Everyone has or will experience that moment when they sit down to write and the mind draws a blank, like every thought has been sucked away into a black hole. Writer’s block is a universal phenomenon. We know it’s struck when words refuse to flow from our brain out onto the page or the screen. The trick is to find ways to climb out of the abyss and not let it overwhelm or paralyze us. Four of our Lanterns share their strategies for conquering this formidable foe.
For Linda Ulleseit, writer’s block is a tough one. “I guess that’s why it’s the subject of so many advice columns, right? My most creative moments happen when my mind is relaxed, like when I’m in the shower or half-asleep going to bed or getting up. In order to overcome writer’s block, I need to recreate that sort of mental freedom. First, I go on Facebook. I scroll through my feed, visit my various groups, laugh at memes, comment on posts, sometimes read articles. Then it’s Instagram time. Posting, liking, commenting —entertaining but not very helpful with writer’s block. I used to spend time on Facebook games, but I have managed to reduce that time waste. Seriously, though, one of the most helpful block breakers is walking my dog. I can run scenes through my head, imagine dialogue, and play “what if” to my heart’s content. If I have a particularly good idea, I record it on my phone to keep for later.”
Lynn Downey looks at the challenge a bit differently. “As long as I’ve been writing (which is a long time) I’ve heard the term “writer’s block,” but I never understood it. That’s probably because when I found myself unable to put something on the page, I didn’t so much feel blocked as I felt…empty. I had the horrible sense that the well was dry. This is appropriate for me since I write about the West where there are a lot of dry wells. It took me a while, but I finally figured out a way to get the water and words flowing again. All it took was movement: a walk, a visit to the grocery store, working in my yard, or even (though I hate to admit it), housework. With physical activity, the well filled up. There will always be dry spells in my writing life, but I know how to bring the rain again.”
Ana Brazil takes a more philosophical approach. “Have we defined exactly what Writer’s Block is? And have we separated it from Writer’s Procrastination or Writer’s Sabotage?
“I’m not sure I’ve conquered any of the above, but I’ve got one almost-always-works-for-me strategy for when I don’t want to write: I set a timer to 30 minutes and write (and only write) until the timer goes off. Usually when the alarm goes off I’m engaged enough in my writing that I want to keep writing. Basically, I’ve found my fire.
“I can write-and-not-cheat for 30 minutes and I bet that you can also. I also bet that we can both re-set that timer to 30 minutes throughout the day, if we need to.”
C.V. Lee goes back to the drawing board. “When I’m struggling with what to write, I take one of two tacks. I’m a big proponent of outlining. When writing a chapter and I can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B, I go back to my outline and fill it in with more details about what I want to happen, what I want my characters to do or say. For me, this shortening of the gap between one point and the next can inspire my creativity. If that doesn’t work, I move on to another chapter. I’m able to do this because I write about real historical people and events so some specifics of my outline are immovable. But real people and events or not, if you have an extensive outline you’ll have ideas about what’s happening at various points in your work-in-progress. I’ve also found that writing later portions can clue me in as to what needs to happen earlier, what I want to foreshadow, character interactions or events that logically could have happen previously. Those new insights always give me a burst of creativity that can send me running for the keyboard.”
Please share your own strategies for conquering writer’s block in the comments.
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C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.