25 Ways To Defeat The Dreaded Writer’s Block
Switching gears from the “25 Things” series (which is now neatly compiled in an e-book cheaper than a bottle of water of a hobo handy) and segueing into a more practical “25 Ways” list.
I do not believe in writer’s block. I believe it shares the same intellectual space as the bogeyman in your closet, as the serial killer under the bed. The more you fear it, the more it gains power. To be clear, I do believe that writers can be blocked, that writers can have bad days where the intellectual plumbing feels gummed up by an old diaper filled with soggy fruitcake — I just don’t believe this is unique to the writer. Everybody gets blocked. Everybody gets frustrated. Everybody can have a bad day where the brain-squeezin’s just won’t get squozen.
Even still, while the problem may not be unique, the solutions often are.
And so that’s what we’re tackling today.
Ready? Let’s crotch-kick writer’s block so hard, it tastes the poodle crap we stepped in on the way over.
1. Write Through It
You are confronted by a tangle of jungle vines and Amazonian thicket. The only way forward is forward. You have a machete. What do you do? You chop, motherfucker. Take the blade. Start hacking. Won’t be fun. Won’t be fast. But it’s the only way to gain ground. Your first way through writer’s block is just to write. Clench your jaw. Tighten your sphincter. And write. The key is to write badly if you must. Write without regard for quality or care. Flail about with your word-machete until the tangle is clear.
2. Write Through It, Part II: All Work And No Play
This is the same as the first but bears special mention: sometimes it’s not even about writing words in your story, sometimes it’s about just writing. Writer’s block is often about jarring loose stubborn bullshit — it feels like you’re trying to pull teeth out of a meth-cranked raccoon, but that’s an act of finesse. Put down the pliers, get out the hammer. Start swinging. Write crazy. Write big. Write insane. All work and no play makes writer-monkey a twitchy serial murderer. Write one word over and over. One sentence. One paragraph. Don’t worry about what you’re writing. Turn on the spigot. Let the madness flow.
3. The Blood Must Flow
Science lesson. Blood carries nutrients to your brain. One of those nutrients is imagozen, the vitamin that governs our imagination. I may just be making that up. But there’s some truth there: we do need good blood-flow to the brain to think clearly. Been sitting on your ass a while? All the blood and sweet, sweet imagozen is pooling in your ass-parts. Get up. Move around. Take a walk. Exercise. Do some push-ups. Hell, have sex. You gotta love a guy who will tell you to solve writer’s block by “banging it out.” Right? No, seriously, you have to love me. Take off your pants. Mine are already on the floor. LOVE ME.
4. Stick Energy Drink Up Ass, Tighten Buttocks Until High-Octane Enema Occurs
I am not actually recommending an energy drink enema, just so we’re clear. I will not be held liable for the embarrassing X-rays that make it onto the Internet. What I am saying is, caffeine? It’s your buddy. Caffeine can give your brain a much-needed jolt, as if from those electrified paddles. CLEAR. Bzzt. Start with tea. Tea has a mellower edge than coffee. That doesn’t work, try coffee. Mmm. Coffee. Speaking of — *slurrrp*
5. Booze Booze Booze Booze Booze *vomits*
Caffeine creates tension. But maybe what you need is recoil. Could be that you’re just too ratcheted up to write. No problem. Switch your chemical dance partner. From caffeine to liquor. I’m not saying you should make a habit of writing drunk — in fact, I’m suggesting you write merely tipsy. Whatever amount of alcohol lubricates your social gears may also lubricate your writing gears. Just this once. Just to ooze past this block. To get your mind chatting up the birds at the word-bar.
6. Chatty Cathy, Don’t Clip Those Strings
Talk to yourself. Seriously. Use your mouth. Vocalize words. Have a conversation with yourself. Talk about the story. Talk about what’s clogging the pipes. Yammer away like a crazy person. (For bonus points: do so at a public bus terminal.) If you’re so inclined, record the conversation. Label the file, “MY MANIFESTO.” E-mail to all the newspapers.
