Circling the Square: 4 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block

5 May

Writer’s block is an indiscriminate enemy. He doesn’t care who you are, how accomplished you are, what you wrote in the past, or what you’re writing. He crashes your party, eats all the hors d’oeuvres, spikes the punch, makes a scene to embarrass you, and then runs over your mailbox trying to drunkenly back out of your driveway. Dude’s a mean dude. Meanwhile, you didn’t get ANYTHING accomplished when he was hanging around.

In the shadow of this constant menace, it’s imperative you come up with a few strategies to chip away at that block. You have to power through your outages in ways that are just as creative as your brilliant and sparkling prose. Maybe you’ve even wandered over to this blog with your creative juices dammed up and in need of release. In that case, here are a few things you can try:

*Stare at the screen until your forehead bleeds – Per a quotation attributed to the late great Douglas Adams, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.” Some of writing is thinking, and some of it is doing. And you need to keep yourself in a position to do both. You’re much more likely to come up with something if your fingers are on the keys and you’re staring at Word’s white abyss, than if you’ve given up for the day and are watching TV. Some people will urge you to get away and take bubble baths or indulge in a chocolate chip cookie (so naughty!) to break the block. I say sit your butt down and stare.

*Remove Your Filter – Ernest Hemingway said that “the first draft of anything is [not a nice word for manure].” You have to shed your perfectionist urges and really get yourself committed to writing dreck.  What’s the point? The act of writing is its own point. Plus, you’re very likely going to be able to mine some non-dreck from the dreck. Either this “bad” writing will spur your creativity and propel you into “good” writing, or the “bad” label is the product of your own foul mood, and objectively your output is not even that bad at all.

*Tangent Writing – Sometimes it’s the format of your writing project that feels asphyxiating and stultifying. When you’re stuck, write in a different format. For example, if you’re writing a novel, write a journal entry like you were one of your novel’s characters. Or write just the dialogue of your novel’s scene, like you were writing a play. You may not be able to use this material in its present form, but it will keep your motor running.

*Rewriting is Writing – Most writers agree that rewriting is significantly more pleasurable than writing from scratch. Give yourself a treat—relatively speaking—and revise stuff you’ve already written when you can’t come up with anything new. You’re still expending creative energy, but in a different and less existentially painful way. You’ll fall in love with your writing all over again in the process, too. And reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing is never a bad thing.

9 Responses to “Circling the Square: 4 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block”

  1. Jessica S May 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    See now, for me, rewriting my own words is just pure torture. I’ve said what I wanted to say, and I’d like to just let it lie now. :) That being said, I definitely see where you’re coming from.

    I think all of your writer’s block solutions are great ideas.

    Also, the blog carnival is up, if you’d like to go check it out.

    • Bryan Keithley May 9, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

      I think you’re either in one camp or the other when in comes to rewriting your own words. I’ve read that Hawthorne was an avid re-writer of his own words. Though I’m sure that there are many great writers who were happy to get all of their thoughts down and let their editors have at it.

      Personally, I just don’t trust my brain to come up with the best idea the first time out.

  2. charlie nitric May 8, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    Hello –

    I really like your post and advice. I found that it is always better to continue typing junk rather to sit thinking… and thinking… and you know how the rest of that goes. I’ve had success typing out paragraph after paragraph of “nowhere” sentences that tangent off in to various directions. Most didn’t make sense but sometimes with one of the new directions leads me to insight, vision, and a clear path…and the words start to flow naturally as we wish they always would. Keep typing until you get what you want. Happy Mothers Day to all mommies world-wide.:)

    • Bryan Keithley May 9, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

      Exactly! Sometimes you just have to get the words flowing. Whether that means writing several pages of rubbish or going off on a tangent that eventually leads you in the right direction.

      BTW, the photography from your post about Fox River was fabulous. You’ve got some talent with the lens. That view you’ve got from the bridge looking north was breathtaking!

  3. Fiona May 8, 2011 at 5:53 am #

    I hate when I write a comment and then it disappears into cyberspace because I neglected to fill in my details – argh!

    So here I go again, it probably won’t be anywhere near as eloquent as the original one but I’ll try.

    I liked this post because you added humour to what for some is a major hurdle. I personally have nevered suffered from writers block (but never say never right?)

    The words pour from my fingers like the proverbial whether it be blogging or writing my stories, but I have suffered from a lack of perserverance and sticking to one thing as well as a lack of belief in my own ability or thinking that anyone would have any interest in what I have to write.

    Once I conquered those problems I churned out an 81,000 word novel in no time. It yet remains to be seen whether it worthy of publishing but I did it. But, maybe my challenges were in fact writers block – who knows?

    Thanks for the timely suggestions, Cheers Fi

    • charlie nitric May 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

      Hi Fiona – That’s happened to me 100 times already and I’ve only been here 22 days. It happened 3 times in a row at another blog. I adapted and try to remember to copy my comment before ad in all my info. Seems to happen to me the most when I comment on Blogger.:)

    • Bryan Keithley May 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

      You’re one of the lucky ones! While I can’t say I’ve been plagued with writer’s block over the years, I’ve had my bouts.

      I suppose finding the right audience can be a struggle, but I also feel like anyone with the drive to become an author and to really study the craft of writing can’t be so unlucky as to lack all ability to write! At the end of the day I think knowing the right people and crafting a great proposal carry as much weight as the quality of the work.

      I wish you the best of luck with you novel though Fi! Definitely give me a shout if and when it gets published.


  1. The Write Shadow’s Blog Carnival — Edition #1 « Jessica S. - May 7, 2011

    […] Finally Fast presents Circling the Square: 4 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block […]

  2. The Write Shadow’s Blog Carnival — Edition #1 | The Write Shadow - May 7, 2011

    […] Finally Fast presents Circling the Square: 4 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block […]

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