A Guide To Breaking Up Writer’s Block
“Writer’s write.” Whoever said that must not have been staring down the barrel end of a crippling case of writer’s block. Or be under a submission deadline, or have a mountain of editor suggested corrections in front of them. Don’t you think if I could “just write” I’d be doing that already?! What kind of cryptic nonsensical jargon is that? Well while it is cryptic, it is not necessarily untrue. I will break down this amorphous blob of advice, into actionable pieces.
The Warm-Up Piece
A thousand-mile journey begins with one step. A thousand-word count piece begins with one word, but sometimes just starting, is the hardest part. Staring at that blank page and that blinking cursor can be intimidating. “Just write,” you think frantically to yourself, you lift your hand, attempt to perform a keystroke, and… nothing.
That is when I like to use what I call, a “Warm Up Piece” to get my creative juices flowing. It is a piece I don’t particularly plan to publish(although I might if I end up liking it) but it is not the goal of the piece. The piece is simply to write. For the sheer love of writing. I don’t worry about plot, or character development, or word count, or flowery language. I just write. Whatever comes to me, however, it comes.
It is a great way to detour creative roadblocks, get the juices flowing, and remember why I write in the first place. Sometimes between submission deadlines, word counts, and formatting woes, it can slip away from us as to why we even began writing in the first place. Why we yoked ourselves to this cruel mistress of fate, that sometimes pours forth with so much inspiration, and other times holds back, not giving us a drop.
So why did we? Why did you, why did I? Because we love it. Deep down, beneath all the craziness of it, we love it. It is our truest love, our deepest calling, and what many of us feel we came to this planet to do. It was our path, our journey, and our destination point. Or heck, maybe it just feels good and you like it to do it. On whatever level you relate, you do it because it is yours to do. My warmup piece, helps me remember that. I write because I love it. I reconnect to my reasons for it, every day.
“If you wish to be a writer…write.”
Keep It Simple
Don’t overthink it. (I know, I know, far easier said than done. )But, often we get caught in the trap of writing for a perceived audience, so much so we lose the flow of the writing itself. We worry what others will think of it, whether it be the editor, the publisher, or some perceived mass audience.
But truly, your best audience is you. What would you want to see, read, or know about the topic? What would catch your eye or attention? Put yourself in the reader’s shoes, I know if you are a guy in your 30’s and are writing a piece on insurance for the elderly or something, it might be hard initially to put yourself in that situation, but it can be done. Take a second to think about what you are writing, and how it will impact those people. If you were them, what would you want to know about the issue at hand?
“Write what should not be forgotten”
What is the most important information, your piece is trying to convey? Or if it is a work of flash fiction let’s say, what is the base emotion you are trying to convey? Keep the focus on that, and let everything else develop around it. If you are trying to express the depth of someone’s sadness at their spouse dying, is it necessary to describe every piece of furniture at the funeral? Probably not. So don’t stress it. Keep your focus where it belongs, on the general purpose of the piece. Is it to inform, to entertain, for the sheer pleasure of expressing a specific emotion? Keep it simple, focus on that, and let everything else just fall into place, because don’t worry, it will.
Try A Different Medium
Some days it feels like nothing else is working. Our hand is cramped, our writer’s block is the size of the Hoover dam and our muse has left the building. So when all else fails… try a different medium. If you’re a writer, try your hand at painting, sculpting, even coloring. I, personally, like to pull out the Play Dough and go to work. That’s right, Play Dough. It is a similar concept to the “warm-up piece”, in that it is investing your creativity into something with no thought given to the outcome. You are creating, simply to create. Sometimes our left brain seems to be at war with our right brain, so to encourage a cease-fire, give them something they can both agree on. Something that does not trigger one side to fight about how many words it is, or how much money it will bring in. It is a creation for the sheer joy of creation. Sometimes that’s all it takes for all sides of the brain to get along and start playing nice, and allow you to remember how to be fully present in the flow state.
I mean remember the sheer joy of creating when you were a child? If you were anything like me, you would spend hours making Play-Dough creations, Lego villages, and filling coloring books to the brim with colorful drawings and masterpieces. I used paints, pens, and colored pencils, I used all the crayons in the box. It was an endless array of creativity, and when I was finished, I would simply bring in Godzilla to knock down the Lego towers, smoosh all the Play Dough back together, and close the coloring books, all to start again fresh the next day.
A piece of creative writing is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood.
- Sigmund Freud
So think of your work as a mandala of creation. You create, through the creation you find joy, then you release it into the world and let it go where it may. Your job as a creator is done, create for the joy and gift of creation, then let it go.
So remember, when the writer’s block feels like there is just no getting to the other side, try these simple techniques to reconnect to what is most important about the writing process…the sheer joy of creativity. That is what reconnects us to being human, to being present, and to being what we are supposed to be, a writer.