We’ve all been there. You set aside time to write. You spend all day thinking about that moment when you can finally put your pen to paper, or your fingers to the keyboard, and write. You spend all day fantasizing about your main character, Lily. You wouldn’t dare to admit this in public but you often walk around pretending that you are Lily and adopting her mannerisms and habits. You let her take over your being, your essence, so that when you finally do sit down to write, you are disappointed that the words do not come.
You type her name, and then the next word, a verb. But then, you shake your head. You delete that last word. And then, you stare at the screen, at the blank, very white Word document. You can see the words that are there but they just won’t come. The words are stuck. You are stuck. How do you unblock yourself?
Well, my friend, I’ve been there. On more than one occasion. On several occasions, actually. And I’m here to tell you what I do to get over writer’s block.
Okay, this is a given. But it is really important. Even when the words just won’t come, I recommend that you designate a time. It can be at 6:00 in the morning, before you head off to work. Or, it can be at 3:00 in the middle of the night. Choose a time that works for you. And then, open up your Word document, or Google Docs, or whatever you use. You don’t have to work on the same writing project everyday. Instead, I recommend that you mix it up a little. Work on your main writing project every other day. And then, for the rest of the days, use a random writing prompt generator such as this one.
In fact, for the past week, I have been writing every night at 9:00 PM. For an entire hour. I choose a random writing prompt and then I copy and paste into a Google Doc. And then, I write. I admit, sometimes I’ll sit there, staring at the computer screen, my fingers poised over the keyboard. And eventually, miraculously, the words will come.
By setting a deadline, as well as a prompt, I can make sure that I don’t succumb to writer’s block. Remember when it’s Nanowrimo time and you just have to write a minimum of 1667 words per day. Well, this is kind of the same thing. By telling yourself that you have to write a certain amount of words, about a certain topic, in a certain time frame, you are giving yourself purpose and a goal. And sometimes that is all that is needed.
Okay, you’ve tried to write. You’ve been staring at that computer screen for thirty minutes. You’ve probably hit the backspace button more times than you can count. But the right words just don’t seem to be coming. What do you do?
Well, remember in elementary school, when your teachers had you brainstorm? Take those fingers off the keyboard. Grab a piece of paper, or even just open a fresh new Word document.
And then, ask yourself this question: what is the topic about?
Say that this is your writing prompt: “Alcoholism is like crying.”
And then, type in, or write, “alcoholism” at the top of your page.
And then, write all the words that remind you of “alcoholism.” Remember that word association game that you played on online forums? Quick! What do you think of when you think of “alcoholism”? I think of: alcohol, beer, addiction, wine, cravings, disease, and so on.
Once you’ve exhausted all the words that you can think of that you remind you of alcoholism, then move on to a sub-category, such as “addiction” or “disease.” Do the same thing here. Keep doing this until you notice a pattern emerging.
For example: alcoholism –> addiction –> cravings –> passion –> love –> writing
Based off these six words, you could now write a story about a fifty-year-old writer who is an alcoholic. How does he cope? Does he use his writing to cope? In what way? Does anyone help with his disease? A family member, significant other, friend, child? How are they affected? What is his relationship with them?
See what I mean? Keep asking questions. Keep associating words with new words.
3. Take a Break.
But sometimes, the words still don’t come. What do you do then? Take a break. Go outside. Take a walk. Take your dog for a walk. Read a book. Eat a snack. Just do something that will get your mind off the writing project. Sometimes the best ideas come after we’ve taken a break.
Your break can be as short as five minutes or as long as a day. Just take a break and let your mind wander.
Let me know what you think! What have you tried? What works? What doesn’t work?