This is a letter I received today from "The Writer's Life". It was written by Donna Baier Stein.
Dear Keith Birmingham,
Dear Keith Birmingham,
At some point, you're going to hit a wall.
Maybe you've come up with a great idea for a novel you want to write. You've told your best friend, your biggest supporter about this wonderful new project you're starting.
You've even managed to write a few pages or paragraphs.
And then … you find yourself unable to continue. You're stumped.
You sit down with the page or pages you've already written and can't for the life of you think of what to write next.
So you get up, fix yourself a second cup of coffee. Throw another load of laundry in. Decide now really would be a good time to clean out the front hall closet.
Maybe later in the day you somehow make it back to the computer screen or writing pad but … nothing.
The well's gone dry. And you fear it's dry forever.
Writer's block can rear its ugly head in so many forms! But again, there are many writing greats who've gone before you and managed to defeat this dreaded demon.
Here are some of their tricks:
Maya Angelou likes to just write her way out of it, forcing herself to put words — any words — on paper until she reaches the other side.
Neil Gaiman favors calling on unseen forces; when he reaches a writing impasse he puts away his manuscript and ignores it for as long as it takes until his subconscious takes care of the dirty work.
And Hemingway used this trick:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.
There is not a single "writer's block" — the phrase is a bucket into which to dump a whole sick ward of ills …
Fear of not being good enough. Inability to stay the course. Brain freeze when you're trying to set up a scene.
Sure, it can be frustrating when your head feels like it's stuffed with cotton balls. But here are some ways to break through the barrier of writer's block and get your creative juices flowing again:
1. Do something physical.
Go for a jog, a walk, a swim. I'm always amazed how helpful it can be to get away from the computer and do something non-mental. Exercise gets the blood flowing and the ideas churning.
2. Read something inspiring.
I've even known writers who will type out, word for word, a favorite passage from a favorite author, as a way to prime their own creative pump.
Set yourself a goal of writing — anything — for ten minutes without stopping. Don't lift your pen from the page or your fingers from the keyboard. Don't worry about spelling or grammar or anyone else ever seeing what you write. Just write whatever comes out.
4. Listen to music.
Sometimes, using another part of our brain can help. Sometimes, listening to music can change our mood, lead to more flow inside ourselves. Which then leads to more flow of words onto the page.
5. Make a list.
Let's say you've started writing an opening scene in your book. But you have no idea what you want to have happen. Instead of forcing yourself to write complete sentences, just jot down some ideas. Brainstorm, again without judging any ideas. What's the worst that can happen? The best? Who is your main character? Write a list of their best and worst traits.
Really, breaking writer's block can be pretty simple. Usually a block happens because our standards are too high and we're sure we can't meet them. But at the early stages of your writing process, simply writing whatever comes to mind is a great way to start. Stream of consciousness … it's like priming an old water pump, it gets it flowing. There'll be plenty of time to do the all-important editing later.
One more trick to keep in mind: take regular breaks. According to the Pomodoro Technique, we're most productive when we work in 25-minute time slots.
See which of these tricks work best for you … and you may never have to struggle with writer's block again!
To your success,
Donna Baier Stein
Donna Baier Stein