Have I mentioned that I have a novel coming out in a few short weeks, that it’s called DEAD RINGER and that you can pre-order it TODAY via DeadRingerBook.com? Okay good. Just quadruple checking on that.
I fought through plenty of writer’s block working on the manuscript. Though, according to my favorite quote about writer’s block, there’s no such thing.
“I don’t believe in writers’ block. Do doctors have ‘doctors block?’ Do plumbers have ‘plumbers’ block?” No. We all have days when we don’t feel like working, but why do writers turn that into something so damn special by giving it a faintly romantic name.” –Larry Kahaner
But whatever I had was rough. This was/is my first novel, and I was on a brutal timeline to get draft one done. And so I developed/stumbled upon a “technique” that helped me push through the tough hours. My goal was 10 new pages every single day, but I left myself enough edit days in my timeline that those 10 pages didn’t have to be perfect.
To me that’s the origin of writer’s block – perfection. The minute I focus on making each sentence or line of dialogue the best it can possibly be I get hung up striving for that ideal. If I switch gears and focus on filling in the space with a sentence or a line of dialogue that gets my point across and moves me to the next thought, I can almost always keep going.
Enter my #1 tip for beating writer’s block:
write what you would write if you didn’t have writer’s block
Stay with me. This will eventually make sense.
Let’s say I want to write a blog post about my thoughts on Hillary Clinton except I’m totally blocked about how to start? If I were to employ my writewhatyouwouldwriteifyoudidn’thavewriter’sblock device I would write something like the following:
I want to write a blog post about my opinions on Hillary Clinton but I don’t know how to start because I don’t really know what I think about Hillary. I would want to say something about the fact that I want to really like her but I’m not wildly inspired by her personality. Then I would want to say, screw her personality, she’s a qualified, hard-working, experienced Democrat. Who cares that I don’t want to have a martini with her? I would want to talk about the fact that I feel bad about not championing her because it makes me feel apathetic.
And so on and so forth.
That’s for a blog post so it’s purposefully conversational. You can imagine how I would then take what I have inside that stream of consciousness and turn it into an actual post. But what if it’s for something narrative like a novel?
Let’s say I need to write a chapter about how a character enters on her first day of school – like my character Laura does in DEAD RINGER (sorry…). In that case I might do something like this:
This chapter is going to introduce us to Laura. We’re going to have some really intriguing opening where we see her maybe examining the school from afar and having a little internal monologue. I want to mention what she’s wearing because that will be important to getting a sense of who she is. Then I want to have someone – maybe someone else in the parking lot? – react to how she looks. That gives her a clue about the fact that people see something “off” about her. I don’t know if she should see Charlie in this first moment but maybe she sees something of him? Maybe she sees his car… Maybe his car has some connection to her car…
And it would go on from there.
I’m not writing the chapter, but I’m not not writing the chapter either, right? It’s far more than an outline but has way less pressure than actual drafting of the scene. I’m thinking through the motions and moments in order but not adding in the crazy pressure of writing them in perfect sentences.
Once I have this I can more easily go back and turn the thoughts into sentences. Sometimes I follow the path directly. Sometimes I stray and write something else. But the thing this exercise does is give me the confidence that I do know what I want to say and can get good ideas down on the page. That confidence makes all the difference.
Try it and report back! Or share your #1 tip for overcoming writer’s block in the comments. Maybe your #1 will become my #2.
Hi Jessie! I’m writing from Abuja, Nigeria. I have been following your blog since last year and I always enjoy your posts. This particular post about writer’s block is almost like you wrote it for me specifically. I intend to start a blog soon, and I have been worried that after a month or so, my brain will freeze and I would no longer be able to express myself in writing. Your insight has encouraged me and I will always use it as a guide. Keep up the good work!
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