Every writer has it. That dreaded calamity known as writer’s block. You sit in front of your keyboard and stare…or you search through your half-written pieces for a story you can complete…or you scan your collection of writer’s prompts for an idea…or, all of the above. And still you can’t start typing.
The solution is simple. Start typing anyway.
Type the word “The.” Or “Once upon a time.” Or “Today is the first day of the rest of my life, and I’m going to start it by [fill in whatever words pop into your head]. Then type another word or phrase. Then another. Repeat for at least 5 minutes, or 10, or 30. Just do it.
Voila! Writer’s block is gone.
Of course, it probably isn’t exactly that easy, though sometimes it is. Mostly it’s about getting your mind working, which happens when you’re typing, even if you don’t know where your typing will end or whether it will be any good.
There are several ways to avoid writer’s block, including some I’ve already mentioned. For example:
- Keep a list of topics: It could be bullet points or paragraphs, whatever can get you started typing onto the virtual page (or for those who prefer the manual method, putting pen to paper),
- Keep a list of writing prompts, or links to writing prompt pages: Some writing prompts are silly and simple (e.g., “Write a 100-word story or poem using the words “Good Golly, Miss Molly”). Others may stimulate deeper introspection (e.g., “Write 1500 words on how you felt when you got an B in a class after getting an A on every exam and paper”).
- Keep a blog calendar: This is a variation on keeping a topic list in which you schedule posts for future events. For example, your calendar for March 17th can say “Post about St. Patrick’s Day.” If you write your posts ahead of time (like you should), put the entry into a date prior to the 17th, such as the 10th or 12th or whatever the weekend day is before the 17th. Be as specific as you can (e.g., “Post about cousin Liam ending up in jail after last year’s St. Patrick’s Day mishap”).
- Write stream of consciousness: Remember above that I said to type the word ‘The,’ then keep typing? That’s stream of consciousness. Just write whatever comes to mind even if it lacks organization or even sense. It might be something you later unceremoniously toss into the recycle bin, or it might be a nugget of gold that sets you on the journey of your life. You won’t know until you write it.
- Write poetry: If you’re a prose writer, try writing a poem. If you write non-fiction, try a short fictional piece. If a science fiction writer, try memoir (or a science fictionalized version of your memoir). Write something different than you usually write, whether it be an opera, a play, erotica, a murder mystery, or an international thriller. Stimulate a few brain cells that have lain dormant.
There are other ways to break writer’s block, as varied as the writers who have it. Sometimes taking a break to go on a long walk, chat with friends, check out Facebook, or watch a movie will be needed. Personally I avoid these “breaks” because more times than not it sets the block further into stone (but by all means, if you’ve been writing hard, take a break to “sharpen the saw”). If you take a break, follow the points above to get back into writing. Breaks don’t make a writer, they simply give you a chance to think. Take advantage of that chance, but get back to the keyboard as fast as possible.
No matter what method you use, the key is to write through the block. Write gibberish, write stream of consciousness, writer erotica, write out your grocery list if you have to…just write. And do it every day.
Time to write.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.