By Judy Ann Crawford
People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.—Anna Quindlen
So it’s time to write the thing. Topic? Check. There it is, typed out at the top of the page, a vast whiteness beneath it that you are trying not to focus on. Coffee? Of course. Donut? No. You can’t risk the inevitable crash that follows the sugar rush. There will be no crashing. It’s writing day. Time? Yes. You even have supper prepared ahead (that is, five or six supper-like ingredients tossed into a dish, including copious amounts of cheese, which you hope qualify as a casserole). So why aren’t you writing?
Okay, well, this wasn’t in the plan. So you can’t think of anything to write, but you will persevere. On to research! We all know “research.” It’s that necessary tool and cleverly disguised excuse combined into one. You are Googling away on your topic, trying to ignore the headlines underneath the search bar—“Celebrities that look alike!” (wow, Zooey Deschanel really does look like Katy Perry!)—yet you remain strong. That trivia may be fun at parties, but it won’t get your article written.
Back to the top of the Word doc. The coffee is now gone, as is the donut (you caved…it had chocolate glaze). And although you’ve only been sitting and staring, hands poised over the keyboard, your time has gone too.
I think I speak for writers, editors, and pretty much anyone who has ever taken pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) when I say that writer’s block may be a cliché, but it feels pretty real. And when you are in the middle of it, the word block doesn’t even come close. It feels much more like a Great-Wall-of-China-type situation. To help you break through that wall, I’ve come up with five suggestions for what to do when you feel yourself (or sense your client) becoming blocked:
1. Walk the dog
A dog is helpful here. If you don’t have a dog, another option is to just go for a walk. Choose a park. Lift up your eyes and look at the treetops. The point is to clear your head. Good ideas are notorious neat freaks: they tend to only want to visit uncluttered minds.
2. Read something you love
Read writing that makes you want to close your eyes, lay your hand down on the page, and breathe the words, “This. Now this is writing.” It may not inspire you directly, but you’ll start feeling more hopeful about your situation.
3. Write something you love
Remind yourself that writing is not the torturous hell that it feels like at the moment. Write a bad haiku. An email. A love scene. Personally, I write run-on sentences. Inexplicably, I find this fun. My current record is 432 words. Feel free to challenge this. Once the words start flowing, you may find you can even get back to the topic at hand.
So many things that can go wrong here. Brainstorming is not just about yelling out the names of whatever is sitting around the room (“Kitchen sink! I could write about the kitchen sink!”). Chart random thoughts, but reign them in to a general topic. Do the circles and branches, then let them sit for a bit. Go make a salad (you know there are no veggies in that casserole). When you come back later, the obvious choice might jump out at you.
5. Erase the title at the top of the page
We writers are a sensitive bunch, prone to being overwhelmed. I often start my writing at the bottom of another piece of writing, just to trick myself out of “blank page syndrome.” If you try this trick, however, be sure to delete the previous writing, Unsolved Murder Mystery, from the top of the finished piece, Dealing with a Difficult Boss (and you’re welcome).
George Orwell called writing a “horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” While George may have been a little negative, the point is that he got through it, writing some of the most influential books of all time.
You just have to be patient; you have to believe that there is a little escape hole at the bottom of that Great Wall. Sometimes you just need to crawl along in the mud for a while, looking for the light.
This article was copy edited by Chris Hughes.