Friday, July 9, 2010

What do you do to get past writer's block?

Free-form Friday

I write.

Generally, that means working on on back-story. And if that doesn't do the trick, I'll write something totally unrelated.

Writing is sometimes like a muscle. If left unused, the muscle atrophies until you're unable to use it even if you want to. One of the strategies of physical therapy is to move the muscle until it relearns its range of motion.* In a similar fashion, you need to keep putting words together until you are no longer conscious of the process if you've had a writing injury.

It's also necessary to understand that, fundamentally, the block is fear: fear that you'll write something wrong, or something that doesn't fit, or something that is not up to par with your previous efforts, or that no one likes, or that doesn't come close to the pictures in your head, or ... (you see how this list could go on indefinitely).

Fear is debilitating unless you can set it aside--not ignore it or wish it away, but set it aside. Acknowledge your fears and then move on.

The best way to overcome fear in writing is to plunge ahead, going boldly (not boldly going if you care about split infinitives), carried by the faith that at some point you'll look back on the trail of words in your wake and realize that it's pretty good stuff. I'm often pleasantly surprised when I look at something, after I've gotten a bit of distance from the piece, to find that it's better than I thought--not in the general sense that it's ready for public consumption but in the specific sense that my fears about the piece were unfounded.

* Physical therapy, for those of you who haven't enjoyed that particular experience, is mostly painful. After all, you're constantly pressing up against the limits created by your injury. Confronting the pain is an important part of getting past writer's block.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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