Stopping the Block

Does writer’s block exist?

I tell my students, when they don’t want to do a creative writing assignment and use writer’s block as an excuse, that you can always write something. That even the term “writer’s block” is just a phrase made up by the procrastinators. But that’s my duty as a teacher to tell them that, isn’t it? The truth is, I totally understand. There are plenty of times when I am sitting in front of my computer and I’ve got….nothing. So I edit something else I’ve been working on, I troll around Facebook, I check my email for the hundredth time, and then I get back to work and still…nothing.

But I do think there are some ways to break writer’s block. After all, the thoughts are already there, it’s just a matter of finding a way to let them rise to the surface of your conscious mind. I really believe this, because I have never once experienced writer’s block during a fiction workshop: these are designed with the express purpose of helping us find material. But now that I’m almost finished with my classes and have my thesis stretched out in front of me (four out of ten chapters finished, and lots left to go), I am going to have to rely more heavily on my own methods of finding the words within. It’s the first step out of the cocoon of the MFA and I’m looking for suggestions.

I know all the standards: re-reading a favorite short story, going for a walk, taking a shower, etc., but does anyone have any quirky methods that work for them? I’ve heard of sitting quietly, eyes closed, in front of the computer with an egg timer. When the timer buzzes, you get to work. Anyone tried it? Anything else you can suggest?

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7 thoughts on “Stopping the Block

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  2. Dana

    If I don’t feel like working on something else, I doodle little note-poems as I read or watch tv or talk on the phone.

    If I get stuck, I will try a different form of writing. I like to find a discussion forum where I can involve myself in my favorite impassioned fights.

    Have you seen that book called Rob the Plagiarist? Exercises like that feel more like doing crossword puzzles or something and less like writing. I like to do kinda far-out exercises that seem silly but overtime make a big mountain of written work. (I don’t know what kind of thesis you are writing, but there are some researchers who do art-based research, where doing abstract exercises can count toward research work… This can be really great for when one is writing a thesis.)

    Practicing yoga and just having a life outside of writing seems important, too. Catching up with an old friend on the phone or hanging out can be forms of writing, if you want to take an expansive view. You’re still making your mark on people.

    A creative block might work itself out unconsciously if you stop thinking about it too much and just follow your instincts and do what you want to do for a while.

  3. Lara

    Writer’s block for me I’ve discovered is really about fear of inadequacy, failure, even perhaps success. How will this be perceived, received? What will I do if it fails? What will I do if it succeeds? Do I really have time for all this? Isn’t there something more "productive" I could be doing with my time? (This last is said in the strident tones of my mother when I was 16. I’m 41 now, and she’s actually behind my writing 100% but occasionally this version still crops up when I’m particularly afraid of trying something new. Anyway…)

    It is all immobilizing until I close my eyes and remember the passion that kept the teen me up through the night, stories demanding to get out onto the page. I remember the one friend who read them and praised them, the 10th grade English teacher who gave me my first journal, the Boston Globe fiction editor who was running a youth writing camp and told me at the end of the 4 weeks that I needed to publish under my real name so he could find my work.

    And suddenly what I want to write is exactly what I put down on paper. Everything for each of those affirming people was something I risked, something I’d never tried before, whether it was subject matter, or style. Whether it is perfect or not I know I can only do something with it, show it to someone, only if it is out on the page. Yes, I risk the belittling of someone who doesn’t understand my writing, but I also could find reaffirmation — and that helps me override the fear of rejection.

    I can’t simply have these positives out around me all the time though. I’d grow numb to them (and I had for a very dark period about 10 years ago). But I find with each new project, going through the fight, finding just the right moment to reencounter the supportive memory… My writing has a fresh passion each time.

  4. Katie

    Just keep writing… pen to paper… even if you have to write "I don’t know what to say; I don’t know what to say" over and over again. Words are following and eventually the characters come out to play.

    During the summer, cutting the grass also helps me, too. Shoveling doesn’t quite have the same affect.

    Katie

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