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Unsticking Writer's Block: 13 Lucky Ways

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Unsticking Writer's Block: 13 Lucky Ways

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead" -- Gene Fowler, US journalist.

A lot of that bleeding comes when you encounter writer's block. You have to write something -- maybe you've set aside time from work and family duties, maybe you're being paid, or you'll get fired if you don't write something -- but you're stuck. The more you try to come up with that critical first or next sentence, you can't. Hilarity does not ensue.
It's a trauma all writers encounter at some point. Generally, I can write quickly and meet deadlines... but first I have to spend some germinating and cogitating time, working things out in my head until I'm ready to start.
As a visiting writer, I asked student writers in Colleen Marlin's "Creative Writing" course at Centennial College what they do to overcome writer's block, cheerfully promising to steal their ideas for this blog, and add a few of my own. They offered many ingenious and effective approaches, so here's some suggestions.
1. Change the setting you're writing in. Go to a noisy Tim Horton's or similar location, and scavenge some energy (maybe even some words) from those around you.
2. Take a break and rest your mind. Stop obsessing over the writing, and then come back to it refreshed.
3. Get up and physically act out the next part, saying things out loud as they strike you (probably best not to do this in Tim's though). Write down what you came up with.
4. Rewrite the last few sentences. Maybe you made a bad choice in one of them that's getting in your way.
5. Talk to a friend or stranger. Ask for a story. Maybe that will activate your own memory and creation circuits.
6. Read what you have written out loud, listening to the sound of the words. Revise what sounds awkward or fake. Now keep the energy going by writing more.
7. Watch a show or movie or read an article/story about a similar theme. See what you can borrow, without copying -- perhaps a technique or point of view.
8. Make sure you have the content down; don't worry about the grammar or elegance of expression until later. If necessary, go point form, and fill the sentences in afterward.
9. Write something in a completely different direction or style -- if you're mired in prose, rip off a poem (even just a limerick). Now look at what you can use from that new creation.
10. Listen to music. Borrow a rhythm, a feeling from it. Get up and dance for a minute to shake your body free (again, probably not in Tim's).
11. Go for a walk outside, making a point at looking at everything as if you've never seen it before. Ask yourself questions (What in that man's past would make him walk like that? Who chose that house's colours, and why? How do squirrels survive mid-winter, anyway?). Use one of your answers in what you're writing.
12. Flip through a dictionary and pick a word at random. Force yourself to use it in the next sentence. If you really can't do it, than ask yourself why not. How is what you're trying to say so alien to that word? Write that instead.
13. Write what is going through your mind when the drops of blood start to form on your forehead. Read it out loud, and have a good laugh. Now write another part of what you're working on -- maybe the ending, or a future scene. Then go back and fill in the gaps to get the reader to that future place.

2 comments

Bibliomancy -- sounds like the right medicine for a writing-blocked bibliomaniac. Thanks for adding that, Elana.
John Oughton

Good stuff, John. No. 11 -- going for walks-- has always worked well for me-- for
cooling off, letting go, and "unsticking writer's block." A variation of your No. 12 -- bibliomancy-- is also interesting. This method-- of using sacred books to divine answers can also be used as 'magical medicine' for writing. Pick your book of truth-- the Bible or another-- allow it to fall open at random, close your eyes, and choose your passage. See what comes.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Oughton

John Oughton is the author of several books, including Time Slip: New and Selected Poems, published by Guernica Editions.

Go to John Oughton’s Author Page