7. Reach Out And Touch Somebody
Perhaps a masturbatory chat with yourself isn’t quite enough. Fine. Find another human being (or, if you’re reading this after the year 2018, find a sentient appliance bot, like the Dishflenser 500, or the Toast-Aborter v2.0) and have this chat with them. Talk out your problem. Get their input. Human interaction can go a long way toward jarring loose whatever grubby suppository is stuck up inside your narrative butthole.
8. Converse With Your Imaginary Friend
This one will make you certifiable, so don’t perform it in front of any sensitive family members. But take one of your characters, and talk to them. Out loud or on the page. Do a little role-playing. (And any writer who hasn’t engaged in a little role-playing — either the kind with dice or the kind with a librarian’s outfit and an orangutan mask — is missing out on learning how to let your fiction find its path.)
9. Fuck With The Feng Shui
Get up off your ass. Pack up your writing. Go elsewhere. Across the room. To the kitchen table. To a Starbucks. To a Jersey rest-stop. Hell, wander outside, do some writing there. Sometimes just the change of scenery is enough to free the word-demons from their restrictive cages.
10. Tinker With The Guts
You ever get lost while traveling? “We’re supposed to be at the Aquarium. And yet here we are, atop an ancient hill, trapped inside a giant wicker effigy, surrounded by torch-wielding cultists. I think we took a wrong turn somewhere, honey. Sorry, kids.” Sometimes you have to backtrack. Find out where things went awry. So too with your fiction. Read back. Find where you fucked up. Your reluctance to continue writing may be born of the unconscious discomfort that something in your tale is wrong, like a picture hanging askew on the wall. Go back. Straighten the picture.
11. You Need A Motherfizzucking Map
It can be hard to see the forest for the trees when writing a big project. You feel like you’re wandering in the swamp, walking in weeds as high as your ears. Do you have a map? Probably not. Listen, some writers are pantsers. They love to operate off the narrative grid. You may not be one of them. Go back. Write an outline. Beat out the story the way you’d beat a confession out of a perp. Know where you’ve been and discover where you’re going and then go back and write. Sometimes writer’s block is just you missing the big picture.
12. Throw The Map In A Bag And Burn It
Alternately, maybe you need to pants it a little. Maybe you’re too married to an outline that just isn’t tickling your pink parts anymore. Fine. Fuck it. Throw caution to the wind. It’s time to do something dramatic. Christa Faust has a killer tattoo that cuts to the heart of it: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” That’s a specific example, but you can blow up the story however you choose. Fire! Death! Betrayal! Cataclysm! Deception! Adultery! Whatever it is, take the map you’ve written, wrap it around a hand grenade, and shove it up the story’s ass. CHOOM. Harvest the sweet story blubber.
13. Put Lipstick On That Monkey
Sometimes, a cosmetic change goes a long way. Me? I’m a font whore. I like to find the right font that fits well with my story. Yes, this is ludicrous. Yes, this is a waste of time. Yes, I do it anyway. And once I take 30 minutes to find the right font, the story’s style locks for me. Try it. Or maybe you mess with margins. Or line spacing. Or you choose to write long-hand. Or carve your story into the back of a hooker corpse. Your call.
Depart from your narrative, and turn your fiction into a script. Just for now. Just for the part that’s blocking you. Of course, if you’re already writing a script, then do the reverse — switch it up and move into the more languid and longer form afforded by prose. Again, this “switching of gears” can uncage the story-bears. By the way, “uncage the story-bear” is the metaphor I choose when I proclaim I am about to make love. I walk into the room, I scratch my beard, unmoor my pants, and I announce that in a booming voice. I just wanted to let you in on that part of my life. Thank me later.
15. Dear Missus Frittershire
Familiar with the epistolary? Any story that takes the form of a series of documents is considered epistolary. The novel might manifest as a collection of letters, e-mails, newspaper clippings, diary entries, tweets, the ravings of an impudent spam-bot, etc;. Try this out. I don’t mean for the whole story. But for today, try writing through your writer’s block by embracing this form. “Today, my character will write a blog entry.” “I will use the art of the takeout Chinese menu to tell this story.” Shit, you never know.
