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Breaking Through Writer's Block

By Gerda Strobl:

Usually, I can relate to writer memes on social media. You know them, they largely revolve around rather common themes: the Oxford Comma; the creative cycle of self-satisfaction, doubt, and despair; the intimate relationship between writers and the characters talking in their head. And among them, of course, is writer's block. That one always leaves me puzzled. Not by its existence, no. It's just that I cannot relate, and I wonder why and whether that is a good thing or a sign of a personal short-coming. Funny, isn't it? Many writers would give their figurative right arm not to experience this phenomenon.

And that is the second bit that puzzles me, namely that a lot of writers seem unable to unstop the block and get their creative juices flowing. It even seems like a lot of them have to fight to get even a single line written. That is an idea so alien to me that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

So, if you write or want to write, permit me to offer a few tips that I think are part of the reason why I don't succumb to writer's block; I mean, other than my being filled with words to the point of bursting, if not constantly brimming over. Some of this I cannot trace back to where I read it, but obviously it is not all based on my own experience.

Well, here goes.

  • Time: Stress is not good soil for creativity. A tight schedule, as in "I can write tomorrow for an hour between the job application and getting the kids from school," usually won't wash, that is unless you already know what you are going to write because it is all in your head and merely requires some typing and a few embellishments. I would recommend having at least two undisturbed hours at your disposal (more is better) and to expect to write for one, tops. Give yourself time to relax and get in the mood.

  • Music: Find a kind of music that puts you in the right mood for writing. Metal Rock, HipHop, Sci-Fi movie soundtracks, traditional Mongolian throat-singing—it does not matter. All that matters is that it opens the right doors in your mind. Personally, put me in a Jazz bar, and I cannot help writing, it's like a spell.

  • Reroute: When you have trouble starting and find doodling to be a habit with you, be specific in your doodles. Doodle, by all means, but don't remain abstract. Draw faces, places, gadgets, etc. for your story, or string together letters to create place or proper names—further your purpose, even if you are not writing yet. You are filling the page at least, and your doodling is not a waste of time, so you won't feel bad afterwards if it did not work out.

  • Attitude: Be your first fan, not your worst critic. You get to be critical when you proofread, but not during the initial writing process.

  • Relax: You are only taming paper and ink, not a wild boar, so don't worry if something goes wrong. Don't look for the perfect beginning. Look for some approximation of a decent beginning, and effing write it down! There, now you got a beginning. The paper is no longer so evilly pristine, and you can go on. Write as far as you can from there, maybe even just a summary of how you plan to go on for now. Just keep going. And once you really, really cannot go on, then you can fix what bothers you.

  • Drive: Suppose your characters are obstructing the plot. You know them intimately, and you know what drives them. So if you want to change their course of action, align their knowledge, their driving emotions, or ambitions so that they will further the plot. You need not force them, because you can manipulate them. Remember that you are the puppet master, you are pulling ALL the strings (provided they are not getting knotted up).

  • Senses: If you find descriptions difficult, start with the information your senses provide. Check off all five senses in your search. Smells are powerful things, but often do not reach our conscious thought. Try to go through a similar experience, call up sense-memories, think of things, places, people you know that will fit the mold. If you cannot lean on personal experience, pictures of similar people, places, times, or events may help. For often-used places in your fiction, a map may be a good idea. And, of course, research. The more input you can provide yourself with, the more easily your descriptions can be as concise and specific as they should be.

  • Reread: Whenever I get stuck in a story or have not been writing a while, I reread it. That works for me because I write straight from beginning to end the way you would read it, usually without much planning. It may not work for you, but give it a try. Slip into the role of the reader, let the story take you for a ride. When you get to where you left off, chances are you can feel where the flow of the story is headed, or if it veered off at some point.

  • Notes: Try and keep something near or on you to make notes of the brilliant ideas that hit you in the shower, while washing your hands, or during a business dinner. However, do not stress out if you cannot write an idea down. The really good ones often have a way of staying with you. I had a complete novel written in my head for ten years before I wrote down the first line. It can be done. So don't worry, you can write down your ideas later, if need be.

  • Accept: Last, but by no means least, don't beat yourself up for not having written a thing on a given day. Writing is not a job for robots, and the fact that you are "only" human is a prerequisite. Don't stress over it; relax and try again.

  • Long-term Planning: To that end, be careful to calculate a margin into the time you give yourself for writing. And if you are working on getting your first book published, perhaps you'd better wait till you have at least part of the next one ready—that is if your work is not dependent on timing. Such a headstart ought help you avoid writer's block arising from the stress of having to write in a hurry should there be a sudden demand for more after your first success. At least, that is the theory.

Well, there, I hope you find one or two of these ideas helpful. Put them to the test, drop what does not work for you. Only you can be you. Only you can decide what works for you. And most importantly: only you can write what you write.


Gerda Strobl makes her home in the heart of Europe—Austria. She has worked in education, advertising, and the food industry. She's been a storyteller literally since before she could write, eventually extending into poetry, song lyrics, novels, and non-fiction. Almost any type of writing can lure her, and she has dabbled in many genres. A few of her poems have made it to publication—with one showcased on Austria's national art and education radio channel Ö1—though she prefers to keep her writing as a hobby.

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