Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Writing Life: Breaking Out of Writer’s Block

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ~ Jack London

Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol. ~Steve Martin

Writer’s block. Blank screen syndrome. Here are five ways to crawl out of it:

Practice. Pianists don’t begin practice sessions by whizzing through symphonies. They play scales. Writers can do the equivalent. Try looking at a picture, write about it, and then share your work. Find one interesting word and use it in five different sentences. Write in your journal. Once your engine is revved up, go back and tackle your work-in-progress.

Get into a routine. This is very much as “Do as I Say Not As I Do,” piece of advice, but it works for some people. Like the unpalatable notion that diet and exercise will keep you healthy, scheduling a specific time to write can produce results. I recently asked Tim Cahill, a very successful adventure/travel writer, if he keeps to a schedule. (How could he? I thought. He’s always stomping through the jungle in Uganda or hiking around Bhutan and stuff like that.) His answer? “Absolutely. I figure if the muse wants to visit, it will help if she knows where to find me.”

Listen to music. The right piece of music can produce a Pavlovian effect. I hear, ergo I write. Enya once got me through an entire rewrite of a novel. Will the people around you get sick of your inspirational music? Yup. Invest in some headphones.

Read something dreadful. We’ve all done it: picked up a published book and read something so flawed you’re seized by the desire to fling the thing into a fire. Don’t get mad. Get even. A good dose of, “I can do better than that” will get your keyboard humming again.

Eavesdrop. I figure there’s no expectation of privacy when you’re shouting into a cell phone. The conversations of strangers sometimes yield glittering nuggets of inspiration. Just be sure to change the names to protect the guilty.

Have some other ways to kick-start creativity? Share them here. What helps you might help someone else.