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Just write something

Writer’s block is something many writers battle. That blank page terror can strike at any time. Over the years, I’ve experimented with lots of remedies. Long walks. Frequent reading. Immersing myself in culture. All in vain.

I consulted writing groups and networks for advice and used to shake my head despairingly every time I heard the words ‘just write something.’ One day, though, despite my initial resistance, I decided to give it a go and realised that, actually, it can work.

Now, when I’m struggling to shake off writer’s block, whether I’m starting a new project or am in the middle of one, I no longer work against it but with it. By acknowledging I’m experiencing block, the anxiety around the blank page dissolves and I relax into writing by turning to a favourite poem or passage from a book then copy it into my journal verbatim.

If you’re struggling with block, I’d encourage you to give this a go. Often, it can be enough to help your mind begin to make creative connections. Reading is always useful for writers too. If you don’t want to copy something, try writing about your day instead. Anaïs Nin said that it was when writing in her journal that she ‘discovered how to capture the living moments.’ Virginia Woolf described how journaling ‘loosens the ligaments.’ So, if you’re struggling for ideas, make like WH Auden and Oscar Wilde and write about yourself. 

In her paper ‘Resolving Writer’s Block,’ which is aimed at doctors writing medical articles, Dr Patricia Huston explains that writer’s block arises from stress and suggests it may be a result of ‘right brain-left brain’ conflict: the creative right side of your brain just wants to write, while the analytical left side goes into panic-mode anticipating potential problems and making writing all but impossible.

If this sounds familiar, don’t despair, she has some tips.

Practise self-compassion

Writer’s block happens to the best of us and, while it might put a roadblock in front of your word count target, it can be eased with time, patience, and practical techniques. 

Address your expectations

Huston notes that writer’s block can be caused by unrealistic expectations about overly ambitious word counts or perfect first drafts. Perhaps my worst habit as a writer is my persistent self-editing: nothing kills a creative streak quite like attacking every sentence the second it hits the page. Relax, she says, set realistic word count goals (or, none at all) and give yourself permission to be less than perfect. That’s what first drafts are for.

Fill the page

If you find a blank page is too much pressure, fill it. Write a title or some words associated with one. Write your name, write some ideas for chapter titles, free write. You don’t have to know exactly what you’re going to end up with but put something down anyway.

Sidestep what blocks you

If you’re struggling with a section, make a note that you want to fix it and move on. Be flexible, you don’t have to work from beginning to end if that isn’t working for you.

Ditch the rules

Author Mike Rose suggests that writer’s block may also be the result of rigid ‘rule-following’. Those well-known chestnuts that crop up in writer’s groups, like ‘craft a perfect first paragraph’ or ‘grab your audience with the first line’ become constraints rather than useful tips. If you find your internal editor is stuck on rules like these, forget about them. Start with the simplest, most dull opening line you can think of. As Huston points out, you can come back and perfect these bits later.

Try mind-mapping

Huston describes this as a ‘stream of consciousness’ exercise that bypasses the analytical side of your brain. Write down a plot point, or a setting, or a character’s name, and then write every little thing about them that pops into your mind. Sometimes it helps to get to know a main character in this way. Write about them in normal, everyday settings to get the ball rolling.

And if, after all this, your project still doesn’t inspire you?

Consider ditching it, at least for a while, and divert your energy to something you really love. As Dr Huston notes, ‘passion is a great motivator’ and you will always be more inspired to dedicate yourself to something you care about. Whether you persevere or start from scratch, make sure that you carry on writing something because, in the wise words of Picasso, inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.

About Lauren Wood

Lauren is a writer from the north of England. When she's not toiling over her work in progress, she is writing short stories and articles, and drinking an awful lot of coffee.

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