Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blockbuster Ten

Ten Things To Help You Bust Through Writer's Block
(dedicated to L., who requested some ideas)

Change Locations: The space you're writing in may be interfering with your process (and is generally because of bad lighting, uncomfortable temperature, noise, family or co-worker traffic or any other element that distracts you.) To discover if it is, take your work and go somewhere else. Coffee shops are the default, but if you have time check out your local public library, outdoor parks, school media centers, employee break rooms or cafeterias at work, tea rooms, etc. Or ask a family member or friend if you can borrow an empty/spare room or office of theirs to work in for a few hours.

Clean Something: This is a method I use to work out whatever is getting between me and the page that my morning meditation doesn't clear out; I get up and do some housework like fold a load of laundry, vacuum, mop, dust, etc. It improves my mood, helps me keep up with my chores and makes me feel better after the task is done. For really bad writing days I'll stop and go clean an entire room.

Get Physical: If you do some regular type of exercise, try taking a break and working out for fifteen minutes. I have a Tai Chi video tape I pop in the recorder that helps me enormously when I'm too aggravated to write or meditate. If you can get outside that also helps; I've found taking the dogs for even a short walk improves my mood and calms me almost 100% of the time.

Listen to Music: I put together a playlist for every book I write, and when I get mired down I'll listen to one of the songs. This is fun and also can help you focus and visualize; music is one of the most direct methods of finding inspiration. If I'm having a particularly difficult time with a specific scene I'll put on a calming instrumental song and loop it to play over and over until I work out the kinks.

Meditate: My favorite definition of meditation is this one: Prayer is about talking to God; meditation is about listening to Him. There are innumerable methods for and philosophies about meditation, and not all require you to be a person of faith; if you don't believe in a higher power it can simply be a time when you listen to yourself. I meditate every morning, and my method evolved from a technique called the thousand-petal lotus (and here's an article where the technique is explained and used for weight control.) This is a great way to deal with the frustrations that get between you and the page, as well as the most proactive thing you can do to prevent writer's block. Try it; you might find that as little as 10 minutes of meditation before you write can help you disperse a lot of the negative thoughts and energy drainers that might mess with you later.

Pick a Reward: Aka dangle a carrot in front of your nose to get yourself moving. I use books I want to read, music CDs I want to listen to and movies I want to watch as incentives to finish my weekly writing goals, and I always reward myself with something fun when I finish a novel. It doesn't have to be a reward you have to purchase, either; if money is tight you can make your carrot something you love to do at home, such as watching an hour of television, taking a long hot bubble bath or baking a batch of homemade cookies for yourself.

Skip Ahead: If there's a scene you simply can't write no matter how often you try, it may need to percolate a bit more in the back of your mind. To give it time to do so you can skip past it and write the next scene. Be sure to leave behind a note for yourself on what the skipped scene was supposed to accomplish, what characters appear in it, etc. Naturally you can go back to the scene whenever you feel ready to try tackling again, but I recommend giving yourself at least 48 hours before you have another go at it.

Talk it Out: This is a trick I learned while training myself to write by voice. If you go back a few paragraphs or pages of story that you've already written, and read it out loud up to the point where you were stopped by the block, you may find you can keep going and tell more of the story by saying it versus typing it. If you don't own voice recognition software, you can record the new material on a handheld tape recorder or with your computer microphone and a recording program. Then all you have to do is transcribe what you've said onto the page.

Timed & Reward Breaks: You'll need a timer or an alarm of some kind for this one (I use an ordinary kitchen timer.) When you're in writing space and nothing is happening, set the timer or alarm for five minutes and go do something else. You can do anything you want for five minutes. When the bell rings or the alarm goes off, go back to your writing space try to write again for the next fifteen minutes (and don't do anything else; you're just there to write.) If nothing happens again, reset your timer or alarm for five more minutes and take another break. Now here's the reward part: if you write a full page, as a reward you earn a ten minute break. If you write two full pages, you get a fifteen minute break. And if you write until you reach your daily goal, you get the rest of the day off.

Unplug: The internet is a wonderful thing. It's an endless universe of neat stuff waiting to be discovered. It can also be one of the worst distractions a writer has, especially when you're wrestling with a block. To get it out of your way, shut it down, and don't log on again until you've written at least a page of new material. Then get that timer or alarm out and give yourself a reward of ten minutes of internet time, because you deserve it.

Related links: Hack Your Way Out of Writer's Block ~ Overcoming Writer's Block ~ Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block ~ Writer's Block: Is It All In Your Head?


  1. Anonymous2:20 PM

    GREAT advice, Lynn; thanks for sharing! I just discovered your Blog, so will visit back often!

    hugs, Kari Thomas,

  2. Piedra Verde12:22 AM

    Thank you! I'm a new writer stuck for the first time. I really appreciate having some realistic options. Usually I spin myself into a worse funk of "I'm never going to write again, thatwasjustafluke" etc. After this email, I'll try number 10 .....

  3. Thanks for this block busting post. Since I moved I've had more time, but gotten less done.

    Music - that's the one for me. Thanks for the reminder.


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