Have you ever bought a pair of jeans without trying them on first?
I have. I’m
lazy efficient. I’ll grab a pair, paying little mind to the inconsistency of sizing, and come home only to find myself tugging and tugging to no avail. Try hard as I might (turns out, I can hold my breath for two minutes) I am not getting anywhere with those jeans. Writer’s block is a similarly frustrating experience.
When it comes to your pants, several obvious solutions come to mind – get bigger pants, cut them into denim leg warmers (it’s a thing), try to lose some weight, use them to gauge the direction of the wind, or simply go back to the store and exchange them. Writer’s block, on the other hand, is seldom easily solvable. Otherwise, it would be called “writer’s inconvenience.”
There are, as luck (and this writer) would have it, a few methods of getting past your frustration. Read on to write on.
Do the Bart Simpson. Take a note from the eldest Simpson child, who is depicted writing lines on the chalkboard, a somewhat outdated form of punishment for misbehaving students that involves writing the same sentence over and over again. It’s a surprisingly good way to get over momentary writer’s block – simply keep repeating the last sentence you were able to come up with until it launches the next one.
Ramble on. Cue Robert Plant. In all seriousness, though, just write away – get out any thought that comes to mind, even if it’s poorly worded or unrelated to your piece; in other words, let the stream of consciousness flow unhindered. It’s entirely possible that, rather than having no ideas, you actually have too many, which forces you to either comb through all of them (which is exhausting) because they’re getting in the way of productive thoughts. By letting them all out, you will have essentially “cleared” the blockage and allowed better ideas to flow through.
Read. I find that just reading something else (a book, a newspaper, the back of a shampoo bottle) helps me get into a writing “mode.” Long-term writer’s block, which can last for days or months or even years, seems to stem from a lack of being in one’s “zone.” I’m surprised at just how many writers don’t read. You certainly don’t have to read a novel per night, but taking a break from your own fiction to read someone else’s for a few minutes before getting back to work can be just what you need.
Exercise. No, not like what you do at the gym (although that may solve our dilemma with the pants). I mean a writing exercise, like the kind your high school teachers made you do. It’s not just busy-work; it gets the gears turning in the part of your brain that is responsible for writing, but takes off the pressure of having to write whatever it is you’re struggling to finish. Write a haiku, make up a 500 word story about a random character, describe something on your desk, etc.
Relocate. Perhaps your bedroom is too distracting, or the library makes you think of all of the finals you are nervous about failing. Maybe the coffee shop only reminds you of the time you got broken up with in a Starbucks, which I’m not still salty about, even though it was kind of a rude thing to do after I bought you coffee. Just a thought.
Writer’s block is frustrating, sure, but it doesn’t have to be unproductive. Its kryptonite is patience and a desire to succeed. How do you overcome writer’s block? Share your strategies in the comments below!