- Elizabeth Gilbert on ‘nurturing creativity’ (TED talk).
- David Levy on ‘ratio vs. intellectus’ (Google Tech talk).
- Joan Acocella on history and origins of Writer’s Block (in The New Yorker).
You’ll find that in almost all cases, there are far more fundamental causes at the root of our inability to continue writing here & now.
Which brings us to the conclusion that Emily may be right.
Writer’s block is a lie.
Please share your experience with writer’s block in the comments. Thank you!
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.