Friday Fun – Dealing with writer’s block

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: As a writer, do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you combat it?

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Ahhh … writer’s block. I wrote a four-part series on writer’s block right here on the blog. As I wrote in those posts, there are many root causes of writer’s block: fear, lack of time, starting, and (oddly) facing your own vision. Though I’ve done battle with each of these culprits, I think that the number one demon I’ve had to face is not being prepared.

I’m definitely a planner and plotter. I need to noodle around with my ideas before I sit down to write. When I feel unprepared, I can’t get the flow started. To help me prepare and get my ideas organized, my secret weapon for beating writer’s block is the mind map. Though … I usually don’t tackle even the mind mapping part of my process until I’ve taken a nice, long walk to let my ideas percolate.

When I’m short on time (and energy) and a walk just isn’t in the cards, I try to do some non-intellectual activity for at least a few minutes to help me loosen up my brain a little. I might run the vacuum, unload the dishwasher, or take a shower … anything that doesn’t require me to think too hard. I’ve also found that “sleeping on it” can be a great way to dislodge ideas.

All-in-all, I don’t really have time for writer’s block. My clients can’t wait for me to be inspired, and I never seem able to get “ahead” on my business blogging, so I’m always up against some deadline or other. Sometimes fire-under-the-butt is the best thing to send writer’s block packin’. 😉

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I agree with Jamie – nothing combats writer’s block better than a deadline! Especially a deadline with money at the end of it!

The second best trick, and one that I use the most, is setting a timer. I learned this trick from doing word sprints for National Novel Writing Month. Setting a timer and writing for 15 minutes can clear out the cobwebs and get words on the page.  I find 15-minute intervals to be great — after that I can check email or get a drink and then sit down for another 15-minute run. But feel free to go for 5 minutes or 45 minutes. 30 minutes is my max at one time.

The timer I use is one that has the audible tick-tick-tick, so the anticipation of hearing DING! gets the muse off the lounge chair, onto the treadmill, and picking up the pace. 🙂

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: My favorite way to beat writer’s block is to do a freewrite. I set the timer, close my eyes, take a deep breath, let it out, then open my eyes. Whatever my eyes fall on first is what I start writing about. Then I keep writing, stream-of-consciousness style, until the timer goes off. If I haven’t written in a while, I’ll do 5 or 7 minutes, but sometimes I’ll do 15 or 20 minutes. I find that, no matter what object or view I start with, I always wind my way into whatever I want to write about. If I’m writing fiction, I freewrite from the perspective of one of my characters.

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin: I use NAMS and Start. Focus. Finish to overcome writer’s block (aka procrastination). But I’ve also come to accept that gestation is its own mysterious process, and sometimes the best thing to do is go for a walk, which seems to shake ideas loose, or clean something. There’s nothing quite like restoring order to a messy closet to help sort ideas. Another great technique, especially when the resistance is due to uncertainty, is to write a letter to a friend (real or imaginary) and explain the problem: what I want to write, what keeps getting in the way, what I’m frightened of, etc. Or I’ll draw up a list of, “What’s the worst I might discover?” I’ve recently learned that patience and kindness is much more effective than self-loathing.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: It depends on the type of writing. If it is a blog, I just keep writing until the right path becomes clearer. Sometimes (often) I end up writing on a separate topic. If it is for business (a grant, letter, or memo) I may take a break, but I create a deadline–20 minutes of writing and not stopping. Now for my novel? I have friends who just write another scene. I can’t work like that. I am a chronological writer. And without a deadline, I am a little hopeless. My most recent attempt at writing through is to create an accountability goal with other friends. 1000 words. And then I just write–and allow it to be crap. I can fix it later.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Of course I get writer’s block. The way I work around it? So much of my writing is based on deadlines that I *have* to get it done or I lose the gig. That’s some pretty intense motivation for anyone. Sometimes I’ll push the work off until the the last minute but the fear of losing a paycheck is enough to make me sit down and write. I’m also a firm believer in using a timer.  For some of my smaller projects, I set that timer for 30 minutes and I’d better be done when it goes off because there’s usually another project lined up behind that and well, like making the doughnuts, the work has to be done. But then that’s business writing, my personal writing? Let’s just say that that’s pretty low on the board. I only do it when there is nothing else left to write (which means I rarely get it done.) I’m working on rearranging my priorities and finding the time to put my personal writing up higher in my daily list of things to do.

8 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Dealing with writer’s block

  1. Great advice! Thanks. I’m going to modify and use your ideas for my advanced English classes–they paralyze themselves constantly! As for me, I’ve go to do it, too. The students like it if I’m writing at home in a disciplined fashion. Sets an example. Again…exactly what I needed today!

  2. Ineresting. Coincidentally I just read a post by Kristen Lamb ( suggesting that one of the likely causes of writer’s block is not understanding your antagonist and the conflict they bring to the story. Essentially, “What is the problem?” Not knowing the problem is the problem!

  3. Pingback: What’s in the box? | Tracie Writes

  4. Thank you for sharing some useful tips on how to overcome the writer’s block. Makes for a very interesting read. As for me, I typically face one when I am writing about something I am not kicked about or at the beginning of an article (I tend to obsess over writing an interactive or informative introduction, which often means extensive Google search to add just one or two lines). I try and overcome it by either taking my mind off the article by doing some light reading or completing other tasks or by looking back at the feedback I’ve received from my friends/ other readers, about my earlier posts/ about my writing, and deriving motivation from it. The latter really helps me to push myself to make that extra effort to get out of a writer’s block and probably even turn a not so interesting article into a readable one 🙂

  5. These are very great advice.. thanks. Am kind of new into the writing business, sometimes I could come up with a great story but I usually run into wall and get stucked or sometimes I find it hard to really put down my thoughts like describing a person, surroundings etc.. is there any way to over come this…

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