Friday Fun – Beating 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: We recently asked you what questions you’d like answered in our Friday Fun post. Today, we’re answering the following reader question:

FriFunQuestion7

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Hi, Laurel. Writer’s Block is something each of us battles at one time or another. I have days when I believe it’s a real thing and days where I know it’s all in my head. Either way, I’ve dealt with it enough over the years that I wrote a four-part series on the topic:

I will also offer up this post on the challenge of starting. I hope you find these posts helpful in understanding and overcoming your writer’s block. Good luck!

LL HeadshotLee Laughlin: Sit down in a place where you are comfortable and with the beverage of your choice, and your favorite writing implement and word collection device (pen & paper, lap top, crayon and paper napkin, whatever floats your boat).

Set a timer for 5 minutes. Ready. Set. Write. Even if it is 5 minutes of “This sucks, I have no idea what to say. Where are my words?” Write. Don’t judge. Write. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Unless of course you’re not, then by all means keep writing.  Slowly increase the time on the timer. Writing is like exercise, to be successful, you need to be consistent. Write when you don’t feel like it. Write when you think it is going to suck. Just write.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: All of the above! But to add a little bit to the conversation, my favorite acronym for this particular ailment is: BICHOK. Butt-in-chair-hands-on-keyboard.

Open that blank document and just start typing. Or open that notepad and just start writing. As Lee mentioned, you may not have any idea what to say — type/write that! “I have no idea what to write about, my brain is mush, words just aren’t coming to me.” Write ANYTHING. It may come out as all gibberish. It doesn’t matter – you’re clearing the decks and the words WILL come if you persist at it. The 5-minute timer is a great way to get started.

And so what if what you have after 5 minutes looks like an alien language? You can pat yourself on the back for getting THOSE words out of your head to make room for the real words (your story words) that *are* moving to the front of the line and that *will* hit the page if you keep striving to reach them.

 

Writer’s Block Cause 3: Not knowing where to start

Sometimes, even if we have overcome our fear and found the time, it’s difficult to get the pen moving across the page or our fingertips tapping on the keyboard. Though we have summoned the courage and carved out the hour, we may simply not know where to begin. Despite slaying some of our demons, we find ourselves once again paralyzed by writer’s block, only this time the culprit grinning at us from the blank page is confusion.

The beginning of a project can make you feel like you’re standing at the foot of a very large and very intimidating mountain. Worse, as you contemplate the task before you, that imposing edifice seems to rise up out of the earth, stretching higher and higher above you, sending small avalanches of stones skittering and sliding in your direction. The longer you wait, the bigger the challenge becomes, until you may as well be trying to climb to the moon.

It’s not that bad. I promise.

Here are a few tips to help you cut that mountain down to size (or, at least get your feet moving up the first slope):

Break it down: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Not that I’d want to eat an elephant. At all. But, it’s a well-known analogy that also applies to any project. It’s not enough for you to block out time to “work on your novel.” You need to get specific about what you will do: work on an outline, do a character sketch of the heroine’s older sister, write the first scene of chapter three, edit chapter ten. Breaking the Big Thing down into smaller bites makes it a lot more palatable (and less scary). This was never better said than by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. (A book I highly recommend for writers of all kinds.)

Have a plan: Of course, to break things down, you need to understand the component parts of your project. This is what makes it possible to develop a good plan. Do you have a process for writing a story, a blog post, a novel? How do you break things down? If you’re not sure, get sure. Figure out how you get from start to finish. For a blog post, it might involve brainstorming, mind mapping, research, a first draft and a couple rounds of edits. For a more complex project – like a novel – you’ll have more steps. I am a fan of Larry Brooks’ Storyfix planning process for fiction writing. Good stuff.

Though the artist in you might rail against the idea of process, there is something empowering about knowing where you’re going. Give yourself the gift of a roadmap for your creative journey. Just because you are making a plan doesn’t mean it won’t be an adventure.

Start in the middle: They say that starting is the hardest part, and they are right. The first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph – these are often the most daunting tasks in a writing project. How do we get the ball rolling? What brilliant line will hook our readers into reading the rest of the piece? Why, oh, why can’t we think of a single opening statement? Relax. Forget about it. It’s true that your finished piece will need a first line, but that doesn’t mean you have to start there. Start in the middle. Just start writing anything – whatever comes easily. The important thing is to build up some momentum – give yourself that jumpstart and then keep going. You’ll eventually circle back to the beginning … when you’re ready.

Remember that nothing is written in stone: One of the most beautiful things about writing is the iterative nature of the process. In truth, most of our writing is never done – we simply set it free when we reach a random point of satisfaction. The first draft is only the beginning. It’s not meant to be perfect. No one else ever has to see it. You will get a second chance, and a third, and a fourth, and … you get the idea. The first draft should be crap. That’s what first drafts are for. Revel in the realization that you have the freedom to go ahead and make a mess of things. Breathe a sigh of relief and just play. Get some words down. Give yourself something to work with. That is the writer’s first job.

Bonus: remember self-care: Creative juices don’t flow well when you’re all tied up in knots. Give yourself the gift of some TLC. Give yourself some love. Give yourself a break. Sometimes, the wisest thing you can do is walk away … for a little while. Go for a walk. Clear your head. Give your mind something else to chew on for a while. I guarantee that if you can give your creative muse the room to stretch and breathe, she’ll come back to you with the solution to your problem. I get most of my best ideas while I’m driving, doing yoga, or taking a shower. Don’t try to force things. Take care of your need for reflection, fun, play … whatever gets you going. It’ll help put you in the right frame of mind for developing your plan, breaking down your Big Project, and getting started with enthusiasm and joy.

