Last week on the Ricochet podcast, it seemed that Peter Robinson (@peterrobinson) was suffering from a bout of writer’s block. It made him irritable and had him implying that those writers who didn’t suffer from it might have ridden to their parents’ weddings on bicycles.
I have more than a bit of experience with writer’s block. Half my vanity-project books are unfinished due to it. (Either that, or because I came to my senses and realized those dogs were never gonna hunt.) As part of one project from my past, I started cataloging and categorizing bits of advice that I had for writers, especially poets. In that catalog are thirteen tips for dealing with writer’s block.
Now, none of these bits of advice are original to me. Writer’s block has been around since the day after the invention of the alphabet. Naturally, people have been using ideas similar to these since those early days of writing. So, if you’re suffering, consider these to be bits of wisdom from the ages.
Read past works.
When you come to a stopping point, stumbling block, point where you just can’t write, maybe looking at your past works will help.
The reality is that all of these points in this section boil down to the advice to relax and get away from what you’ve been trying to write. By putting aside your performance anxiety and looking at your past glory, it can change your mood and attitude toward what you are currently writing.
Read other people’s work.
Maybe reading someone else’s writings will help re-inspire you and re-energize your writing.
Put it aside for a time; write something else.
Some authors have multiple projects going in different formats so there is always something to write, but there’s no pressure for one specific thing to be written. I presently have these writing projects going:
Seven science fiction novels,
A mystery novel,
At least four poetry self-help books,
A business marketing book,
My own poetry, which could be gathered into a compilation book,
Twenty-nine unfinished poems to work on when the mood strikes,
Two-hundred-six poetry ideas for new poems in a database,
Newspaper opinion columns, which also could be compiled into book form.
Two unfinished columns,
Seven column ideas.
So, that’s fifteen book projects at once, plus numerous shorter writing opportunities, such as show up on Ricochet. It gives something different to work on each day. This may not be the sanest way for a professional writer who is under deadlines, but if you are writing for fun, why not? You don’t have to be constrained to write one thing and finish it immediately. Even if you are under deadlines, sometimes working on something else for half an hour or an hour lets your brain process the more urgent work behind the scenes.
Write in another format.
Can you turn what you’re writing into a short story, a novel, prose, non-fiction, etc.? Can you write a short story, a novel, prose, non-fiction, etc. on a different topic that will allow your current poem (or other work) to brew in your unconscious? (As I mentioned above, this started as a list for poets.)
Write in another format. (Episode II)
Try a different format of poem. Perhaps you’ve been writing in free verse? Try writing it as a villanelle or sonnet. The structure might help bring it together. You say you’ve been trying a very structured form? Try a less structured form. Perhaps the final product has to be in a certain form? Try writing it in another form first to break the block. Then go back to the original form.
For those writing prose works, can you outline it? Can you put it in some other form that will be a spur for the final form? Can you do something ridiculous, such as writing it as a poem? You don’t have to finish it, just get yourself started writing again.
Don’t force it!
Sometimes, the words just aren’t flowing It’s better if the writing flows when it’s ready, not when you are. Again, if you are under a deadline, try a short break and come back to it, or edit what you do have and see if it starts flowing again.
Write something silly.
The main way to get over writer’s block is to be writing. Write something. Anything! Do it now! Seriously though, starting out to write something totally silly can break the mood and hold of writer’s block. Once you start writing something silly, you are writing again. Will it be long before the serious stuff starts again?
Unless, of course, you’re a comic writer or poet. Then you might consider writing something serious for once. Basically, get away from your norm for a bit.
Write about not being able to write.
A poem or bit of writing doesn’t have to be good to get you writing again. Sometimes you just get stuck and need to get something out to unblock the inspirational passage. The key is to find something to write about. It primes the pump for more inspiration out of the well.
There are various methods of free association that writers can use to break the block. One of these methods is called clustering, where you write down the central idea in the middle of a blank sheet. Then write related ideas all around it, and then write ideas related to those ideas. If you do this for long enough, you might decide to get back to work on your own or run out of paper.
Another free association exercise is as follows:
Think of a word and write it down. It can be any word. It doesn’t have to fit the theme you might have been trying to write on. The objective is to get back to writing.
Now set a kitchen timer or watch for at least one minute and start it going.
Write down a word that rhymes with the word you have chosen.
Use the time you have set to write down words that either rhyme with or are associated with one another. The point is to write quickly.
There are many other variations, but they all use the idea of free association. Don’t let your internal editor or critic in the room, just write quickly with whatever comes to mind.
Get away for a while. Clear your mind.
Put down the pen; step away from the keyboard. Come out with your hands up! Take a walk in the woods, or just take a walk. Get writing out of your mind. Come back in a half an hour or two hours and try again. Maybe you need to combine this with another suggestion already mentioned? Get away, and when you come back, write something else, or change formats.
Show it to someone else for comments or suggestions.
At the very least, most negatively critical reviews will anger you into focusing your purpose more and taking off with it. Better criticism might even be able to express what needs to be changed.
Also, it just helps to be able to discuss a piece with a living body. Usually, if they actually say much, it just gets in the way. The act of formulating your thoughts about the problem with a piece often gives you the solution, and what they say doesn’t matter anyway.
Write a blues song to clear away your troubles.
You got troubles? Nothing going right? Can’t write your way out of a paper bag with a sharply pointed pen? Maybe it’s time to sit down and unburden your soul in a blues song. Get it all on paper, and wail it out into the night. You’ll feel better in the morning. This author usually feels a lot better about half way through writing it down. There’s just something about writing a blues song that unblocks everything and brings a smile to the face. If you can write how bad it is, maybe it isn’t so bad after all.
Stop. Close your eyes. Take three of four deep breaths. Pay attention to your breathing. Visualize breathing in through your feet and out through the top of your head. Breathe the power and energy of the universe through your body rather than just air.
Techniques from Yoga, TM, and other metaphysical and meditational practices can bring you back and clear you out. They can free your inner Muse to write again.
One might even consider a bit of prayer, followed by enough silence to let G-d speak.
More from the Ricochetoisie?
So many of us are writers here. What has helped you overcome writer’s block in the past? Can you help Peter Robinson out, so he’ll be back to being the polite, loving, and kind Peter we’re all used to?