There’s two types of writer’s block. First is what you have, when nothing comes out at all. Second is when you type reams and reams of utter crap - stuff you know as you’re writing is utter crap. However, in the second case, you sometimes come up with a single sentence or phrase that does the trick. So I advise writing. Even when you’re writing worthless garbage, there’s a chance something will come out.
Second thing I advise is, once you do have an idea, quit a writing session BEFORE you’ve written down all you want. That way you have a starting point next time and won’t so easily fall into the trap of “well, last session was pretty good, but what am I going to do now?”
In support of Legomancer’s second point - I once went to a talk by a well-known author. She said that her trick was to write for a set number of hours per day, and then stop. Even mid-sentence. So she would always have a point to pick up from the next day, and not exhaust her imagination.
My writer’s block is just laziness though. I guess I could bribe myself with chocolate, but I’d probably end up playing Klondike and just eat it anyway.
Do you WANT to cure it? If you “can’t write,” maybe it means you don’t want to write or don’t have anything TO write. I don’t mean this to be nasty—I just mean, WHY do you write in the first place? If you’re not impelled to write, and you don’t get a great deal of pleasure from it, then don’t write.
I am not a professional writer, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
For me, I usually find that writer’s block comes when I really want to write well. If I can’t write really well, I don’t write at all. Every lame idea I get, I shoot down before it hits the paper or word processor. If this is the kind of writer’s block you have, then just write. Write poorly. Write something terrible. Write something lame. Things generally pick up from there. Eventually you hit a point where all of your ideas are hitting the page, and something inspires you.
Write it anyway. Odds are it’s not as bad as you think it is. If it is “competely shitty” you need to get… um… get it out of your system anyway.
I’ve written some stuff that is crap. Poor grammar and sentence structure as well as poorly executed ideas. But I think every writer writes crap now and then. It’s the only way to ever get any better. The trick is to go back and learn from your mistakes. Why is the writing crap? Sometimes it’s best to find yourself a good outside opinion. Preferably someone who is a vicious blood sucking editor. Take your ego and lock it up safely in a box. Writing something that is utterly awful does not mean you are a bad person. It doesn’t even mean you are a bad writer. I have one of my best friend edits all of my stuff. She is utterly without mercy but it makes me a better writer. I’ve edited her stuff in return. She’s an excellent writer and yet I’ve seen a few things from her that were horrendously bad. What makes her a good writer is that she can go back and rewrite it into something good. Or if it’s simply unsalvagable, she can go onto another project without feeling bad about herself.
A violinest does not start out making beautiful music. It takes years of hard work.
I’ve taken several writing classes, and you should too. It’s good to hear the other student’s stories and get constructive criticism. The main thing to remember is that no one ever writes a perfect first draft. It takes a lot of refining and rewriting to get something good. If you write something shitty, no one has to see it, just rewrite it.
Lawrence Block, who is a hard-working writer, doesn’t believe in going by hours. It leads to procrastination when you realize, no matter what you do, you’ll be out by five o’clock.
Instead, he goes by pages. Five pages a day. If he finishes early, he goes out to play. If it takes all day, it takes all day. But he writes those five pages.
Even when he thinks it’s shit, he still writes, because he knows – from experience – that the next day, it may read fine. And if it doesn’t, he throws it away. After all, it’s only five pages.
If you want more support, read Anne Lamott’s “Bird By Bird.” Somewhere in the middle of the book, she talks about first drafts. I think she may even have titled that chapter, “First Drafts Are Shit.”
And, if you’re really desperate, go to my Web site. I’m writing a novel now, and just posted a first draft I wrote yesterday. If that won’t inspire you ("Hey, I can write better than that! "), nothing will.
I only force myself to write when I’m being paid for non-fiction by the hour.
Forcing yourself to write every morning when you’re in the midst of creation can be good, but forcing yourself when you’ve been hung up for six months with writer’s block is either going to produce nothing, or complete crud. I really don’t agree with people who maintain it’s important to “write at any cost”. That’s nonsense. A nonsense that’s produced a wealth of incredibly incompetent works.
Reading about writers, block like this is usually caused by serious problems with the approach to writing. You need to ask yourself: Do I just not have anything to say right now? Have I picked the wrong style? Am I scriptwriting when I should be composing poetry? And, of course, you need to ask yourself (and answer honestly) the big question: why am i writing?