So, how about you? What are you going to start today? How are you going to start? Tell us and then get going and get it going! 

This is the third post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In the previous entry, we talked about finding the time to write and in the first we tackled the topic of fear. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: gigi 62

Writer’s Block Cause 2: Life

“I was going to write the next great, American novel; but life got in the way.”

Though it is the source of all our experience and inspiration, there are days when “life” can be one hell of a nuisance to a writer. Life doesn’t care that we just had a breakthrough on the blog post/essay/article/poem/novel we’re working on. There are still kids to be picked up, work deadlines to be met, laundry to be done, and bills to pay. (Oh, the bills!) There are family and social obligations, housework, homework, and busy work. There is no question that “life” can block our ability to write. Not only does it sop up precious keyboard time, it drains us of the energy we need to summon our inner muse and create.
 
Too tired? Too busy? Too bad. 

The reality of life is a particularly tricky piece of the writer’s block puzzle. Fear is easily labeled as something that emanates from within. It is a beast of our own creation and therefore one we should be able to un-create (or, at least tame). Life’s overwhelming demands, however, seem to come from without. They appear as an external force, bearing down upon us. We do not overwhelm ourselves, the world overwhelms us – the task at hand, the laundry, the work deadlines, our in-laws coming to visit. Without even realizing that we’ve done it, we subconsciously give up our power over the situation by living with the assumption that life “happens to us” and is outside of our control.

Not so.

Being overwhelmed by life is a mindset, one that many of us have been trained to adopt as our status quo. Americans are especially prone to constant proclamations of exhaustion, insane workloads, and unending obligations. With each new complaint and sigh, we invite these things into our lives and feel forced into letting go of the things most dear to us – like our writing, for instance.
 
But, I really AM busy! 

Of course you are. We all are. But, we’re never quite as busy as we believe we are. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” is a hackneyed expression, but one that nevertheless holds a lot of truth. The trouble starts when we use “being busy” as a crutch – an excuse that keeps us from doing our great work. I readily admit that I sometimes make up “musts” and “shoulds” in order to avoid sitting down to write. We all do.

Automatically saying, “I don’t have enough time” is one of my favorite crutches. Those words have become so familiar rolling off my tongue; they are almost a reflex. I’m a single mom running a marketing and copywriting business, often working past midnight, writing for multiple blogs, and too often getting involved with causes and pro bono projects. I could easily be the poster child for people who don’t have enough time.
 
But, I’m changing that. 

I’m training myself to recognize the time I used to leave lying around. Though I at first hated to admit their existence, I now delight in discovering little pockets of time that I can use however I like. One of the best ways to jumpstart this practice is to stop waiting for a big block of uninterrupted time. I’ve wasted years waiting for a full day to write, or even a block of three or four hours. I’ve turned my nose up at the smaller, less appetizing handfuls of minutes that came my way almost every day. No more. Now, if I see fifteen minutes that I could scoop up and use to work on a project, I snag them and scribble away with all my heart.

I’ve also started putting time in my schedule for the things I want to do as well as the things I need to do. In addition to writing more, I promised myself that 2012 would be a year of more time spent with friends. I want coffee and lunch dates. Lots of them. And I’m making it happen. I’m just putting them on my calendar. I’m setting that time aside and putting a big, alligator-filled moat around it. You need to protect your “sacred” time – whether it’s for friends or writing or just sitting and doing nothing. Sometimes, you have to protect it from yourself – you need to make conscious and careful decisions: “Will I use the next forty-five minutes to write, or to watch a re-run of ‘Bones’ on Netflix?” (A dilemma I face quite frequently. Sometimes, ‘Bones’ wins.)

Lastly, I’ve stopped saying how over-booked and time-poor I am. I’ve stopped saying it out loud, and I’ve stopped saying it in my head. I’m trying on an abundance mindset when it comes to time. It’s working some miracles.  I’ve heard it said that we “create” time by how we perceive it. I’ve been amazed to find how much more open my schedule seems these days, now that I’m expecting to have time. It’s like magic, but suddenly I do have time. I’ve been reading more, writing more, and working on plans for some new projects. I’ve had more time with my daughter, more time to cook, more time to spend with friends. I wouldn’t have believed it, except that I’m living it.
 
You can change it too. Start by being aware and then get fierce. 

Start paying attention – really paying attention – to how you spend your time. Hear yourself saying “yes” to things that are going to take time away from your writing. Make a mental note when you choose time-wasters over writing. Don’t judge or berate yourself. Just notice.

After a while, you’ll start to see patterns. You’ll begin to dabble in reclaiming your writing time – a few minutes at a time. You’ll like the way it feels to bring that practice back into your day. You’ll want more. Start setting up those moats around your writing time and protecting them as if your life depended on it. It does – your writing life, anyway. No one else will make the time for you. No one else will push you past the blocks that life sets up for you. Only you can fight that battle and take back what’s yours.
 
So – what are you going to do? Are you going to let life become part of your writer’s block, or are you going to make your life feed your writing?
 
If you’re interested in more tips about finding/creating/managing time, you might want to check out Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours. I haven’t read much past the introduction so far, but from what I’ve heard it’s a great resource for learning how to see the time you have in a whole new light.

This is the second post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In the previous entry, we talked about fear. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?


Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.