Going to a writers conference, as seven of us did last week, can leave participants tired but fired up to get things done. We’re inspired, we’re motivated, we’re hopeful. So when writer’s block hits, we can be sideswiped. And writer’s block hits most of us, sooner or later.
Hillary Rettig, in The 7 Secrets of the Prolific, says that procrastination (and its evil twin, writer’s block) is disempowerment. She’s outlined reasons for not writing, starting with problems with the project (you’re sick of it, you wrote yourself into a corner, you’re overwhelmed by it), fear of failure or success, perfectionism, and competing priorities for time. She has a lot of good strategies for problem solving so that you can do the work you want to do. First up: don’t go to a place of shame (“Don’t be so lazy!” “You’ll never get published, anyway!”), but understand that productivity is constantly under siege from many directions.
If you’re just momentarily stumped—and not shivering in a corner, clearly needing a therapeutic intervention—you might be able to jump start your process. Thinking out loud can clarify your ideas. Explain your book as if you were describing it to a person you don’t know very well. Talk into a tape recorder so you don’t lose track of your ideas. (In fact, one of our members got help at the conference by describing her problem to a stranger she sat next to at a session.) Then transcribe what you taped. You might generate enough sentences that you can move on.
To find a writing rhythm, some people recommend retyping well-known writers—such as Gertrude Stein or Ernest Hemmingway—or well-known works—such as a Keats poem or Winnie the Pooh. The stuck can benefit by “finding the music” of someone else and use that to find their own rhythms.
Sometimes just reading a good book can do it. Music can help, too—something that floats your boat rhythmically, whether that’s the Beatles, B.B. King, or Beethoven.
A change of scene can work wonders. E.B. White wrote Here is New York in a hotel room during a hot, humid New York summer. Margaret Drabble has said:
A featureless room can be liberating. I’ve good memories of the Station Hotel in Peterborough and the Westin Harbour Castle, Toronto. I wrote a lot in both of these buildings.
Whatever you do, don’t give up just because at this moment you can’t see where you’re headed. J. Alastair Frisby (who’s he again?) once told P.G. Wodehouse that the humorist would “never [finish] a book” and suggested Wodehouse “get a job selling jellied eels.”
Ted Scheinman, writing in the Pacific Standard, tells a great story about how he hibernated on a friend’s farm, trying to get his writing done, but finding a wall wherever he looked and terrified he’d never again write anything longer than 3,000 words. A friend gave him a gift: three small wedges of balsa wood, labeled “Writers’ Use Only.” The note that accompanied the balsa pieces read, “If you get writer’s block, just toss one of these in the woodstove.” If nothing else works, burn that writer’s block in effigy!
So—what about you? If you have writer’s block, what do you do to unleash the creative forces again?