My grandfather, a college English professor, told me something which I never ceased to disbelieve, which is that you can’t write well about something you haven’t experienced. Yet, unfortunately, I think that some of the most effective and convincing writing comes from people who lived the experience. That means some potential writers are lucky enough to live something worth writing about, and many others, aren’t.
I think you ought to look at the block directly, not try to write around it. Find out why you’re feeling the way you do.
I find that this approach doesn’t work for everyone. For me smokeing gives me writers block. Although I don’t really recommend it I have always found that speed is a better cure than bud. When on speed you always have something to say. Of coarse the things that you have to say begin to make less and less sense the longer you use this method.
partly_warmer, the key is to recognize whether what you have is worth anything. Don’t just ship it off to a publisher before the ink dries, sit on it a while, read it out loud, take it to that writing class and get feedback, do another draft. I agree there’s a lot of bad writing out there, but I’d rather that than have someone’s potential talent go to waste because they’re afraid of making a mess the first go around. I do agree that you should have something to say, and not just write for the sake of writing.
thanks guys, good ideas. especially the whole ‘making myself write’ thing. what i have written recently i’ve dismissed about 5 minutes in because i just don’t like it. the other problem is that i often find that i’m repeating myself; going over the same old subjects and styles.
interesting - other times when i’ve forced myself to write and complete something (for an assignment etc), i usually hate it but other people react really positively to it. don’t know why… but if it works, i’m good with it.
also, i realised when this writing block started and this may have something to do with it:
last year was my final year of high school. one of my subjects was the highest level of english offered, and the major assessment for this, essentially the whole purpose of the course, was to complete a major work. i wrote a one act play. it was big, and i started to hate it about a month before it was finished. its not much fun having to complete something that you aren’t particularly in to. i guess this maybe ‘burnt me out’?
interesting… i am finding the problem is that i don’t have anything to write. this is where the block is, a block on ideas. but that, i hope, doesn’t mean i’ve run out of things to say. i guess i write because, first of all it’s an urge, something which every creative minded person gets - the urge to create. secondly, i do get satisfaction from completing something. and most of all, rather than to release, i find that i write to explore, to understand things about me, the world, society, life. so i’ll always want to write.
i particularly like the idea of writing a set number of pages, rather than for a set amount of time. i can see that telling myself to write for an hour or whatever would just result in me staring at the computer screen for 60 minutes.
oh, and devilman palmer’s suggestion is good, too.
When I’m blocked for any length of time, I try to avoid working on an idea that has me deeply inspired. Instead, I’ll do stream of consciousness excercises for an hour or so (word association, etc.) then pluck out every (for the sake of argument, say) 14th word, compile them and write a 750 word piece that contains all those words.
I find it really knocks the rust off and lets the juices start flowing for the piece I DO want to write or to get the ideas rolling when I don’t have any currently burning inspiration.
I’d like to second the idea about taking a writing class. Just being in a class talking about books and writing usually gets the ideas flowing.
Second idea: Go somewhere you’ve never been and start describing the place–what you see, hear, smell, even what you feel. It can be an everyday place–a cafe, a park, a church. Either you’ll stumble into something to write about, or you’ll at least have put something down on paper. (And that’s the first step in overcoming writer’s block, isn’t it? Writing something, anything?)
I’m actually taking a creative writing class at college. When it came time to write a story, I couldn’t think of any good ideas. So I made a list of a bunch of random things and tried to somehow string them together. My list had Carol Burnett, Frank Sinatra, a teenager named Jesse, Alzheimers, a 50s era restaurant, etc. None of these sound as though they would go together, but they actually went together pretty well. Just takes a little imagination. And if that doesn’t work for you, take the advice that my freshman english teacher gave me. Think of a situation or conversation you’ve seen recently. For example, the two people you stood in line behind in KMart this morning. Then ask yourself "what if ___happened? What if they couldn’t pay? What if they were rude to the cashier? What if they were old? What if one of them passed out? Plenty of possibilities. But that’s just my 2 cents.
Uh, well, a lot of people here bring up excellent points. However, I’ve found that something that drives me to write is this. When I have a free hour or two, I sit down, and I copy the phone book. Yeah, just copy it down until I can go to the computer and write something. I’ve found that sometimes I just need an extra motivating push to get me started, and doing something a tedious as copying something usually works.