Writer’s Block creeps in

Writer's Block

You know the scenario.  I’m supposed to write something as though it has just flowed out from my synapses onto the page like proverbially gold-plated ink, and as easily and energetically as young mountain water babbling through a brook.  I have to be casually erudite, whimsically articulate and oh, so relevant.  I have to make you laugh, or at least smile, but also cause your brow to furrow in profound ponderance.

“Oh, I was just slurping a capp and having a quick leaf through the London Review of Books and thought I’d spin this little tidbit off in an articulate jiffy, but now I’ve got to go meet an unknown but paradoxically important intellectual friend,” is how the subtext of my copy should read.  “I’m, like, a fountain of whimsical, brilliant ideas!  And I’ve heard of lots of stuff, especially stuff that hasn’t happened yet!”

But in reality I’m tired, a bit worried about money, daunted by the economy, dreading the depths of winter and I can’t even think of a CD to put on (I’m old school) never mind think of an engaging subject to write about and a way to start it.

Do you recognise the scenario?  As I consider myself a writer, albeit an amateur or at most aspiring one, I ponder writer’s block a lot and thought I might as well share some of the ways in which I deal with it.

My favourite strategy is to get out a pen and notebook and choose to brainstorm ideas instead of write when I’m faced with the Block.  You might think that this is the last thing to do when your creative well seems to have dried up, but you’d be surprised how many new ideas come out when you’re temporarily freed from the shackles of whatever it is that’s ground to a halt.  But I admit it: this is procrastination to some extent.  What’s more it’s often the case that you need to complete and submit something in the very near future without time to take a break, without the time to sit around brainstorming.

My father, who was at one time a writer, and who may well enter the fray again I suspect, always advised me to “just start writing.” That is cast iron advice and there’s no arguing with it.  Writing is the main aim after all.  But I believe I could be forgiven for claiming that this instruction is a little short on detail.  Another technique I have adopted is to stand up from the computer and make a cup of tea, pace the room, and say aloud in free, informal language what I want to write, as simply as I can.  Then I just write what I said.  This invariably results in appalling writing to start with, but at least you have something down to tinker with and embellish.

My final piece of advice for avoiding writer’s block is to write about writer’s block.  This tends to be a one-use-only ticket!  The best strategy of all, though, is to give yourself a break, relax, go to the cinema, watch a DVD.  If it’s evening you could even go to the pub.  Take it from me the problem will disappear!  For a while…

Do any of you have other suggestions?


  1. I journal every day and if good ideas appear I start writing them. I keep a note on my phone of every single idea I ever have so I’ve always got some to fall back on. Er.. if all else fails a strong glass of whisky usually helps.

    Comment by Milo — November 11, 2010 @ 9:19 pm
  2. Oh, and turn off the internet.

    Comment by Milo — November 11, 2010 @ 9:36 pm
  3. Greetings sir. Can I say that I really enjoy your style of writing, which it must be said has a far great natural ‘flow’, than my own stop-start prose.

    I have launced myself into the void of National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org///eng/user/758927) which as you can see is progressing quite slowly. It must be said though that the proposal to write 50,000 words and *not* a novel as such is a wonderful incentive, as it removes that mental stumbling-block of having to produce something worthy of publication (and public reception).

    It recognizes the truth of what you describe above – just write.

    Comment by Emmet — November 11, 2010 @ 10:06 pm
  4. a guy called fred saberhagen once said, “i suspect that writer’s block afflicts mainly people who have some stable and ample source of income outside of writing. so far it hasn’t been a problem.” but seriously, the cup of tea method is good – make a cup of tea and decide you are only going to write for the length of time it takes to drink it. often helps get through the initial block, cos it makes it seem more manageable. the other thing to remember is what i call the theory of zen writing – the length of time it takes to write something is equal to the time it takes to write it plus the time it takes to not write it. spending ages thinking you’ll never get anything on paper again is part and parcel of writing anything. actually, all you really need is a good deadline…

    Comment by justine — November 11, 2010 @ 10:46 pm
  5. I like the standing up and saying it aloud prompt – and Justine’s duration of a cup of tea incentive.
    Failing those, you could always make this part one in a series of…. however many on the subject of Writer’s Block.

    Comment by blackwatertown — November 11, 2010 @ 11:42 pm
  6. Wow, thanks for the feedback folks!

    Milo that does sound like a good idea. I go through phases of recording as many ideas as I can. The journal approach probably structures that to some extent. And yeah, the internet does while away pointless hours!

    And Emmet, thanks a million for the compliment. I appreciate it. I do have to throw in that you clearly don’t suffer from writers’ block based on your blog’s brief, not to mention your November novel project. I noticed that. I think if I have the time I’ll try it next year but it’s too daunting for now!

    Justine, I love the Zen idea. I guess a deadline helps. Working on the assumption that we leave everything close to the deadline, it would seem that without one we’d be lost!

    Comment by comelybankingcrisis — November 11, 2010 @ 11:45 pm
  7. Haha, Paul maybe I could. I think I might not get as much interest after a few pieces!

    Comment by comelybankingcrisis — November 11, 2010 @ 11:47 pm
  8. Oh for an edit function. That post of mine is simply filled with typos.

    But that brings us to my point, which is that writer’s block largely comes from a fear of how others will receive what you write. The trick is not to worry about that, as you will be rewriting everything once finished.

    Comment by Emmet — November 12, 2010 @ 1:02 am
  9. recreational drugs?

    Comment by tony zimnoch — November 12, 2010 @ 1:10 pm
  10. Emmet I always make a total meal out of comments in terms of typos! It tends to take some of the umph out of whatever input I have frm my own point of view but I honestly don’t think many people notice, unless they’re those vitriolic types who spend all day on the comment sections of the big papers.

    Tony, great suggestion! This could be combined with that Victorian occult-ish ‘free writing’ people used to do. Actually I should have included both of these int he text of the piece!

    Comment by comelybankingcrisis — November 12, 2010 @ 6:42 pm
  11. Why not just pack it in altogether? Accept that writing is probably not your forte, and move on to something else?

    Comment by a reader — November 24, 2010 @ 9:28 pm
  12. Well, ‘a reader’, you responded to the question, so you must have read to the very last word. Quite an achievement for me as a writer, to hold your attention that long.

    PS, first bitchy comment on the blog. I must be ready for guardian.com. The bubbly is open!

    Comment by comelybankingcrisis — November 24, 2010 @ 10:35 pm
  13. Keep your hair on, it was only a suggestion!

    Comment by a reader — November 25, 2010 @ 11:14 pm
  14. A suggestion I won’t be following up.

    Comment by comelybankingcrisis — November 26, 2010 @ 8:53 am

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