I don’t believe in “writer’s block” any more than I do “brick-layer’s block” or “accountant’s block”. I have, however, experienced acute cases of “really-don’t-feel-like-working-today” and the occasional bout of “this-is-a-particularly-crappy-task inertia”.
Yes, writing – like any creative field – is made much easier by a stiff shot of inspiration, comfortable surroundings and an exciting, shiny brief. But, if it’s an outlet you take seriously, you should be able to whack out some reasonably coherent copy whenever called upon, simply through the application of self and the gritting of teeth. If any part of your job-title includes “writer”, disciplining yourself to get through your to-do list before emergency lights start flashing can mean your livelihood.
It may seem like the perfect, failsafe excuse for under-performing or putting yourself (and often, others) under pressure, but the fallacy of writer’s block is more often the quill-loving creative person’s very own, masochistic, “get into jail free” card. Let’s be realistic, though – not particularly wanting to hit the keys for a day or three is hardly a meteor strike and can actually be rectified.
Here are some tips I sometimes use to start the wheels grinding against their will. Perhaps they can help you too…
It doesn’t matter where you begin, just start typing. Even recapping and summarising your task into a few loose sentences can begin to wring the sponge. If you’re a similar writer to me, you’ll know that once the screen and the keys suck you into their sweet little lap, they tend to keep you there a while. Like most rad laps, though, it’s getting there that can be the tricky bit.
Even if I get no further than writing a headline, a subhead and some crossheaders before saving the document to come back to later, feeling like I have to “finish” a piece later always feels less daunting than having to start one from scratch.
Please note: the irony of the fact that I struggled to begin this very article (which I’ve been meaning to write “when I get some time” for a week now) is not lost on me. Eventually, I simply told myself, in my sternest dad-voice, “Just start, dammit. Right now.” Just look at me go!
Switch the world off.
It might sound obvious, but it isn’t. You have a universe (several universes, actually) of distractions in your pocket (take your mind out of the gutter, dammit!) and on the very screen you’re trying to populate with world-beating literature. Or, you know, some lines for an ad about cholesterol. Whatever the case may be.
Close your browser, switch your phone off (or put it on silent) and place it safely where things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and Candy Crush Saga cannot conspire to distract you. Promise yourself you’ll only check them after you’ve reached a certain milestone in your project.
It’s a ritualistic process that subconsciously declares to your brain that a mission has begun.
If nothing else, boredom will eventually set in and you’ll start to write simply to set yourself free and salvage your social life.
(Hypocrisy-prevention note: the author of this article seldom actually follows the above tip. He knows he should, it helps when he does, and he really wants to do better at it. Honest.)
Okay, so you’ve started, started again, stopped, decided it was rubbish, given yourself a lecture, you’re still nowhere, and the ticking of the clock is beginning to sound like a war-drum growing ever nearer. If you really don’t feel you can write right now, spend some time doing research.
Google some articles and trawl some sites dealing with similar subject matter to what you’re after. Read things that are relevant to your topic. Writing is really just recorded thinking. If you haven’t got anything good to record, go listen to some records. A loose metaphor, sure, but you get the idea…
My big brother, who is one of those financially savvy, generally organized people who tend to have all their ducks perpetually aligned, likes to say, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Silly, I know, but it’s true. When the prosaic bouquets are not blooming at 1000 words per minute, start with some simple structure.
What are the points you’d like to make? In what order would you like to make them? Shuffle them around until you’re happy, stick the intro (and what you’d more-or-less like to cover with it) and the outro (and the general point you’d like to leave your readers with) at the beginning and end respectively… behold! A plan!
Now allocate the amount of words you have for each chunk, and suddenly you’re just colouring in some solid outlines, as opposed to blind-painting an entire portrait from scratch.
Cut to the fun bits.
Right. It’s going nowhere, it’s an icky brief, and you’ve made no progress with any of the points above. You are, after all, a creative snowflake and your artistic magic should not be confined to the demands of “the man” nor stifling constructs like deadlines and word counts. I hear ya, buddy. Namaste and all that crap.
Unlike dessert – which parental wisdom dictates should only be enjoyed once one’s plate has been cleared of all veggies – jokes, metaphors, similes, allegories and all those other fun things that make us writers feel clever can in fact be written first. It’s the fun part (for me at least) and it gets me through a lot of less-than-thrilling jobs.
Sometimes, sitting and writing little bits of random wisdom and wordplay really cheers me up and gets me going. Once you’ve created ten or fifteen tasty little tidbits (that are relevant to the topic, make you smile, but don’t necessarily make sense in isolation), you should find you’re a lot more eager to create a body-copy habitat for them to live in. At least, I do.
In fact, you have the opening few lines of this story – the ones about “brick-layer’s block” – to thank (or blame, depending) for this entire article. See. It worked!
Write something else.
Nothing is more damaging to a writer’s productivity, self-esteem and creative fulfillment than doing nothing at all. Aside, perhaps, for sitting and doing nothing but think about how little you’ve done and how much there remains to do. Or a big shark. Sharks will totally kick your ass.
If you really feel like the cork is stuck in the bottle, open a different bottle. Anything you like, as long as it’s fun for you and involves getting words onto screen or paper.
Write a silly poem, send your bestie overseas a letter, write that blog you’ve been meaning to write (say, for example, that one about unblocking writer’s block with the good opening sentence you made a note of) or, well… anything. As long as it gets you writing.
The positive side of this particular tip is that it results in a varied, eclectic (and healthily self-indulgent) buffet of output that is not only made up of “work”. Because as soon as this writing gig all becomes “work”, you might well find your pen getting blocked.
Now go, my friend, and write!
I hope this has helped. Even if it hasn’t, I certainly had some fun, got some writing done and you’ve clearly dredged through the whole thing, so thank you.