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The Grammar Bitch’s Guide to Writing: Writer’s Block

Never trust a writer who says she’s never experienced writer’s block. She’s lying. All writers, no matter what they’re writing, hit a wall at some point when the ideas stop coming and there just aren’t any more words that want to get onto the page. Sometimes, writer’s block happens before you’ve even started. I talked about some ways to get past that initial stalling and build up some momentum.

For many of us, writer’s block sneaks up when we least expect it. I’ll be typing away at a pretty good clip, when all of a sudden, BAM! No more words. No more ideas. Nothing but a blinking cursor, taunting me. I swear, there have been times when I’ve stared at the same spot on my computer screen and lost track of time, just trying to will the words into existence. As you might expect, this isn’t the most effective way of overcoming a block.

There are resources all over the place with suggestions on how to overcome writer’s block. What’s important to remember is that no one method works for everyone. Some people need to get up, walk around, change scenery, and forget about the piece for a while. Others need to dig deeper into their source material, looking for that one word or phrase that will kick-start their creativity.

I have a few different things I do when I find myself with a sudden, infuriating case of writer’s block. If I’m writing fiction or a creative piece, I open a blank Word document, and type the word “the” over and over and over until the next word comes. Sometimes I’ll only have a line or two of “the the the the the,” but, on more than one occasion, I’ve managed to make it through an entire page before any other word is channeled through my fingers onto the page. Sometimes that next word doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m writing about. Sometimes it veers in a sharply different direction from where my piece had been heading. Sometimes it’s a logical continuation of where I left off. Where that “the” leads isn’t really that important; it’s the fact that it gets me going again that matters.

Another thing that sometimes helps me is to pick up the nearest book and start reading. It gets me out of my own piece and away from the wall that my brain is facing, but still keeps me fully immersed in the world of words. Sometimes, one word or phrase or sentence will trigger something, and I’ll be back to my own piece with an idea ready to be expressed.

And, to be totally honest, sometimes I just stare at that blinking cursor. I let it hypnotize me a bit, while I sort and sift through words in my mind, discarding some as soon as I think of them, setting others aside for use later on, and, with any luck, catching the right word just as it floats into my consciousness in time to commit it to the page.

How about you, fellow writers? Do you have any tried-and-true methods for overcoming writer’s block? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tried to get your words unstuck?

10 replies on “The Grammar Bitch’s Guide to Writing: Writer’s Block”

I usually wait it out…. This isn’t really a great method if you’re on a deadline, because my “waiting it out” has lasted months before, as long as half a year. I have to wait for that magical inspirational moment. I know that’s not such a great method, but it’s what has always worked for me.

Music almost always helps me, but I’m very particular about it. If I associate what I’m writing with a certain song or CD or artist, I play it, sometimes over and over and over. Seriously, when I was in college and in poetry workshops, I’d sit there and play the same Snow Patrol or Tori Amos or Moby song over and over (and according to my roommate, who was wonderfully tolerant of it, I’d rock back and forth and mutter to myself). I think it helps me get back to the headspace I was in when I wasn’t stuck, if that makes sense.

I once read an interview with Hemingway (ugh, I know) who said that he would wake up and write every morning, but he would stop when he still had things to say, and hold it in all day until he woke up the next morning to write again. That process works very well for me when I’m working on a long term project. I have all day to toss around those remaining ideas in my head and then more to write the next morning.

I like to tell myself that walking away from something will give me space to think/breathe over it, but I’m very bad about going back to it.

My best tried-and-true recipe for getting a draft out is a deadline. None of this “setting personal deadlines” BS, either, because I’ll just keep extending it on myself. I need a beta, an editor, my boss, just someone else outside my own person that I can be accountable to. So I say, “I will e-mail this to you by X date,” even if I haven’t gotten a single word down on the page yet, and that somehow magically motivates me to Get. It. Done. It’s always been like that for me. When I was in grad school, I got the absolute most work done on my thesis in the day or so right before a meeting with my advisor.

I too can test to the power of all mighty real deadline. I hate pressure but somehow it make my me more productive and focused. And yes. Creating your own deadlines don’t work. You know you don’t mean it.
I also found that going for a walk or bicycle ride can help clear my mind and come up with idea. but if I don’t write those immediately, I loose them by the time I get home. So go for a walk with a pen and paper or at least a phone so you can text it.

It is absolutely true for me, as well, to have deadlines. My worry, however, is that my best work is not produced. Yes, the task is completed, but the questions about how much better it could have been dog me.

For me, this is not a healthy habit (I think I began waaaay back in high school), and the fact that I’m still doing it 20+ years later is worrisome to me. Sigh.

I get around this by having a trusted friend be a pre-drop dead deadline checker. I’ll say, “I will send it to you by X-7,” (X being the day it’s really, really due). Then I send her a copy, she glances and makes suggestions, and sends it back. Or at the very least, even if she doesn’t have time to play editor, I have a full draft that I’ve had to send to her by X-7 date or she’ll nag me about it. Then I have a whole week to edit, revise, and improve by the X drop dead true deadline.

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