by Vincent Mars
For us writers, few things are more frustrating than to finally sit down at our desks after taking care of real life chores only to be struck dumb by the blank page or the white screen. Writer’s block can be quite disabling, a form of writerly constipation that the harder we try to overcome, the more it aggravates. It pleases me to say that I have not suffered from this writer’s malady for a long time, which I believe is largely due to the conscious defenses against it I have taken. If you have the time, I would like to share these with you.
1. Maintain a Positive Emotional and Mental State
Writer’s block may not be just a writing problem, it can be a life problem. To write, we need to be in a favorable mental and emotional state, one conducive to creation. To overcome writer’s block and write well, it’s important to minimize stress and anxiety, to sleep well, to have a clear mind, and to be in good health. Negative emotions can fuel our writing of course, but we need a certain emotional balance and cognitive lucidity to write.
2. Draw On Your Experiences and Memories
Things happen to us all the time, good things and bad things. Even the most seemingly insignificant incident or memory can be a catalyst for a short story, blog post, or diary entry. We must remember that as writers, we have the power to distort and magnify everything.
3. Reject Perfection
It was difficult for me to start writing because in the beginning I felt that nothing that I wrote could be perfect. I have thrown away many blank pages with just a few words on them, condemning them unjustly to the trash bin without giving them a second chance. Time taught me that writing doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth reading. Of course we all aim for perfection, but we cannot but fail short of it. If we want to write something great, something perfect from the start, it’s easy to end up with writer’s block. We must allow ourselves to be less than perfect, to make mistakes.
4. Read More Than You Write
Where does our writing spring from? From our thoughts, memories, feelings, fears, worries, convictions, from our past, from our present, and from our longings and dreams. But the fuel we burn writing is reading. We shouldn’t forget that every writer was first a reader. If we don’t read something new every day, if we don’t read more than we write and gather words like campers gather wood for fire, we will quickly burn our writing fuel and just get stuck with a bad case of writer’s block.
5. Begin By Revising or Editing What You Wrote Yesterday
Doing this can help us refresh our memory and switch into writing mode. It’s like the warm-up exercise athletes do before starting their training. However, there is a danger to this–because the revising and editing can be much easier than the writing, we can end up using it, without even realizing it, as a substitute for the writing itself. This is why it’s good to impose a limit on how much writing and rewriting we do every day.
6. Start From a Favorite Highlight or Quote
Quotes can be a major source of inspiration, especially for blog posts or fiction. Highlights from favorite books can also help us generate ideas or conjure up moods that can help us write.
I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before, but it really works. When we’re out of ideas, we can just put words on paper, any words that come to our mind, even if they don’t make sense and look just like ink bugs. Among all that nonsenses, we will eventually find an idea worth developing, or at least a rhythm that will aid creation.
8. Record Your Ideas
Good writing ideas can come to us when we are not at our desks. Failing to note them down or record them will almost certainly mean losing them. Carrying a pocket notebook around comes in handy, but a voice recorder such as the one available on our phones or iPods is more convenient, especially since we can download our recordings on our computer, label them, and back them up online. Then, when the muse doesn’t want to visit us, we can always draw on our library of recorded ideas.
9. Disconnect From Technology
Mobile devices and the Internet are particularly distracting, and if we keep checking them while awaiting the muse, our page will stay blank for a long time. All those tools for writers, all those writing apps, they can fragment our thoughts [and concentration]. Did you know that web users have an average attention span of 8.25 seconds? That’s lower than the 9-second attention span of the goldfish.
10. Leave It to Another Day
The simplicity of the actual writing process and the fact that we can write or at least try to write anywhere and at any time, together with the great hunger for content prevalent in our days, can put us under the pressure to write every day, all the time. As you know only too well, good writing requires a bit more than hard work, than dedication, it requires experience and a certain fertile state of the imagination, which for lack of a better term we can call inspiration. Experience and inspiration are not available in an unlimited supply. For my part, I am terrified of taking days off from writing, but I have come to realize that it is necessary to do so from time to time.