Today is Easter Sunday here in Central Texas. I took my constitutional a bit later than usual, leaving the house just before 11 AM local time. While walking, I had the pleasure of listening to the “Arts Hour” on the BBC World Service on my iPhone. Unexpectedly, I listened through a brief interview with Aaron Sorkin (creator of The West Wing, and lots of other TV shows and movies). When asked about his issues with writing he responded something like this: “The problem is not with writing; it’s with NOT writing.” I found myself laughing out loud, because in the past couple of weeks I found myself working through writer’s block to finish what turned out to be an interesting project.
Working Through Writer’s Block Pays Off
Like many other writers, I do sometimes get stuck. My biggest problem is getting started on a project. When I don’t feel 100% prepared, when I’m not completely comfortable with the subject matter, or when I know a project includes lots of “hard labor” I tend to put such projects off. And then, sometimes, I put them off some more.
This last time around, I had to postpone a delivery because of a severe allergy attack that laid me up over the weekend. When Monday rolled around, I put it off until Tuesday. That turned into Wednesday, and so forth until Friday was staring me in the face.
Getting Unstuck May Require a Push
Confession, it is said, is good for the soul. Thus, upon finding myself profoundly stuck I called my senior editor. I’ve worked with the same team for 3-4 years now, so we know each other well. I simply fessed up and said: “I’ve got writer’s block. How can I get started?”
The advice turned out to be just what I needed to break my logjam. The editor said two things:
1. Start in the middle
2. The outline is 3,500 words and the piece is 4,500-5,500 words. How can this be a problem?
He was right. As soon as I read the outline and re-read some source material, I knew what I needed to do. I skipped the intro (which had been stopping me) and started with Part 1. It did take me two full days to write the piece after that, but I did get it finished. Thank goodness.
Other Sources of Help
Turns out there are lots of places to turn for good advice on beating writer’s block. A quick Google search turns up some real gems including:
Jeff Goins: How to Overcome Writer’s Block: 14 Tricks That Work
Penguin Random House: 10 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block
ReedsyBlog: Writer’s Block: 10 Ways to Defect a Writer’s Worst Enemy
R.L. Stine: 6 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
And believe me, there’s plenty more where that came from. Turns out that asking for help (and talking to a friend) is pretty close to the top of most of the preceding (and other) lists. Fundamentally, you need to break out of whatever has you stuck. If one thing doesn’t work, try another — and keep trying until you get writing again.
Works for me, anyway…