How I Overcame Writers Block
by Laura Yeager
Three years outside of breast cancer, I can look back on the experience and finally talk about it. Surprisingly, the worst part of cancer was not the chemo, not the double- mastectomy, not the six-weeks of radiation, but the writer's block.
I endured writer's block from 2011 to 2014. This dry spell was such a change from my usual habits; typically I wrote almost daily and published what I wrote frequently. In fact, authormagazine.org had published six of my articles. I also published at The Writer Magazine and many other places. And in 2013, Iowa State published a collection of my short stories (written in the 80s).
So not writing at all was a complete change. I missed it.
Having cancer zapped the creative energy out of me. I think I was so paralyzed with fear of the cancer process (I felt like I was on a recovery assembly line), my mind wouldn't generate creative work. I had to concentrate on survival.
Since then, looking for a way to end my blocked situation, I’ve read many takes on writer's block. Just about every author writes something on how to overcome writer’s block.
Recently, I came up with my own "fix.”
I took a writing class.
Now, I teach writing at Kent State and at Gotham Writers' Workshop. Why would I need to take a writing class? Don't I know how to write?
In fact, taking a writing class is a very helpful way to get over writer's block, not to mention, just a great idea for writers in general.
Taking a writing class does three main things: gives you ideas to write about, helps you meet new writers, and aids you in learning new things.
I went to New York City to take my writing class. It was a one-day intensive class in Article Writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop, taught by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. I knew Gotham classes were good because I’ve taken many of them. (One of the fringe benefits of teaching at Gotham is that you can take writing classes for free.)
The class was intimate, just ten students. And I was just one of the gang; I chose not to reveal the fact that I too was a writing teacher.
I did tell Jennifer that the reason I was taking her class was to get over writer’s block. She commiserated with me; every writer had experienced block. Except maybe Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates.
Let’s address the first general benefit of taking a class—generating new ideas.
I’ve been trying to come up with a way to write an article for PTO Today Magazine, a magazine for people in PTA organizations. My son’s PTA is a dynamic group of parents, including myself. Specifically, I wanted to do an article about the PTA president, Julie D. But I hadn’t gotten any further than that. In Jennifer’s class, she discussed the fact that articles need angles (kind of like thesis statements). In the process of listening to her lecture, I came up with a great angle for my article; the PTA president is stepping down this year. That was my angle; I would write about what Julie D. will miss the most about the PTA. All I had to do was interview Julie D. This, I thought, was a perfect way into the piece.
So that was just one idea I didn’t have before I took the writing class in New York. (I got many more.)
The next benefit of taking a class is meeting new people and making new contacts. The most interesting person I met was the teacher, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, the author of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, the book that came out last year about The Mary Tyler Moore show. I’m 51, so I had seen all the Mary Tyler Moore episodes when they were on in the 1970s. What can I say? Mary Richards had helped shape my personality. Jennifer’s book was on my reading list.
Jennifer is a very open and personable writer, and she welcomes new writer friends. She’s the kind of person who emails back when approached. I hope to remain in contact with her.
Finally, the third thing that can come from taking a writing class is that you, of course, learn new things. I kind of knew what a “nut graf” was, but Jennifer helped describe it further. Finally, I understood the concept. I also learned what a “peg” is. (Both are vocabulary terms in article writing). These are just a couple things I learned in this great all-day class.
This is all to say that if you need an overall quick pick-me-up to help get rid of writer’s block and to just shoot new energy into your writing, consider taking a class.
And don’t forget to cut down on your intake of fat and get plenty of exercise. These two things will reduce your chance of getting cancer.
Thank you for reading. It’s good to be back.
Laura Yeager is Tommy Dolan’s mom. Tommy is nine. Laura writes both fiction and nonfiction. Iowa State University recently published her Master’s thesis—First Aid and Other Stories. Laura teaches freshman composition at Kent State University and Online Creative Writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop.