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unblocking writer's block  RSS feed

 
master steward
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Got writer's block?

Need a good kick up the backside?

Just want to procrastinate a little while longer?

Let's talk about the dreaded B word - writer's block


What are your tricks and techniques for unblocking (or giving in to) writer's block?
 
gardener
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One tip I have is to have an accountability partner. In my situation I am co-writing a book so my accountability partner also happens to be my co-author. Telling myself I don't feel like it and deserve another break is easy. But reaching a regularly scheduled call with my co-author and saying "I've got nothing" isn't something I can personally stomach. That on its own generally keeps me going.

When that fails, I take a good look at my declining credit union balance followed by the number of hours I have put into this project already. That usually kicks me into gear.
 
pollinator
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My tip is: just write something, anything. Allow yourself to write utter and complete rubbish. Write self-evident, nonsensical and illogical stuff. Or write about how you cannot write and why.

I think this works for me because it makes writing fun again and helps me relax and then the better ideas can start flowing.
 
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Writer's block.  That dreaded, temporary "malady" that contains its own solution.  For me, it's like the proverbial getting right back onto that horse after you have fallen off.  The most direct route to its resolution I have found to be... start writing.  Write down what is happening ("I am right in the middle of writer's block!) and what your thoughts are about it, describing the experience as you find yourself in it and your reactions to being there.  What I find is that while doing so, other ideas emerge and start taking on a life of their own.  Much like heliotropism is a plant's natural response to the presence of the sun's light, such basic and seemingly mundane thoughts find a separate source of ... more thoughts!  And once that process begins, it becomes like the vine that sends out curling tendrils that seek out support from nearby branches:  thoughts beget thoughts, and in the process, the expansion and quality of those thoughts naturally emerges and grows.  And the next thing you know, you are back in the flow!
 
pollinator
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Arnold judas Rimmer wrote I am a Fish all the way down his engineers exam paper, saluted and passed out. Pie Please!
 
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For me, its the fear of not getting it right the first time.
Having recognised that has helped a lot, and now I often write in longhand to keep pace with my thought process, I write double line spacing so I have a bit of room for alterations.
When I think I may have something worthy I then use the word processor to get it on a hard disc.
ONce again double spacing for hand writing updates etc.
I also put an edition number after each alteration. IE I do 2 hours of alterations, I update the edition number.
 
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The best thing for me is to do something else for a while, and since I make fruit liqueurs the best thing is to do some sampling! All kinds of wonderful ideas present themselves during and after sampling :)
 
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I seldom get writer's block, but when I do, it is usually because I have too many items on my plate, just too busy, or maybe overwhelmed with other projects or fatigue.  It helps when I see/hear/read about various topics other people are working on, or a direction humanity is headed in and it gives me creative ideas which then can expand into something or a tangent I can work on.  I'm almost always working on a new book or doing articles for someone or something.  It helps me when I write from experience, either life experience or work related to something I did or studied in the past.  In other words, the things I know about.  I think the ability to be a good writer is latent in almost everyone.  We all have a story to tell.  
 
pollinator
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I think a writer's block solution can be found from Arnold J. Rimmer of the Red Dwarf.😀 He has "skills", but Cat will always be my favorite!

However I think Nina's suggestion is great.

Nina Jay wrote:My tip is: just write something, anything. Allow yourself to write utter and complete rubbish. Write self-evident, nonsensical and illogical stuff. Or write about how you cannot write and why.

 
pollinator
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I don't do enough writing that I would say I get "writer's block", but when I can't figure out what I want to write, or how to write something in a way that I'm happy to, I go and discuss it with my ducks. Since they live in the back field which involves walking up a hill, through a small chunk of second-growth forest, and then down a hill (~1/8 of a mile), that gives me some fresh air and exercise. They're Muscovy, so they're good listeners and reasonably non-judgmental so long as I show up with treats (like apples). I guess what I'm saying is that for me, the block is usually that I'm not happy with my current approach to an issue, and that a little time and distance often helps me to find a different avenue to accomplish the goal.
 
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In addition to the excellent ideas above, here are some tricks I've picked up for dealing with block.

Take a walk. Fresh air and movement can be incredibly helpful.

Work on a different story/book. If you have more than one project going at a time, that is.

Seek out something that inspires you: a favorite book, movie, song, something beautiful in nature, etc.

Start writing about what all you still need to write about to finish the book.
 
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Morning Pages

A practice recommended in the book "The Artist´s Way" is to write three pages of anything that
flows through your stream of consciousness, first thing every morning.

Before brushing your teeth, before that coffee, making the bed, etc.
This silences the "editor" in our mind, the voice that tells us it can be done better or said a different way.

There is no room for doubt or second-guessing. This is helpful for any creative process where productivity is the aim.
Quality assessment and editing can come after.

Eg. Once there was a peacock with tiny feathers who lived in my minds eye, but the idea of sparkling rythms flooded its home and imitations of the cosmic joke and rumors of nifty pigeon hats broke my fall. Anyway the elephants in the closet never much minded what sie of the bed I wake up on, so no worries there mate! It all speaks to us as does the lilly blooms and cradle benders upon the upturned spoke of the hissing eagle.

Never mind if it makes sense, never mind the punctuation or even if the spelling is correct. Just get it down.

Note*: It´s important that the pages are hand-written and also that they are not read for at least two weeks after writing them.
This is so that we don´t critique our morning pages. They are meant to be written and left aside.

Happy writing!
 
pollinator
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I didn't know first, but I found out it helped me to start a whole new adventure (outdoors, which had nothing to do with writing at all). The new impressions started the inspiration for a new chapter to write, which then lead to more chapters.
 
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Sometimes going downtown and sitting somewhere where I can watch people helps. Looking around at novel scenery and switching my focus to external puts new information into my brain. Or, going on an adventure. For me this could be as simple as walking to the thrift store, looking at all the crap and deciding not to buy anything, going down the street for an icecream cone instead. I will have seen lots of random stuff and people doing things that have nothing to do with me.
 
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My trick is to always have more then 1 project I'm working on.  I do the 9 pm t0 5 am thing.  You work on your writing like any other job.  If I get stuck I move to the second project and finish your writing day working on that.  I usually unblock when I do lucid dreaming and sort out the problem.  Then I write on the 1st project for the next day.  By having two projects on the go you still have a productive day and keeps frustration from creating a real major block.  Lucid dreaming lets you play test story lines and move the information around until it flows better for nonfiction projects.  The hardest thing when writing nonfiction is to dumb it down for public consumption without it being too obvious.    
 
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Get an inspiring/dramatic/high impact scene/situation in your mind, don't worry about what leads up to it or how the characters got there or what justifies it, just envision it with passion and put it on paper. It is not a start to the story, just a part of it.

I have found once I let the muse express through that scene other scenes/plot will fall into place. It may work because instead of it being a logical sequential right brained process it is instead an emotional/visual left brained expression that doesn't require much or any analysis.
 
pollinator
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I'm pretty good at writing short forms but I have really hard time to come up with a book as a whole. I have figured out that one day I will gather some of the best short articles and stories and fit them into a book. I also collect all answers I give on FB or on my blog, or on forums, so I have hundreds of pages of text already. Now it is just a matter of filtering it out, editing and hopefully, one day ... ;)
 
pollinator
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Absolutely all tips that were mentionned are about regulating the autonomic nervous system! We do not write only with the cortex - ideas - but we also discover what we write, on the way... because the ANS is precisely the one part of our brain out of three that screen our knowledge and memory. Or else there would not be creativity. This part of the brain has no word nor ideas, but it is about what we call heart or guts because it talks with the feft-sense, through our physiology and our sensations.

The source of block and stimulation is actually the same...

We need some excitement to write, but also some peace, and even better said, a balance between security and some urgent motivation. There is danger and curiosity of the unknown to come, which stimulates and blocks too! This balance and the way to reach it will differ from person to person, though based on the same inner system. It happens the same in life, when we want to do something and we cannot. It usually means, from the nervous system point of view, that we have reached a state of internal activation/mobilization that is too strong for us. It is 100% individual and spontaneous.

It is like in electricity, too much makes the fuses come off until we lower the voltage!
And not enough voltage is like what happens with old batteries in your clock, it cannot keep up.

When the block is during the writing, it can also mean that our inner wise knows something we already wrote is not matching what we now want to write. So it can be a good idea to re-read what has been written, and start to modify when you feel something is not fluent, (like for example for me, it is when having to read myself twice to understand myself). Usually the rewriting will attract like a magnet, "THIS is what I really meant" or wanted to convey etc. And even if there is no re-writing, reading what is already the past should be enjoyable and can put us in the flow again.

So globally it is about getting some rest and find something enjoyable. The range of choice to reach this goal is infinitely wide!
 
Nina Jay
pollinator
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Excellent tips from everyone, thank you!

Sometimes being blocked can be useful (as long as it doesn't last too long). It gives me perspective and when I get back to writing I usually change a lot of what I've written and sometimes the whole angle of the article.

I tend to have two kinds of blocks: the "I-can't-start-writing" block and the "I-don't-want-to-continue-writing" block.

My tip about writing rubbish helps with the first type of block, but not the second.

The tips that others gave, like going for a walk, watching people, doing something else, are more useful in the second scenario. Jay Angler described it well: the second type of block is that I'm not happy with my current approach to an issue. So it's actually a good thing that I get blocked and have to do something else for a while.

However, I must admit I do sometimes get hypercritical about my approach/ style. In these cases the best tip I've ever heard is: Good Enough Is Perfect. I try to remind myself that I can always write another article with a different approach, if this wasn't "The Best Approach and Style Ever TM".
 
master pollinator
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I know Permies Forums does not help! :-)

I got (3) books I am writing, and loss of interest in continuing them is my real issue. I have had people say they wanted the book before it was even done as the topic was so interesting, but I'll be darned if I can be motivated to get them done.

It is very frustrating...
 
Nina Jay
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Three books simultaneously is A LOT. My hat is off to you, Travis!

It's really hard for me to KEEP thinking that a subject, any subject, is really THAT interesting. Easy to get excited about a topic, but to keep the enthusiasm long enough to write a whole book, that's another thing altogether.

I stick to short stories, articles, brochures and other short duration writing projects, because I know I can finish them even if I suddenly feel the topic is not that interesting/ my approach in not the correct one/ the article does more harm than good/ the story is not worth the paper or the electricity consumed in producing it/ nobody will want to read it/ no magazine will buy it from me because it's not that great and they've got a dozen better stories in line, etc. etc. These negative thoughts are easier for me to ignore when I can already see the end of the tunnel.  

I haven't given up on the dream of one day writing a book. But I think I need to work more on my "inner critic" first...



 
Travis Johnson
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I have actually written a book, beyond the three that are in idle status now, and will say it rates right up there with several things in my life that I feel "accomplished" for doing.

For instance, when I became a foster parent, I felt accomplished, only because so many people have said, "I have always wanted to do that, but..." Well, for me there was no but. I passed the home inspection, the (3) background checks, the physical check, the financial checks, etc...I did that, and helped abused children. That really is something I feel is an accomplishment in my life.

Writing "The End" at the end of a novel was really gratifying too though. It did take a lot of hard work. At the time I was working for the railroad and spent days upon days at hotel rooms. The standard operating procedure was to get tattoos and drink, but I managed to stay away from the bars and write my novel (about railroading) instead, and thus was able to finish it. The interesting part was, it was a fiction novel, yet I have always been told "write what you read." I read non=fiction, so it was new to me, but I wove a story, and put it on paper. Sometimes a writer has to break the rules!

The three I am working on now however are in regards to:

Christian Farming, as in going through the bible and putting my perspective as a sheep farmer to it (sheer overwhelming in scope)
Taking a Farm from Hobby to Full Time Farm Status (overwhelming in amount of content=400 pages with no photos yet)
Farming with Cancer: Really the test I was given to form a testimony on what it is like to lose health, equipment, livestock, children, and forests and still be content in life (difficult to write due to raw emotion)

Of all of them, I wish I could finish the last one. A dream to write a book? Nope; the book would just be an excuse to go to churches around the nation (and Canada) and help hurting farmers and say, "I am empathetic to your situation" and be able to mean it. What kind of author would I be if I could not meet people where they are at? (physically...as in where they live, yet emotionally mostly)





 
raven ranson
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Amanda Launchbury-Rainey wrote:Arnold judas Rimmer wrote I am a Fish all the way down his engineers exam paper, saluted and passed out. Pie Please!



Yep, you found the secret to obliterating my writer's block.  PIE for you

If I'm stuck, I grab a fist full of paper and write on the top of each one "this page is no longer blank".  Or, if I'm feeling particularly blocked, I write "I am a Fish" to remind myself of this moment.



Of course, the only time I use the fish line was during exams, and I wonder if any of my professors got the reference.  But it helped me get through the exams so I don't mind if they thought me a bit strange.

 
pollinator
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Great thread.  Here are my thoughts on this as a writer.

Many people struggle with long-form writing, such as a book, because they haven't outlined things. As much as we all hated to do it in school, the outline is a powerful tool to keep things on track. Many feel it restricts their creativity. I disagree. An outline doesn't determine your style or your syntax. It's a guide. But, more importantly, an outline is a framework in which your creativity can roam around. In my experience, most people who object to an outline for long-form writing don't have a clear vision for what the final outcome is to be. Are there examples of people who write great books without an outline? Sure. But, for most people, we need an outline. It also helps you out of those times when your brain is processing other things in your life or other writing projects. If I'm inundated, I find an outline can allow me to shut out other things and return to a more clear mental place for that writing.

