Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Unblocking Writer’s Block

Thank you to Debbie Meyers of the DRG Group for this wonderful post!

Writer’s block: (def) the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

 “There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer's block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling you talent run down your leg and into your sock.” 
 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Whether you are writing a letter, term paper, speech, or blog, sometimes you get stuck from the very beginning. You’re on a deadline, and you’ve been staring at a blank page for a half hour. You start to panic. You thought you knew what to say, but now you’re not so sure how to say it. And you have so much to say that you can’t decide where to begin.

“Writing is a competition between the writer and the page. When the page wins, you fail as a writer.” 
 Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom

You want the perfect opener, something catchy that will draw attention and mesmerize your reader. So with fits and starts, you rewrite and rework your introduction 75 times. At this point, you’re either happy with your beginning or you’re so frustrated with it that you decide to come back to it later. Either way, you realize you must move on to the body of your piece.

“Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper not eternal bronze: Let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes.” 
 Jacques Barzun

Pick and choose. Sort and reorder. What goes first? What stays in? What comes out? This factoid is interesting; maybe I should change the focus of the article? Or should I stick with the current focus and dig until something even better emerges? This quote here might not this relate, but it sounds really good so I’m writing it down. Whew. Time to take a break. I just can’t think any more! It’s been a whole 12 minutes.

“Writer's block is just a fancy way of saying 'I don't feel like doing any work today.’” 
 Meagan Spooner

Of course, you can get to this point only if you were sure about your subject in the first place. What if the assignment is something as broad as the ocean, like, I don’t know, “write a blog on donor relations”?

“Writer’s block, I just drove around it four times. All my favorite writers live there.” 
 Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not FOR SALE

In his blog “How to Overcome Writer’s Block: 14 Tricks That Work” (, Jeff Goins lists common causes of writer’s block and 14 simple and sensible solutions. The most common cause of writer’s block: fear.

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you'll never write a line. That's why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” 
Erica Jong, The New Writer's Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career

Goins’ solutions range from coffee to walking to talking to an old friend. All are excellent solutions – in fact, several were on my list for you to read here, but now I can’t do that in good conscience without plagiarizing! So here are three unique additions to Goins’ list of solutions:

1.     Promise.

When you’re stuck, sometimes taking a walk is a good thing. But it shouldn’t always be your first solution.

When you sit down to write, promise to come away having written SOMETHING. Maybe it’s the first draft. Or an outline. The first page. Have a goal. Then commit to a time frame for the promise, based on whatever your threshold is. If you’re easily distracted, make it 15 minutes. If you’re on an hour train ride, devote 45 minutes. Stick it out. Eventually something will come. But if you get up and walk away, you’ve got nothing. The point is to give yourself limits, structure and boundaries.

2.      Perfect later.

Don’t worry about word choice, punctuation or spelling. You can go back and fix syntax and typos later. The most important thing about writing is to just write. Stream of consciousness can be incredibly productive. Try not to get hung up on what the best verb is; resist the urge to go to the thesaurus immediately. When you’re on a roll, it’s more important to capture the thought, not choose the best word. You’ll have time to perfect your message later. Start by writing down everything you think you may want to say or include. Then -- 

3.     Pick three.

Before, during, after. Big, medium, small. Good, bad, ugly. Good, better, best. Pros, cons, conclusion. Theory, mechanics, implementation. Planes, trains, automobiles.

Force a structure on your writing by picking three aspects of a subject. This structure will then guide you into what to put in and what to leave out. Look for commonalities among elements. Compare and contrast, then see what logical order falls into place.

Or go wild and pick four. It doesn’t matter the number, as long as you give yourself a mental garage to park your ideas in. If the idea or piece of information doesn’t fit, let it go. Use it another time or for something else, but for now, focus on your topic at hand.

“There are many advices on writing. The best I know is stop reading them and start writing.” 
 Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom

Why are you still reading? Go write! 


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