Writer’s block – the inability to push ahead on a writing project – is a common complaint in a writer’s group I facilitate. It’s also a phenomenon I know very well from firsthand experience.
It’s also something I’ve decided doesn’t really exist.
I think “writer’s block” is a catchall name (and not a useful one) for a broad spectrum of writing problems. Over the years I’ve discovered that if I can come up with a more specific description for what the block feels like, I can usually devise a cure that will help me finish the task and meet my deadline.
So here’s a list of reasons why I sometimes come down with a condition I’m going to call “avoiding-writing-itis”:
1. I don’t have anything interesting to say about the topic.
2. I don’t have anything interesting to say about the topic.
3. I don’t have anything interesting to say about the topic.
4. I don’t have anything interesting to say about the topic.
OK, I think I’ve made my point.
Sitting down to write when I have nothing to say is like sending an engraved invitation to the Writing Block gods. Freeze my brain! Put the whammy on my computer keyboard! I’m doomed to spend a miserable hour, or afternoon, or week staring at the computer screen and typing drivel that I’ll delete the next morning.
A few moments ago I assured you that the remedy for “avoiding-writing-itis” (or “writer’s block” or whatever you want to call it) will automatically appear once you identify what’s really going on. Here are some tricks for finding content that have worked for me:
1. Read up on the topic, or read something that will serve as a model for my writing task. I don’t worry if I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time leafing through essays and articles: Reading is the golden road to becoming a better writer. All good writers are avid readers.
2. Write badly. I often play a little game with myself called “I’m not really going to write today.” I buy big packages of legal pads and fat rollerball pens expressly for that purpose. And I always save the rambling thoughts that I come up with – often I find solid gold there later on.
3. Refuse to be sidetracked. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, I did not do housework for a year. (Luckily my husband was as eager as I was for me to finish the damn thing and did not complain – not even once.) I remember typing the last sentence on the last page and then getting up to look for a spray bottle of 409 so that I could – at long last – clean the countertops.
4. Transform yourself into an interesting person. Watch other people – and yourself – for unexpected reactions to ordinary ideas and events. Do you ever puzzle about things that other people seem to take for granted? Do you know any out-of-the-box thinkers you could learn from and imitate? Originality is the biggest enemy of avoiding-writing-itis because an unusual take on an ordinary subject automatically gives you something interesting to say.
By now you’re probably wondering what triggered today’s blog – or perhaps you’ve already figured it out: I am having the schizophrenic experience of wanting to finish a current writing project because I’m having so much fun with it – and dragging my feet (well, my fingers) over a couple of other projects that I really, really don’t want to tackle.
It’s always the same. Sigh. (The project that’s so much fun was a finger-dragger for a long time too.)
What’s the solution? Read, read, and read some more – get out a pad of paper and a fat pen and start freewriting – reread my notes to see if I can find an unusual angle.
Most important: Don’t even think about grabbing a broom or dustcloth until I can start to feel the writing energy bubbling inside me.