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How to slay writer’s block once and for all

Writer’s block. Real or imaginary?

I’ve heard different definitions of writer’s block over the years, but I think my favorite is from writer and teacher Victoria Nelson in her book On Writer’s Block. Writer’s block is often our subconscious mind’s way of letting us know something isn’t right, Nelson says.

I’ve definitely experienced this kind of writer’s block. Years ago, I was working on my memoir and I got to a point where I just couldn’t write anymore. I was totally blocked. So I stopped and thought about Nelson’s words and discussed my problem with a fellow writer. I finally realized that my memoir was focused on the wrong person! It took me two attempts to fix it but when I finally got it right, the story just flowed from me. Poof! My writer’s block was gone.

But not all writer’s blocks are created equal. A writer can experience what I call minor writer’s block. Nothing major is wrong, but when you sit down to write you feel resistance to putting words on paper. This mostly happens to me when I’m working on a project that feels scary or outside my wheelhouse—when I am stretching my comfort zone.

How do you conquer this kind of writer’s block? I’ve tried different things over the years, including:

  • If I’m stumped on my novel or a prose project, I’ll turn to writing poetry. Writing poetry is my comfort zone. Writing something I’m comfortable with can get me into the flow of writing, and give me inspiration for my original project.
  • If I’m stumped on a poem, I’ll find an older poem to edit. Sometimes the editing process will fire up my creative juices.
  • I’ll take a break from my writing and go for a walk or do something mindless like washing dishes or folding laundry. Giving my mind a break will sometimes spark an insight or new idea.

Copywriting teacher Ray Edwards has great advice for overcoming writer’s block. He doesn’t believe in writer’s block. He just starts writing what he can. If he’s writing a sales letter for a product, he’ll write the guarantee, the website URL for the call to action, headline ideas, or a list of bullet points.

In fact, writing bullet points is another great way to overcome writer’s block. I recently did that for a scene in my novel where I felt blocked. Instead of trying to write out a scene description in longhand, I made a bullet-point list of actions within the scene. And it worked. I completed my scene notes.

Whatever method you try, the most important thing to remember is, “This too shall pass.” Don’t turn writer’s block or that feeling of resistance into some big, scary monster. Instead, think of it as something positive—a time to try something new that will probably lead you somewhere wonderful that you might not have discovered otherwise.

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