A special edition tip for shattering writer's block
I apologize for falling off of the regular Friday schedule of writing tips. If you’ve read my posts about my writing retreat, you’ve seen my excuses. Here’s my atonement: A longer-than-usual tip. We’ll be back to the regularly scheduled quick bits next week.
By the way, I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried any of the previous tips. (I’ve posted 13 of them to date. If you missed any, you can find them all in the Hack Your Noodle section of Read Write Repeat.) Leave me a comment on any of the tips that worked — or didn’t work — for you.
Lore about well-known writers is rich with idiosyncrasies and superstitions. Think of Fitzgerald drunk at his typewriter, Truman Capote writing only while lying down, Dr Seuss donning one of his 300 hats to overcome writer's block, or Kerouac jacked up on benzedrine and hammering away on his continuous paper scroll.
I know writers who claim they can only write longhand, pen on paper. Others can only write in the wee hours after midnight. Some need to be in a “creative mood." Almost all confess to some version of writer's block.
Evocative as these myths (or truths) may be, I've always resisted any idea that I require a particular set of circumstances to be able to write. Frankly, because I work a full-time job and thus have to fit in my writing time around my work schedule, I just don't have the luxury to put any other requirements on my process. When I get (or make) some free time to write, I must be able to sit down and get to work. I can't afford to have writer's block. I can’t afford to have superstitions.
That said, there are some techniques I use to improve my productivity when I write.
I like to get out of my house to write, which is a way of getting away from distractions (and attractions). I usually pop in my earbuds and turn on some music, but it has to be instrumental music. I find vocal music too distracting when I'm writing.1
I always have something ready to write. With my novel, I have an outline of the action, so I can sit down, open my document, and quickly pick a scene to work on. No thinking required. I also keep a document full of writing prompts — just a list of short phrases — for moments when I want to work on something other than the novel. Those are great for starting something that might turn into a story or a poem.
The best tool I have ever employed for avoiding writer's block is to avoid editing. When I write, I just write. I let the words flow, uninterrupted by my critical mind. Revisions, editing, proofreading, fact-checking—all that stuff comes later. You have to train yourself not to edit while writing, but it’s worth the effort.
I suspect these same techniques are directly or peripherally applicable to other artistic pursuits, as well. I'd like to hear what you think. When you create, what works for you? Do you have any superstitions that you could abandon?