Writer’s Block

This post is in empathy with all of you creative people who will inevitably suffer writer’s block, myself included, and includes some hopefully helpful tips.

I used to do a lot of creative writing but as I became overwhelmed with the business that accompanies adulthood my writing petered off into nothing. Occasionally I would think about starting again but once I had stopped for awhile starting a new piece seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. My main excuse: I have so much reading and writing to do for school why would I want to do MORE on my own time?

The idea of being a writer in the future sounds appealing but, of course, first I need to write and my lack of writing is crippling my glinting future self into senile oblivion. I’m hoping to start writing again, even if at first it’s not very good because I am so out of practice. Here are some ideas for you, and myself, to get our collective mind juices flowing. (Gross.)

Study other people’s creative processes. Yes, the end result is important but what about everything before that? Finishing a fantastic story is great but how you go about doing so is important as well. Of course, everyone does this differently but if you don’t yet have a routine or you do have a routine but still have writer’s block try learning about how other people get their best work done. I recently discovered a blogger’s post on how she creates characters for picture books. Click here for “Character Studies” by Hana Hladikova. I also have a book at home called Daily Rituals, edited and with text by Mason Curry. The book is filled with the daily rituals of famous creative people, each person is devoted approximately two pages. Among these people are Jane Austen, Karl Marx, Francis Bacon, Glen Gould, and many more – 161 to be exact. Here is an excerpt from the pages devoted to Vladimir Nabokov:

“The Russian-born novelist’s writing habits were famously peculiar. Beginning in 1950, he composed first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in long file boxes. Since, Nabokov claimed, he pictured an entire novel in complete form before he began writing it, this method allowed him to compose passages out of sequence, in whatever order he pleased; by shuffling the cards around, he could quickly rearrange paragraphs, chapters, and whole swaths of the book. (His file box also served as portable desk; he started the first draft of Lolita on a road trip across America, working nights in the backseat of his parked car – the only place in the country, he said, with no noise and no drafts.) Only after months of this labor did he finally relinquish the cards to his wife, Vera, for a typed draft, which would then undergo several more rounds of revision.”

Another excerpt, this time on Maya Angelou:

“Angelou has never been able to write at home. “I try to keep home very pretty,” she has said, “and I can’t work in a pretty surrounding. It throws me.” As a result, she has always worked in hotel or motel rooms, the more anonymous the better. She described her routine in a 1938 interview:

I usually get up at about 5:30, and I’m ready to have coffee by 6, usually with my husband. He goes off to his work around 6:30, and I go off to mine. I keep a hotel room in which I do my work – a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin. I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room. I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon. If the work is going badly, I stay until 12:30. If it’s going well, I’ll stay as long as it’s going well. It’s lonely, and it’s marvelous. I edit while I’m working. When I come home at 2, I read over what I’ve written that day, and then try to put it out of my mind.

I find this book both interesting and helpful though it can sometimes be a distraction in itself.

Draw inspiration from others. Now, I realize this sounds like a very obvious statement. But I’ll get an idea from a book,poem, movie, etc… that I’ve read/ watched. At first this seems like plagiarism and cheating myself out of my own creative and artistic license. However, once I’ve worked and reworked the idea it usually evolves into something shiny, new, and unrecognizable to it’s parental inspiration. If this is unappealing, think about how many authors have written and rewritten versions of fairy tales or some other popular genre. Go read some that interest you and take it from there!

After all, T.S Eliot once wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

Designate time to write. This works if you’re serious enough about writing to do it on a consistent basis. I think I gleaned this idea somewhere else but can’t remember where so I apologize to its mystery creator for this lack of credit. Designate a certain amount of time and give yourself a time slot in which you must sit with a pen and paper. Now, I’m not saying write. You are not forced to write… but you are not allowed to do anything else. Either write or sit with your piece of paper and your pen doing nothing. Eventually, out of boredom, you will start writing something and that’s a start in itself. This is also the beginning of creating a habit or daily routine which incorporates writing.

Talk to a professional. So, you didn’t find this helpful. Don’t despair! I’m just a lowly university student. There are MANY other writing ideas and prompts out there to help writer’s block. Google will be your friend here though I can say I’ve used some of Tim Wynne-Jones’ suggestions. [Click here for his “Games to Play While Waiting for an Idea.] You can also check out your local library or school for writer in residence programs. The help of a real life writer may be at your fingertips!

Good luck!


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