16. Wander Down An Alley
Er, not literally. I will not be held responsible if you are captured and eaten by Oscar the Grouch. (You gotta watch that guy. Terrible hungers.) Let’s say you’re writing a novel. Let’s say you’re banging your head on that novel the way a bumblebee bats his head against the window-glass. I want you to take the protagonist, or some aspect of the storyworld, and deviate. Write some flash fiction, maybe a short story, some ancillary, tacked-on, doesn’t-connect-directly-to-the-novel story. Indirect, yes. Direct, no. Take today and write only that. It may open doors for the larger project at hand.
17. Kill The Shiny
As modern souls we are besieged by distractions. Text messages and tweets and spam-bots and porn and TV-on-demand and cyber-LSD and digital cupcakes and only the gods know what else. Escape the gravity of your own distractions. Turn it off. Power it down. Use a program like Mac Freedom or Write Or Die. Close the door on all the piffling, waffling, middling bullshit and make sure it’s just you and the word count.
18. Hear A Buzzer, Start To Drool
Tell yourself, “If I write 1000 words, I get [fill-in-the-blank].” Doesn’t matter what it is. Ice cream? Another cup of coffee? An hour of television? A jet-boat made of pony bones? Like I said: whatever. But establishing a reward gives you motivation to do the one thing that really defeats writer’s block: writing through the anguish and coming out the other side. Covered in blood. And smiling.
19. The Penmonkey Diet
Carbs are great if you’re going to be, y’know, using that energy for something like, say, moving your laggardly slugabed body around. But writers live a sedentary existence, at least while working, and so it behooves you not to hoover a bowl of Corn Pops into your gut. Do that and the carbs will only drag you down, make you mentally foggy. Stick with protein while writing. By the way, bacon is protein. Just saying.
20. Hop Around Like A Coked-Up Jackrabbit
Nobody said you had to write your work in order. I like to write in sequence for the most part just because it keeps me on point — but if I’m at a section I’m just not “feeling” that day, I’ll skip around, write something else. “I want to write a fight scene between two stompy robots,” I’ll say. Hell, you’re the god of the story. You may experience it in whatever order you so choose.
21. Get Visual
I like to take photos. Or fuck around with Photoshop. You think I haven’t been vain enough to do up fake book covers for my as-yet-unpublished books? Oh, I have. Point is, sometimes writer’s block is just about flexing those creative muscles on the right side of your brain. Hell, you fingerpaint poop on your Plexiglass enclosure like I do and that counts. Seriously. Look, I drew a monkey! The flies are his eyes.
22. Down The Rabbit Hole Of Research
Research can be a trigger to get you moving again. No matter what you’re writing about, you will always find more to know, and in this case research qualifies as a “good” distraction as long as you keep a relative focus. You play it right, research can be the key that unlocks whatever mental door got slammed shut.
23. Recognize Why You Don’t Want To Write This Part
Sometimes you get stuck on a part and are too stubborn to do anything about it, so you just stand there and stare it down, growling and stomping your feet. Here’s a secret: maybe that part you’re stuck on is a part you just don’t want to write. And if you don’t want to write it, what are the chances that someone might not want to read it? You know what you do? Skip it. Kill it. Move past it. Find another way through.
24. Fuck Off For A Day, Willya?
You get one day. One. Free pass. No writing today. Just flit away, little butterfly. Flit, flit, flit. Clear your head. Have some fun. Tomorrow the work returns. The block, undone. Or it damn well better be.
25. Deny The Existence Of Writer’s Block
If you’re being skewered by a unicorn, the secret is: tell the unicorn he doesn’t exist. If you do that, he’ll disappear in a puff of Lucky Charms cereal. That’s true. That’s fact. Same thing goes for writer’s block. If it’s assailing you, an incubus clinging to your back, you just tell that mythological being that you don’t believe in him. You do that, you steal his power. Suck his breath away. Make him turn to so much vapor. You have to harden your heart and your head against it and believe that the one way through is that old saw that everybody repeats but they always forget: writers write. That’s the one tried and true way through writer’s block. Because a writer who writes isn’t blocked, is he?
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Like this brand of booze-soaked, caffeine-addled, salty-tongued writing advice? Then I might recommend you take a look at 250 Things You Should Know About Writing and Confessions Of A Freelance Penmonkey, both available now. Please to enjoy.