ten ways to break through writer’s block (part one)

 

 

I had a story due (minimum 6,500 words) for an upcoming YA paranormal anthology called KISS ME DEADLY and for the longest time I could not get it written. Writing – or more specifically, not writing – the story hijacked my life, so not only was I not writing the story, I also wasn’t writing anything else.

Happy ending. I finished the piece on Monday, in a hotel suite in Mexico City, and sent it off to my editor. Several hours later she emailed her response: “Beautiful story…just perfect.”

Here are ten lessons I learned about fighting writer’s block, that I will take with me into the future.

1. Visualization is key.

I always visualize my current work-in-progress….completed. Not even published, just…completed. What it will look like, what it will feel like, to have the manuscript sitting on my desk. When I can look at it and think, Hey, I made that!

At some point the visualization just sinks into my bones, so that I know, beyond a certainty of a doubt, that I’ll complete the story. In fact, it’s almost as if the story already is completed, but this thing called ‘reality’ just doesn’t know it yet.

So I could say to my boyfriend (who was concerned that my story would interfere with our trip to Mexico – or rather, that I would be paying attention to it when I should be paying attention to him), “Don’t worry, I’ll have it done,” even if I had no idea how, exactly, that was going to happen. Just that it would.

And it did.

2. Reframe the task in a way that takes out the “should”

My therapist helped me with this one. “Why should you finish the story?” she asked me. I listed my reasons. “So it’s not like you ‘should’ do this,” she told me, “but that you want to do this.”

It’s not like I came home from this session, sat down at my laptop and knocked out the story, but it did help me re-orient my thinking. As soon as we use the word ‘should’, we set ourselves up to rebel against ourselves. ‘Should’ takes the rich deep joy of writing and turns it into homework. Who wants to do homework?

‘Should’ is a dangerous word. And since words are thoughts, and vice versa, you must handle it with caution. Better yet, don’t use it at all.

3. Chunk it up.

I believe in outlines. I’m an outliner. So it was easy enough to take my outline and carve it up into small, doable chunks of writing. Instead of thinking Ohmigod, I still have three thousand words to go!!!! Kill me now!!! it helped to focus on this little bit, these 300 words, and then the 300 words after that, and then the 300 words after that.

In between those chunks of writing, I took breaks. Lots of them.

4. Mix up your routine/ change your location.

In truth, I have no idea if this helped me or not. But it’s something that people like esteemed creativity coach Eric Maisel advise you to do when you’re ‘stuck’. A change in location can lead to a much-needed change in perspective that just might be the ‘break’ that you’re looking for.

So I took my story from my usual work-location (the zebrawood desk in my lofty bedroom) to a hotel suite in Mexico City. And when I return to LA (I’m writing this from a hacienda in the Yucatan) I’m going to take my novel-in-progress to a new (for me) work-location called The Writer’s Junction in Santa Monica.

Change is good. You need to shake it up a bit.

to be continued

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Mar 31, 2010
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10 comments · Add Yours

I love #2. It never would have occurred to me to look at it from that angle. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned lessons!

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I’m so glad you posted this! I was starting to worry that something had happened to you (since you hadn’t updated for two weeks!).

No worries. Your posts never disappoint, Justine. =)

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Love the post, think it’s a great follow up to deliberate practice, which I’m practicing now :)

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I do #4 a lot.

In my first year of university, I tended to move furniture around a lot. That helped too.

If you live in a place with nice libraries, it’s free too.

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My version of #2 is to try replacing the word “should” with “could” and see what opportunities that reveals.

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I like to go to my tiny local library and write while my little guy is at preschool. I could drive back home just as easily, but it helps to have fewer distractions. I just have to follow my personal rule not to connect to the internet while I’m there;)

And I take breaks when I’m frustrated. And force myself to keep going when it seems uphill.

Thanks for sharing!

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Wow! thank you so much for this post. I’m in a spot right now, it seems I can’t get out of. A change of scenery is just what I need.

Remembering that 300 words is better than no words at all is also very helpful. I tend to overwhelm myself thinking about those 3000 words. So, I am going to chunk it up, too.

Justine, you have made my day!

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Awesome post Justine! I do so much visualization with things, but I’d never thought of visualizing the actual MS. How perfect! Thanks!

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Fantastic post – can’t wait for the rest.

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I haven’t had writer’s block in a long time, mainly because of your chuck-down concept. There’s always something that can be done, even if it’s a ten minute block of time. Perhaps developing some back story needs more attention, or writing just one killer scene is the goal. Having completed the task, no matter how small, gives me the incentive to continue on. And usually generates more ideas.

And then there are those days when I SHOULDN’T BE WRITING, because I’m not in the zone. Or I’m pressed with other life issues. As long as I don’t have too many of those days in a string, I’m usually productive over all.

But all great advice, Justine. Love reading your blog. And I hope you enjoyed your trip.

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