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Dos and Don'ts
of Writer's Block


Anna Furtado

You have a nice block of time (no pun intended). You switch your computer on and double-click that file. You poise your hands over the keyboard, then—wham—you've fallen over the edge of a great precipice into blackness. Writer's block can leave you anxious and confused.

Take a deep breath. Before we get to some practical ways to get rid of that dark, unending chasm, let's get the "don'ts" out of the way. When writer's block hits:

1. Don't feel guilty. It's a waste of time and can prevent you from being open to any possibility of a solution. Unpack your bags and forgo the guilt trip.

2. Don't beat yourself up. This goes right along with #1. If you find yourself falling into the void, and your inner critic starts to tell you that you are the worse writer possible, set her straight! You are perfectly capable of being / becoming a great writer. However, at the moment, you are merely not able to write on the topic that you had intended.

3. Don't stop writing. I mean this in the larger scheme of things. (There may be some instances when not writing for the moment will help, as you'll see later.) The "don't stop writing" I mean goes along with the first two "don'ts." If you allow yourself to feel guilty and start beating yourself up, the next logical conclusion may seem to be, "I'll never write another thing again." But don't give in to this kind of pessimistic thinking. It's time for bootstrap pulling and thinking things like, "I can do this. I can be the very best writer that I'm capable of being, and I'll get even better with more practice."

4. Don't let people tell you that there's no such thing. Often, when people say that writer's block doesn't exist, they actually mean that they refuse to give in to it. Chances are that they're familiar with some creative ways to move through their writer's block, like the ones that follow. However, there might be an exception. If denial works for you, then by all means, put that crown on your head. Become the Queen of Denial—as long as it doesn't plunge you into the difficulties previously mentioned (see #1 through 3).

5. Don't box yourself in. If you like challenging yourself to write more, to achieve a certain numbers of words or pages per day, or to meet self-imposed deadlines, these certainly are productive ways to accomplish your writing goals; however, if these compulsory requirements only plunge you into the black hole of inactivity, then there's only one thing to do. Take a mini-vacation from schedules and numbers of words for a while. Just don't let it become an excuse to stop writing (causing you to have to refer to #1–3 all over again).

Here are some positive measures to try when you find yourself in the midst of writer's block:

1. Decide if it belongs. A very basic question to ask yourself is: does this scene belong in the story? Maybe you can't write it because it doesn't belong there. If it weren't in the story, what would come next? If you're convinced that the scene should be a part of the story, try one or more of the remaining suggestions below.

2. Move more than your fingers. Instead of writing, take a walk, do that pile of dishes in the sink, take out the garbage. However, please note that these diversionary tactics are of short duration. This isn't the time to start that kitchen makeover or put a new roof on the house.

3. Use your voice. Talk about your story with someone who is interested in it. Simply hearing yourself speak about your topic may help you to process your own thoughts and bring you new insight. The other person may ask a question or make a remark that allows new ideas to begin to flow.

4. Use your legs. Do you need a field trip? Maybe you can't write your next scene because you don't have all of the information you need. Try some additional research. Where does that illusive scene take place? Go to the beach, to the financial district, to the courthouse. Perhaps if you steep yourself in the sights, smells, and sounds of that environment, you'll have more than enough material to begin writing. However, if your novel takes place in Bora Bora, then going there on the spur of the moment might be out of the question. Consider a trip to the library or a stroll through cyberspace instead.

5. Do it differently. Draw your scene instead of writing it. (Now, don't say you can't draw—this doesn't require the quality of a Michelangelo.) Use circles to signify characters (two circles in a rectangle signify two people in bed; four circles around the outside edges of a square denote people sitting around a table). Create a storyboard in this way—blocks (again, no pun) that progress through a scene the way that a comic strip does. Another way to do it differently is to change how you write. Do you use a computer? Pick up pen and paper. Do you write your manuscript by hand? Try crayon (they're great for storyboarding)! Change rooms. Change background music. How about using a sound machine (one of those electronic devices that simulate the roar of the ocean or crickets on a summer night)?

6. Don't do it at all. It might be better to forget that next scene and write something entirely different. If you're at the beginning of your story, try writing an ending. Now, try the middle. What needs to happen in between so that they all connect? Do you have something else you're working on? Maybe that's what you need to concentrate on for a while. An idea for a different piece may be distracting you. Jot those ideas down and forget them. Your writer's block may disappear.

7. Write your own writer's prompt. If you really must write that scene—say, because you're fortunate enough to have an editor breathing down your neck and a deadline looming, try writing your own writer's prompt for the problematic scene. I like to envision a new scene and come up with three descriptive words. As an example, if I were writing a scene that takes place in a seedy bar, I might start with words like "dark," "acrid," and "tentative." Writing those on a piece of paper, I'd follow them with a paragraph using those three words, describing sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. Chances are, I'd be off and running—and writer's block would be scurrying right out of the room before me!

8. Use reverse psychology. The mind is a wondrous thing, but sometimes, it's just as petulant as a child. Tell yourself that you will not write that next scene in the story. You may find that your mind reacts with an unstoppable flow of ideas for that scene.

9. Try rambling. Start with the statement of fact "I don't know what to write." That takes care of your inner critic distracting you, telling you what you already know. With that out of the way, follow with "I'm supposed to be writing about…" Keep writing for at least 5 minutes. Somewhere in the middle of those ramblings, you might just find a tangle of words unraveling under your pen, leading you to a perfect scene.

Let me end by reiterating the third "don't"—don't stop writing. As long as you're writing something, there really is no such thing as writer's block.

Next month—Using a Writing Journal (another good way to help prevent writer's block, by the way).
©2005 Anna Furtado — Author of The Heart's Desire
Book One of The Briarcrest Chronicles

Finalist—Golden Crown Literary Society "Goldie" Awards 2005
Distributed by: Starcrossed Productions (
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