Stop The Block

“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”

Kurt Vonnegut

Writer’s block. We all know what it entails and we all know just how tough it can be to shake it off. Whether the block comes from an overload of personal responsibilities, medical concerns, deadlines, a ceaseless workload, or censorship, writer’s block is real and it is daunting. It is a poignant reminder that something you love to do remains unfinished. It lingers in the back of your mind and nudges you every time you find yourself taking a breather. It summons up the unfinished novel near completion, the poem that needs more depth, the short story lacking emotion, or simply an idea that needs to be written down before memory decides to waste it. But how does one find, let alone make, the time to sit down and write when all anyone wants to do when they find free time is switch off? Writing does keeps the mind switched on but, just like exercise strengthens the body, writing nourishes the soul and lightens the load.

As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing”. By its very definition, writer’s block is entirely self-imposed. This is great news because, we can remove the block ourselves. By adopting some new methods, we might be able to stop the block from returning anytime soon. I do not believe writer’s block arises due to a lack of ideas or inspiration; it is simply because we either need feedback, need to take a step back, or use the phrase as the most common reason to not write at all.

Let’s begin:

First thing’s first; set up your writing space. One’s writing space is a sanctuary and should be treated as such. It is in this space that the writer disappears into their own stories and leaves their realities behind. If you already have a writing space, tidy it up. Clear it of all the clutter except for the bare necessities:

  • A pen(s) and/or pencil(s)
  • A notebook
  • Secondary writing device: Laptop/PC/Typewriter etc.
  • Something to drink: Usually tea, coffee, juice, or water.
  • Nibbles: My advice, have a bowl of something yummy within arm’s reach. I typically go for a bowl of sweet and salty popcorn, M&M’s peanut chocolate, or honey roasted cashews. Whatever your dietary preferences may be, just make sure it is easy to pick up and easy to devour so that little attention is taken away from your writing.
  • Music: Music is a beautiful thing. Music can really help set the mood for the piece you are writing. Check out another #SNWF article written by Alexander Comley titled ‘Music to Write by’. Like Alex, I highly recommend The Gravel Road composed by James Newton Howard. If you are writing something melancholic, and do not mind a bit of electric guitar, check out Maggot Brain by Funkadelic. Waterways by Ludovico Einaudi is a beautiful piece to listen to while writing something hopeful and powerful, and the band City of the Sun are great to write to whatever the mood.

However, the most basic essential to starting any writing time is time itself. This is probably what we procrastinate the most on; setting aside the time we need to sit and write without distractions. This is where the planning can a little tougher, but not impossible.

  • In your mind, go over your daily routine and chose which time of day would be the best to get some writing done. This could be first thing in the morning while the house is still asleep or last thing a night when the world has gone to bed, a day on the weekend, or an hour during the working week. Whenever it is, pick it.
  • Now that you have decided when the best time to write is, block it out on your calendar. Turn it into an event not only in your mind, but also officially marked on the calendar. Turn it into a daily or weekly event. Announce it to your loved ones to reduce disturbances during the set time.

So, the time for writing has been made and the writing space is ready for use, but the block persists with jumbled thoughts and ideas. We want to write because we have a story to tell. All a writer seeks to do is to enter their bubble where the music plays and the sentences come forth. Where all one need worry about is the speed of flow of thoughts, words, scenes, and phrases from the brain to the palm of the hand. Writer’s block can be exactly what pushes us forward because writing is addictive and this “block” is a just a little problem to solve.

Here are some tips on how to stop the block. The first suggestion is one that I have found to be incredibly useful:

  • Write about why you cannot write. This is ultimately a critical self-reflection that forces you to think about all the hurdles you find yourself jumping over in order to get writing. List all the reasons and details that stop you from writing. Before you know it, the page will be filled.

Storytelling Exercises:

  • Flip open a newspaper, book, magazine, journal, even a user manual, pick a sentence at random and use that as your opening line. Trust your brain to make subconscious connections to the sentence.
  • Have multiple versions of your work. This can be achieved by writing from a different point of view, from the perspective of a different character, or, my personal favourite, writing from memory. Writing from memory is a great little trick for writing a new draft of the same story.
  • Weather permitting, walk outside and start telling a story out loud. Keep it fun and even start with the phrase “Once upon a time…” if you have to. It is even better if you have an audience.
  • Weather permitting, walk outside, barefoot, and record the sensations you feel. Try walking on different surfaces to activate the pressure points in your feet.
  • Write about yourself in the first person but create an entirely new future or hugely different past.

Healthy Writing Habits:

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ¬music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

Hilary Mantel
  • Set deadlines for yourself. This forces action and pressures you to plan ahead.
  • Read your work out loud to yourself and get animated with it. This will help you to really bring your characters to life and help you hear what needs fixing or embellishing.
  • Cut down on pointless screen time.
  • Try to stop snoozing the alarm when you wake up in the morning. No matter how heavy your eyes may still be from sleep, just roll out of bed, grab whatever you use to write with, and head out to your writing space.
  • Read a book in the genre you are writing in.
  • If the weather is sunny and warm, take your writing outside. A session of writing on the grass or at a table under the sun can be very liberating.
  • Join a writing group. Writing groups offer an open and safe space to share work, receive constructive feedback, and make strong literary friendships. This will improve your work and be a source of new perspectives and ideas. They will also provide accountability.
  • If you cannot find a writing group to join, create your own. Build your own network of peers.

Just remember that you are writing first and foremost for you. Do not write to meet the expectations of others. Do not let obligation or false ambition rob you of the joy of writing. As writers, inexperienced or seasoned, we all look forward to the tremendous triumph one feels after a session of writing. It does not matter if what was written is up to standard or not, what matters is that some writing has taken place. The door has opened again. You have used what was holding you back to push you forward and stop the block.

Here are a few extra tips to get the pen scribbling:

Writing Prompts:

Opening line: “Although Ashley woke up to a bright and sunny morning, the darkness of last night endured.”

Opening line: “Expect DJs spinning Christmas and chart classics, plus eclectic live music on Sundays” – Taken from Olive Magazine, December 2021.

Write a dialogue with more than three individuals taking place on a conference call, whereby one of them is lying about their whereabouts. Remember to use name tags.

Write a dialogue between two individuals that includes the following phrases: “Don’t put that there!”, “What are you doing?”, and “My pinky toe hurts”.

Things to write about:

  • Yourself
  • People you know
  • The world you live in
  • The world you want to live in
  • The world you would hate to live in
  • Ageing
  • Disease
  • Childhood
  • Friendships
  • Enemies
  • Identity
  • Pleasure
  • Silence
  • A distant memory (Bring it to life!)
  • Life experiences
  • Daily routines

Hopefully, after you have tested out some of the prompts and adopted some new writing habits, you will find that you have removed the block and filled the page with your writings. Stick those earbuds in, or put those headphones on, and get writing. If you do try out any of the methods listed above, do let us know and leave a comment below.


Bibliography:

Soanes, C. (ed.), and Stevenson, A. (ed.), (2005) Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press (p. 2034)

About the Author:

Francesca (Frankie) Walters is of British and Lebanese descent with her feet firmly placed on the bridge she built between the two cultures. She completed her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey and hopes to pursue a PhD there as well. She recently co-authored, co-edited, and co-book designed the publication High Salvage under the guidance of the author Iain Sinclair and published by Potential Books.


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