Side-stepping Writer’s Block: A Few Tips

Writer’s block is something that professionals and amateurs alike complain of.  It’s the sensation of having a blank page before you and only seeing a blank page.  It’s not only fiction writers who experience this but also journalists, critics, bloggers, and just about anyone who puts a pen to paper.  In my case, I can in all honesty say writer’s block is hardly an issue; if anything, my problem is that I’m mentally fatigued too quickly, i.e. I have inspiration but I lack the cerebral energy to write more than a few hundred words in one sitting.  While I’m still working on correcting that fault, I do have some suggestions on how to avoid writer’s block.

1) Read everything.  By this, I don’t mean you systematically mine your local library row by row, but that you should try reading books different than what you usually read.  If you’re reading phenomenal books all the time but are experiencing block, read a bad book.  Sometimes seeing what you shouldn’t do will inform you on what you should do.  Also, read across fields.  If you write romance, try reading horror for a week; if you write SF, try reading Dickens (like Dan Simmons, author of Hyperion and Drood).  Sometimes having a different stimulus will create a different response.

2) Break up your routine.  If you write once a week, try writing twice.  If you write 7 days a week, try writing one day a week.  If you write in the morning, try writing at night.  Switching things up can unlock a different part of your brain.  Bob Dylan for example would often insist on recording albums at one in the morning because the night has different tempos that don’t make sense during the day. His album Blonde on Blonde is a great example of late-night music.  Take this technique and put it towards your writing.

3) Take an interest in the other arts.  If your writing flow is stymied, try listening to Classical music or jazz.  Instrumental music is composed similar to a piece of literature–even many of the phrases are the same (for example, theme is a musical term).  Listen to the rise and fall of music, and try to apply that technique to your characters’ lives.  Rock music shouldn’t be looked into for compositions; the music is too repetitive.  Listening to rock music though can help give your writing rhythm.  A good song and a good book need a good hook.  If that doesn’t work, try studying different forms of paintings.  Try writing like a painting style. This will seem odd at first, but it’ll free up your creativity to think of something other than words on paper.

4) Go out into the world.  I’d stress again breaking up your routines.  Remember, take the same road twice and you’re not getting anywhere.  Try walking three miles in the middle of the day outside in a location you wouldn’t normally travel through.  The newness of the scenery mixed with the slowness of pedestrian travel will likely inspire contemplation, and from that, inspiration.

5)  Try inviting chaos into your work.  By this I mean relinquish control.  Try writing about something you don’t know a lot about.  For example, I wrote a short story called Little Crescents and realized the main character should be a musician.  I already know a lot about rock, jazz, folk, punk and classical, but instead of playing to my strengths, I instead had the idea to make my protagonist a Vegas nite-club singer from the 60s. That’s a style of music I didn’t listen to when I could avoid it.  I then spent some time watching old performances of Vegas showmen, read a little bit about them, and wrote a story where I found myself surprised by the quality of the writing.

6)  The most oft-quoted writing tips  is to write from experience.  If you’re having trouble writing, throw out experience.  Writing from experience so often engenders fiction that resembles a thinly-veiled memoir.  If that’s what you’re going to do, take off the veil and just write a memoir.  If that’s not for you, and you’re experiencing block, disregard experience in favor of imagination.  Paul McCartney once said The Beatles’ music with 15 percent experience, and the rest imagination.  Writing in this way will give you the sensation of starting from scratch, which might be troublesome at first, but remember that all art starts from a blank space.

Okay, I hope these tips help you.  If they don’t, throw them out and pave your own path.  There are no rules.

I’ve written a similar post on tips for dialogue.

If you’re interested in reading Little Crescents, click to buy the collection on Amazon, or here for Barnes and Noble.

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One thought on “Side-stepping Writer’s Block: A Few Tips

  1. Thanks for the tips on overcoming writer’s block. Sometimes I think I don’t have anything to say that is worth putting down. I like to write comedy but I hardly know where to begin.But I do think I am a writer. I have to write. Even if no one reads it or laughs or cries or whatever. Writing changes me somehow. But it may be more therapeutic than interesting to another. Anyway, many ideas are in my head. Putting them down in a way that captures others…I don’t know about that.

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