Secondly, and specific to an approach to dealing with writer's block, is the wonder of stream-of-conscious writing. My experience is that many people who attempt to write don't want to go through an iterative process of writing, writing again, rewriting again, and then rewriting yet again. I believe most people try to compose what they feel is a final product upon first draft. I feel that's crazy and often retards the writing process. Do you want to be 80% there on first draft? I think that would be an excellent goal that your first draft of a long-form piece is 80% of what the final form is with 20% of it in rewriting and editing. So, the self-applied pressure of thinking the writing needs to be put down in final form can cause a metal paralysis of a kind. Just get something down, as has been written already. One fun and intriguing exercise to get something flowing out of you is stream-of-conscious writing. For those who may not be familiar with this idea, it is simply stringing together words, phrases and sentences that may not even be syntactically accurate and often appear to be non-sequitur. Some would call it gibberish. Others call the output nonsensical. What you write may not be incorporated in your working text at all. But, you allow your brain to spew out thought streams and you simply take dictation. You're not thinking about if any of the thoughts are relevant to your text or even coherent or progress in any way. I use the metaphor "puking on the table" to describe this idea. You simply expel thoughts and your hand writes or types them out. This technique is enhanced if you are a fast typist. But the actual getting down of the stream of thought is the therapeutic part of it and has always worked for me to get past something that holds me back in writing. Besides, if you are writing fiction that contains character dialog, it is excellent practice because many of us actually speak this way and the technique helps us to write a bit more like we speak, which is good for believable dialog.

"Stream of Consciousness is a type of writing that originated with the works of psychologist William James (Brother of Novelist Emeritus Henry James). Basically, its purpose is to emulate the passage of thought through your mind without any inhibitors. For that reason, sentences become longer, less organized and more sporadic in style. Its lack of structure is not for everybody, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any order. Stream of consciousness permits deeper patterns of order to emerge, ones based on the genuine movement of information in your brain. It also permits writers to simulate different forms of consciousness, such as dreams, comas, drug use and hallucinatory seances."



Here's a great article on stream-of-conscious writing: https://qwiklit.com/2014/03/22/10-writers-who-use-stream-of-consciousness-better-than-anybody-else/

 
pollinator
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if you`re not familiar with it, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is coming. The objective is to write 50,000 words over a month alongside thousands of others. While the goal is a novel, you are prompted every day and have some social pressure and reminders for accountability, and could use it for other writing as well.
I used to use it for my own writing in the past, but without fail every November I have clients banging down the door and after translating 20,000 words a week, the last thing I want to do is write more. But maybe it could be useful for someone.
https://nanowrimo.org/history
 
Molly Kay
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Tereza Okava wrote:if you`re not familiar with it, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is coming. The objective is to write 50,000 words over a month alongside thousands of others. While the goal is a novel, you are prompted every day and have some social pressure and reminders for accountability, and could use it for other writing as well.
I used to use it for my own writing in the past, but without fail every November I have clients banging down the door and after translating 20,000 words a week, the last thing I want to do is write more. But maybe it could be useful for someone.
https://nanowrimo.org/history



I believe there's a thread for it in the writing forum. I'm participating. It will be my 10th NaNo.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Dan Grubbs wrote:Great thread.  ... the outline is a powerful tool to keep things on track. ...
.... My experience is that many people who attempt to write don't want to go through an iterative process of writing, writing again, rewriting again, and then rewriting yet again. . ...Just get something down, as has been written already. . ...



I'm not like 'many people' (in many cases and also in this case). The part of the writing I like most is the re-writing, correcting, changing sentences, delete parts, etc. And without an outline I won't even start writing. Maybe that's because I'm used to write non-fiction (mostly short articles). I'm not good at using my imagination for writing a fiction story. But now I wrote one (or I am busy writing), I wrote it because I felt a do-book on 'making art' for children (age 10 - 14 yrs) would be much more interesting with a story. So the practical part is the outline for the story. If you understand what I mean.
 
pollinator
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My best solution for writers block is to go do something physical that is 'mindless' like washing the dishes or weeding the garden.  I seem to need some physical labor to keep my mind functioning, but if it also requires a lot of thought and mental energy (like building something nitpicky) then I don't have the mental energy left over for writing.

Kathleen
 
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When I get stuck, I back up and do some re-reading over the chapter in progress. If that doesn't help I try to think of the absolute most absurd next step my character could take and write that. Usually that part turns out to be the very best part of a story. Sometimes I throw it out but at least I can move past the problem point and substitute a real scene that works better later.
 
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