Breaking Writer’s Block, or: I’m not just some creativity faucet you can turn on and off willy-nilly, Sharon.
Hey, everyone! I’m not feeling super great today, so this article is going to be a bit short, but it will still be chock-full of useful information. For writers, even.
When writing is your profession, or hobby, or recreational activity, or super-special-secret way of dealing with real life frustrations, writer’s block can be a real big issue that grinds your entire life to a halt, even if writing isn’t your means for obtaining an income (doubly so if it is). Fortunately, this, too, shall pass, but it can be rough on the psyche. However, there are a few ways to push past the block and get those words/pictures/strange symbols on the page, even when your brain is resisting. Keep in mind that your brain will still try to sabotage you in the process of overcoming the block, so you just have to ignore it calling your words or your stories stupid (i.e. pull the backspace and delete keys off of your keyboard, lose your eraser, suspend your disbelief, and forget the word “no”). The most important thing in this process is to get those words on the page. (You can go back and fix them in a week and no sooner.) Let’s get to it!
Change the Format:
This technique is best for pushing through on a project you already have started and need to get done, but can also be useful to find a format that you can start new writings in. Open your preferred writing program, change the margin size and/or font size and or/font, and continue writing. If you are writing by hand, then try a larger or smaller notebook, fold the paper in half, turn the paper on its side, or write on sticky notes/notecards/poster boards/receipt tape/etc. Your brain will focus more on the change and less on the content of your writing, so this will give you some room to breathe and get that report/article/short story/poem/chapter/etc. finished.
Talk to Someone:
This technique is good for starting new work, pushing through existing work, and the editing phase of a finished manuscript (and is the basic principle behind beta readers, critique groups, etc.). Sometimes your brain gets stuck and convinces you that you are also stuck, so it forces you to miss mistakes/plot holes/opportunities in your work. In order to bypass this, ask other people for their opinions and feedback, or talk through the problem (potentially with a rubber duck: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging). When you talk to other people, you trigger social protocols in your brain that forces it to stop being so obstructive. When you talk through the problem out loud, you are engaging a different thinking process that also forces your brain to switch gears and forget that it was being a jerk to you. Once your brain is distracted from its negativity, then you should be able to get some more words on the page.
This method gives your brain a break/distraction from that Big Important ProjectTM while giving you the opportunity to continue practicing writing (and can even give you some new stories to add to that novel series/short story collection/book of poetry/memoir in the process). There are several paths to risk-free writing, but they all share the aspect that the writer does very little work outside of getting words to the page. My two favorite paths are writing bios and short stories for characters I create in various game formats (such as characters created with RPG systems like Pathfinder (http://www.d20pfsrd.com/) and character’s created for video games (like Fallout, Dragon Age, World of Warcraft, Destiny, etc.), and by figuring out paint-by-numbers plots (such as those generated through the TV Tropes Story generator (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/storygen.php) and the donjon Random Adventure Generator (http://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/adventure/)). Another potential approach is to take any number of the structures within the genre you are writing and figure out what stories/poems/anecdotes would fit those structures. (Good resources to find these structures are the Poetry Foundation (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms?category=209) and Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirty-Six_Dramatic_Situations).) Another approach that I, personally, don’t do very often is rewriting stories that already exist, preferable fairytales and folk tales, such as the ones found here: http://americanfolklore.net/sindex.html.This method also forces your brain to switch gears, but to the effect of trying to solve a puzzle instead of engaging the previously mentioned processes.
This method is essentially the “brute force” one of the bunch, but can help you get that assignment finished or that first draft down. This can be done by professors setting hard deadlines after which assignments will not be accepted, by having a blog with a strict release schedule, or by joining an event like NaNoWriMo with lots of peer pressure. Be warned that this approach is the most stressful and will burn you out, so use sparingly.
Stream of Consciousness:
This method entails writing as continually as you can and writing down everything that crosses your mind. Sit down in front of your computer (or at your desk) and write. If there is a hole or a plot element that you haven’t figured out yet, then write out [what missing plot is there] and move on to the next thing you do have figured out. Turn off your phone notifications. Turn off your internet access. Close out all distractions. (Optional: Set a timer for 6–8 hours and don’t stop until you hear it go off.) This approach is about removing any excess brain-stimulation so that your brain either has to ride along or face being bored.
Play Word Games:
This is a method that essentially rekindles your ability to unconsciously associate things in the world through words. Find a dictionary, vocabulary list, or book, go through it and begin grouping and webbing out words and phrases like so:
uxorious -> definition: excessively fond of or submissive to a wife -> latin root: uxor: f.: wife, spouse, consort -> implies whipped husband -> related to cuckold -> people using it are probably right-wing reactionaries who learned some Latin -> historically asserts women’s subservience and subordinance to men in both a legal and relationship sense. (In other news, I am never picking a trending word off of the Merriam-Webster website (http://www.merriam-webster.com/) again.) You can also play Codenames (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/178900/codenames), Machine of Death (http://machineofdeath.net/), Once Upon a Time (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1234/once-upon-time-storytelling-card-game), or Bring Your Own Book (http://www.bringyourownbook.com/) to get a similar effect (with or without friends). In fact, I am looking forward to playing the Bring Your Own Book game with my book club next week, because it will be interesting to see what people do when everyone is using the same source text. Words are your paint brushes as a writer, so it is always good to test them out and see what marks they make so that you can use them more efficaciously and artfully in your masterpiece.
Happy writing, everyone!
Did any of these techniques work for you? Do you have your own method for breaking through writer’s block that you’d like to share? Is there another topic that you would like me to write about? Let me know in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you! I post new articles on Wednesdays. Please remember to subscribe or follow me if you find these articles useful and want to see more!