Imagine this scene . . .
It’s ten in the morning. A woman sits at her desk with a cup of tea. She turns on her computer and opens a Word document. With fingers hovering over the keyboard, she ponders what to type. Just an hour or so earlier all sorts of idea floated through her mind while she showered. But as she stares at the screen, her mind goes blank.
Of course, it does.
Writer’s block is the enemy of many well-intentioned writers. It turns the greatest ideas into mush and drives us to that basket of unfolded clothes sitting on the dryer. And while it may be responsible for our spotless kitchen, it does little to soothe the ache to tell our story.
When I first attempted to write this week’s blog, writer’s block hit hard. In fact, it started before I even sat down at my computer.
The hardest part of making a commitment to write and post weekly is figuring out what to write. And while the adage says – write what you know – it often feels as if all things I know have been written about before, and I don’t have anything new to add. It would have been quite easy to give in and divert my attention to the front hall closet, which was badly in need of cleaning. But fortunately, my Passion planner was laying open next to me with the weekly focus of self-discipline staring me in the face.
I realized I needed help, so I looked for a writing prompt. And while I didn’t get my blog done, I did start an essay and a short story about Cinderella. It felt good to overcome writer’s block, but I still had to come up with an idea for this blog.
That’s when I saw this quote on Twitter:
writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all
― Charles Bukowski, The Last Night of the Earth Poems
It got me to thinking. I could write about my writer’s block. So here are five strategies to overcome writer’s block:
- Stay in the chair. Make a commitment to keep your behind in your seat, writing for a specified amount of time. Set the timer. Record the thoughts running through your mind. I can’t tell you how many times my writing projects start with some variation of the following sentence: I have no idea what to write or how to start this. Nonetheless, as I type out my thoughts, the piece starts to take shape. By the time the timer goes off, I’m well into writing.
- Read and annotate. As I type those words, I can almost see my daughter shaking her head and calling me an English teacher nerd. But it works. Reading stimulates our thinking, but we need to catch the thoughts as they are happening. Write questions and responses in the margins. Expand on those ideas in your writing.
- Visit an art gallery or museum. Wander through the galleries, paying close attention to what speaks to you and why. This blog came to me yesterday at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture. Many of the paintings reminded me of my childhood. I made a note in my phone about a painting that was similar to the wallpaper that hung in main room of my great-grandparents house. Another bought back the memory of a wedding gown my grandmother made for one of her customers. I came away from the center with a full writing tank.
- Be willing to write a shitty first draft. “Shitty first drafts” is my favorite chapter of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It taught me to get over myself and just write. Allow yourself to get the words down, then you can clearly see what the piece is supposed to be. The real work of writing has always been in revision. That’s where you craft the piece into what it’s meant to be.
- Make yourself accountable. Share your intention to write with other person or better yet several people. Join a writer’s group. My first novel happened ten pages at a time, because I didn’t want to let down the other members of my writing group. It also helped that one of the members sent frequent emails reminding me of the importance of getting my work done.
Don’t let writer’s block win. Your writing is too important.
Write on, my friends!