In my last post, I wrote about a writing activity to help unstick your stuck words, using colors to prompt the flow of words and activating the writing muscles to make the writing process easier: the more we write, the easier it becomes to write.
What if the problem persists? What if you have an idea but still find yourself stuck, unable to sit down and put words on the page, for that particular idea?
One of the most challenging things for many writers is getting started.
The moment you read that sentence, you probably said, “Well, yeah. Everyone knows that.”
Okay, so if you kept reading beyond that sentence because it was so obvious, reflect on this question: Do you really know that it’s difficult getting started, or do you just believe it?
Pause in reading for a moment and write a list of all the reasons why getting started is difficult for you. Write them out quickly, as they come to you.
My top reasons are:
- I don’t have time
- I have writer’s block
- Lack of motivation
- It won’t be good anyway so why should I bother?
- My idea is too vague and I don’t know where to take it next.
Perhaps none of these reasons are yours, but it’s my guess that at some point in time you’ve said the words, “I have writer’s block.”
Some writers don’t believe in writer’s block. They say it’s not a thing, and that writing is a skill like any other that we have to practice with consistency, just as we would with running, playing an instrument, or cooking.
Writer’s block does seem to consistently happen, though it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We say we have writer’s block, and then it becomes more daunting, more difficult to get over, past, or through the block because we immerse ourselves in the belief of the block.
So. I ask again: do you know that getting started is one of the most challenging parts of writing, or do you simply believe it?
Belief is powerful, and guides our behavior. It feels like knowledge, but often when it’s about our abilities, doesn’t come with substantiated evidence. The more you believe you have writer’s block and the more you believe you can’t write because you’re blocked, the more the lack of writing becomes substantiated evidence that you can’t, in fact, write.
Using your writing muscles with something unrelated to your idea is a great way to break the block, because you’ve proved that you can write something down. The evidence that you can’t write is reduced, and you move away from the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Yet, what if you are still stuck on the idea you want to write? How do you get started there?
Some tips that could help:
- Start in the middle. Often writers feel that they need to write from beginning to end, and figuring out the first sentence is the block. Skipping the intro and diving into the middle is a great way to get past that anxiety of having the perfect hook. (yes, you’ll still have to find the hook later, but that might be easier once you have words on the page).
- Don’t worry about it being good. Just get some words out. Is it too vague? Is it an imperfect articulation about your idea? That’s okay. Just keep writing and you can figure out the perfect words later.
- Write just to write. Yes, you have an idea, but separating from the purpose can help to get the idea out.
- Talk it out. Turn on a voice recorder (many phones have a recording app built in), the dictation tool in your word processing program, or talk to a friend who can take notes
- Write a dialogue with yourself, about the idea and your difficulty articulating it. Name yourself and the other self you’re having a conversation with. Have the “other” you ask questions that you answer.
- Freewrite. Get everything down, no matter how vague or silly or badly written it seems to be. Write until nothing else occurs to you. Then, take the final paragraph you wrote and place it as your opening. (this probably won’t be your final opening; but often writing brings me to a point of greater clarity by the time I’m done. What begins as meandering finishes in a more focused way.)
There are many other ways, but these have proven successful for me when I have experienced writer’s block.
Other things to consider:
- Do some research on your topic.
- For nonfiction, see what others have said, and use that research to enter into the ongoing conversation.
- For fiction, research the location, the time period, the fashion, the music. Find newspapers from the timeframe. Read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that was written in your setting.
- For poetry, research the setting, the theme. Look at images. Read other poetry that is new to you, that challenges your thinking and that uses language in ways you don’t.
- Take a walk, and have your notebook with you. Try to think about something other than your writing, and see if the movement of your body helps loosen up the mind.
- Listen to some music and dance it out. I recommend something upbeat that allows for fast movement, but perhaps waltzing and swaying is more your style. Do what feels good!
- Do another creative activity, completely unrelated to writing: paint, color, cook, sew. Focusing on something else may let your brain do some passive work on your writing.
In your efforts to break your writer’s block, remember, too, that perfectionism is often at the root. Wanting to get it right on the first time, or feeling like your writing isn’t good enough to make the effort worthwhile, are attitudes that can prevent you from making any effort at all. Just write, and worry about making it good later. I’ll write more about developing ideas in an upcoming post.
If you’re interested in an interactive experience to get started, keep an eye on my Upcoming and Past Events page. I’m planning a workshop for starting and developing ideas in the next few weeks.
Reach out to me using the Contact Form if you have questions or would like to work with me. I can help in all stages of the writing process.