March 6, 2011 by Sarah D.
A student recently said to me, “Is writer’s block a medical condition? If so, I have it.”
“Bring me a doctor’s note, and I’ll excuse you from the assignment” I replied.
Of course, I’ll never see that doctor’s note, just as that individual will never receive a diagnosis. Sure, we all experience moments when our minds feel blank. We stare at the computer screen, but nothing comes to us except the thought of what to have for dinner. You can think of all sorts of mundane things, but nothing inspired, nothing artistic.
Stop thinking of a blank canvas in terms of its emptiness, and start thinking of it in terms of its possibilities. Since I love lists, following are some of my own tips for conquering writer’s block:
1. Think of writing as manual labor instead of art. If you’re serious about writing, consider it your job to sit down and physically write. A certain percentage of everything we write will end up in the recycle bin—but you never know. Nobody can be inspired or inspiring 100% of the time, and the good news is that you don’t need to be. The first rule to being a writer is to write.
2. Write something, anything. If you can only think about what’s for dinner, write about that. Maybe your description of Chicken Cordon Bleu will get you thinking about the French country side, which will lead to the new setting of a story. Even bad ideas can lead to good ones.
3. Don’t aim for perfection the first time around. Perfection can be the enemy of the writer. If you aim to write perfect sentences and perfect drafts, you’ll be disappointed. Allow your first drafts to be sloppy, knowing you always need to go back and revise. Margaret Atwood once said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” So true, wise Atwood, so true.
4. If you’ve run out of ideas, borrow some. For fun, try rewriting Romeo and Juliet from memory in two hundred words or less. Pen a love letter from Romeo to Juliet. How would Romeo and Juliet have been different had Romeo been a germophobe and Juliet a pathological liar? Writing exercises can often jumpstart your creativity.
5. Embrace your fears. Perhaps you fear that what you write won’t win the next National Book Award. That’s okay. Instead, intentionally write something as bad as bad can be. Write as awful a scene as you can imagine. Is it melodramatic? Sappy? Is the dialogue painful to even write? Does the narrator say lines like, “My god, Stella. Your curly blond hair and blue eyes that are shaped like crescents when you smile with your lips painted with red lipstick (Revlon lipstick #345 “Burnt Winter Cherry”) make me feel a love so deep I can’t describe it.”
6. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Exercises like the one above require you to have a healthy sense of humor. Taking yourself—and your writing—too seriously 100% of the time can close the doors of possibility. Lighten up, and you may be surprised at how quickly the ideas flow.