Writing is so easy. And fun! It’s not? It’s hard and challenging? Right. All that and more. Good days, bad days. All cool. Except writer’s block.
Writer’s block is so infuriating. You have all the frustration of being stuck and you are also beating yourself up for being stuck.
The writing isn’t happening so you put your creativity elsewhere. To creating stories about your life. Namely that your whole life is a sham. You are no good at this writing thing. But actually, hello! You are writing. You are writing a crazy fiction about your life as a no good writer. The first trick is to start hearing that voice and redirect it onto the page. You may as well. Because then you are writing.
And the only way out of writer’s block is to write. Or decide not write. No? You don’t want to give up? Yay. If writing your crazy voice down hasn’t done the trick here’s what you can do when writing your way our of writer’s block is the only choice.
Sometimes the reason we get stuck is that we’re trying to write perfectly. Free yourself to write badly. Remember you are writing a first draft. My friend Alan Zweibel calls it a vomit draft. Just get it out. Then look for the peas and carrots. Make something you can put a coffee ring on. Get out of editor head. You can fix it later. Get into the flow. Let it come. Don’t be so controlling. Be a conduit. Sometimes if you open yourself up and are willing to write badly, without judgement, the most brilliant things come out.
If you are having trouble with writing a second draft… make sure you know what the goals of the rewrite are. If you are not clear about the goals, wait. Waiting is not the same as writer’s block. Go write something else while you get clear. Then make sure you have made a copy and are editing that. It’s freeing to know you can go back. Then put everything you delete into an outs file, knowing you can go get it, helps you cut. Though in my years of writing I have almost never gone to get anything in that file. Also…
CLEAN BEFORE WRITING
Cleaning is always a good warm up to writing and it’s especially good when you are stuck in the editing part. Throwing away unneeded things. Making literal space. Doing with weeds in the garden or clothes in your closet what you need to do with your words on the page.
Also then you have a clean house or a pretty garden, and you are writing from a place of order.
GO TO STARBUCKS
Or anywhere. Find your special place. Some cafes/libraries/friends’ houses work and some don’t. The way they play music. The light. The parking. The outlets. The people watching. Find a place that works for you.
Because sometimes it’s amazing to work at your own desk. The comfort of writing when you have all your favorite things around you. No distraction. But sometimes writing at your own place is impossible. Everything is screaming at you. The bills that need paying. The food that needs eating. The other projects that are so much more promising.
Sometimes being in public helps me remember the part of writing that is readers. It excites me that this writing is going to connect with people and writing in public puts me in mind of that. Also I find that if I buy a coffee I can make myself write fast, for as long, or just a little bit longer than that coffee will last. And speed writing doesn’t leave room for doubt. And doubt is part of fear and fear is the reason you have writer’s block.
TALK ABOUT WRITING
There’s a great sequence in Infamous, the Truman Capote movie, where Capote is figuring out the story of In Cold Blood in a series of conversations with various New York ladies. At dinners and lunches and while dancing. It’s one of the great movies about writing. Go watch it if you are really stuck. Or watch something else inspiring. That’s a bonus tip:)
Talking about what you are writing about takes physical energy. Saying the words lets your body tell you what your mind might not. Your body will edit and suggest because it has intelligence. It knows what is worth saying. That’s why my Infinite Writing workshop is so effective even for writers who don’t want to perform. Breathing into your writing, hearing your own rhythm can unstuck you in a big way.
Warning! Choose who you talk to carefully. Don’t talk to that one toxic person who always makes you feel shitty about what you’re writing. Talk to the safe people. The ones who hear the seed and encourage you to plant it. Who love our ideas. Who get you. If you don’t have that person, I am a good writing coach, e me firstname.lastname@example.org. There are others too. Find your people.
WRITE ABOUT THE WRITING
Writing about the thing you’re stuck on can help. Heres how: Ask yourself questions. Sometimes just articulating the questions can give you the answers you need to get unstuck. If you start to ask questions you get out of that generalized frustration into specific questions. What would be a great opening scene for these two particular characters? How does the book want to be structured? Etc etc. As you formulate the question you often come up with answers. Or at least possible answers. A beginning. That’s all you need to feel unstuck. You have reactivated your curiosity. That’s the key here. More curiosity. Less fear.
And maybe do it in a notebook. You use a different part of your brain when you write long handed. Or with your other hand. Try that. Or doodle the question. Or if you have been on paper go to the computer. Change it up. Think differently to unstuck your writing.
GO TO SLEEP
My friend Merrill Markoe, who was the original headwriter for Letterman, and has written countless books, articles, screenplays and more, suggests going to sleep. She says think about it, then let your brain continue working while you rest. In the morning it has the answer for you. The worst that happens is you get some sleep.
CONSIDER A DIFFERENT WRITING PROJECT FOR NOW
Sometimes we are stuck because we are writing the wrong thing. I wouldn’t suggest this as a first thought. But if you have tried the other things and you are still stuck and it’s a spec project, consider that this might be the wrong project for you right now. Maybe it’s the right project but you aren’t ready. It needs to steep. Maybe it’s the germ for the right project. One of the characters is right but the time line is off. Or the focus isn’t quite right. Maybe it’s an idea better suited to stand up than a script. Maybe it was something you needed to write a year ago but you didn’t and it doesn’t need writing now.
Consider putting it away and coming back to it later. Unless of course you are getting paid. And its due. Then..
There’s something magical about moving. It lets your subconscious work. I’m convinced this is why all those ideas in the shower. My freind Jamie keeps a Sharpie in her bathroom so she can write n the tile as soon as she gets out.
In the shower you don’t even have to do the movement yourself. You just stand there and let the water move around you. The movement plus the white noise. It’s the easiest possible way.
But also take a walk. Or go do the driving errand you need to do. You are literally getting unstuck. And getting unstuck physically can get you unstuck in the writing.
Have faith. Not fear. You’ve written before and soon, maybe right now, you will be writing again. You love writing. You have a way with words. Remember that.
You can do it. Go do it. Don’t get on social. Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Everything you want is on the other side of scrolling. Just because it hasnlt happened yet doesnlt mean it isnlt gong to happen.