Unblocking Writer’s Block

Erin Brown

When faced with writer’s block, lower your standards and keep going.
— Sandra Tsing Loh
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“I don’t know what to wriiiiiiiiiite!” Isaac picked up the piece of paper scribbled with his nine-year-old penmanship and held it high in the air, his hands poised to rip it clean apart. 

“Wait,” I said in an even tone. “Take a breath.” 

The boy looked at me with feverish eyes, ones I had seen in the mirror many times before, as I’d struggled with my own writing assignments. He lowered the paper, inhaled deeply, and stared at me. “Okay. Now what?” 

That, I decided, was the question. One with which all writers struggle, many starting in grade school. Little Isaac’s personal struggle with writer’s block took place this week as I volunteered as “VIP Editor” in my son’s fourth-grade class, coaching the students through their weekly writing assignments. Isaac faced a dilemma that I have encountered continually throughout my career as an editor and a writer. His dilemma: writing about his favorite holiday. For sure, a difficult topic to address, what with choosing between Thanksgiving’s gluttony, Christmas’s gifts, New Year’s ball drop, and Arbor Day’s all-night disco. Oh, is that just me? Carry on then. So I wondered, what advice would work for him and all writers when we’re faced with the terrifying “writer’s block?” 

First, what are some common causes of writer’s block?  

1)    Meticulousness

Some writers are so bent on perfectionism, they never get out of the starting gate. Let go of being flawless and just go for it.

2)    Fear

Often, we get so wrapped up in what others think that we hinder our own creative process. We’re so fearful of critique, that we’re afraid to bare our soul on paper. Don’t be!

3)    Timing

Maybe you’re tired, or hungry, or your creative juices aren’t flowing at the moment. Take some time and come back to your writing. Sometimes the occasion just isn’t desirable for writing. 

So how do we solve this age-old problem? A few ideas: 

1)    Move

Get up and go for a walk. Exercise, even if it’s just touching your toes. Getting your blood flowing is key, as it will also stimulate your mind. I find that I am so much more imaginative when I’ve gotten up to walk the dog or even practiced a few downward dogs. The words come tumbling out afterwards, but that’s not to say they’re always brilliant, which means I must heed the following. 

2)    Give yourself permission to write badly

It’s okay if everything isn’t on par with Shakespeare, or even Twilight. Just write. Get it on paper. All rough drafts suck. They do. That’s why editors and second (and third and fourth) drafts exist. Once you start writing, you can start rewriting, so don’t give those imperfect words a second thought. 

3)    Change the scene

Go to a movie, take a stroll, run some errands, hit a restaurant, anything different to get you out of the same old spot. Break free! 

4)    Music

Rock out to the Rolling Stones, blare some Beethoven, or go gaga to Gaga. Get inspired. You can’t listen to your favorites without changing your mood and coming back to the table with a new vision. 

5)    Brainstorm

Spew out ideas. Don’t think, just write. This ties in a bit with #2, so let your imagination flow without considering how the words sound. Make a list without thinking of how your writing sounds. Edit later. 

6)    Have fun

I like to distract myself and play with my two boys, maybe with some kinetic sand so I can get super Zen or by doing some flips outside on the trampoline (I can also knock out #1 with this one!). Distract your brain before you refocus later on writing. 

7)    Write

The number one way to get through writer’s block. Just do it. Simply write. Badly. Well. Put pen to paper and do it. There, I said it.  

And what did I tell Isaac to do? Well, after his deep breaths, he took a walk around the classroom (exercise and change of scene), talked to a few friends (have fun), and wrote about an animal he liked (brainstorm and write) – an assignment I gave him on the fly, with no pressure. He then came back to the table with his original writing piece and began again with a beaming smile and a twinkle in his eye. I told him that I often have moments when I think about ripping my paper, but that I have to remember to take a deep breath, relax, and do something to clear my head. Isaac seemed to like that assessment; that he wasn’t alone.  

Everyone gets frustrated, and we can all come out the other side by using some simple tools to get back to writing. So remember that you’re not alone, and that your inspiration will return . . . and remember, as author Scott Berkun said: “It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people, it’s the fear of not writing well; something quite different.” 

 

Erin Brown worked as an editor for almost a decade at two major New York publishing houses, William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins, and Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press. She’s had her dream job for ten years now, as a freelance editor working directly with writers in order to improve their work (and hopefully find representation and publication!). You can contact her at www.erinedits.com.

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