5 Proven Cures for Writer’s Block

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There’s an understood eeriness about this place. The cramped crick of teeth clenched drowns out the wind. Insects the size of pets clobber the windshield. Signs point directly at you pleading, stop, turn around, you’re going the wrong way. The road is no longer paved, it’s tarred over by a foot of crud. The flood lines are striped across every building in sopping red paint. Between each new line is a different shade of corrosion. If you drive fast enough towards the coast, you can watch time fast forward as the landscape descends into the ocean. First, the line of paint dissolves, then the buildings begin to shrink down until the road becomes a soupy layer of charcoal. The wheels skid down the embankment towards the water as you mash the brake pedal so hard that it snaps and you look up from the floor realizing this is it, there’s nothing you can do to keep this thing on the road. Then, there’s a whip and a splash and the daunting fear that you will never escape.

This is the transition period, the moment before everything gets channeled into a single ray of white light. You can feel your back pinned to the cushioned fabric of the driver’s seat and the pedal hovering weightless underneath your foot. Your involuntary muscle movement is frozen. Time, itself, is frozen. Somehow the vehicle that was hastily moving you forward has become a cage. A sharp hum swells inside your ear. Then, suddenly and rather shamefully, you realize that you’ve spent most of your life asking the same impossible question, what happens next?

The point of that very exaggerated, perhaps overly dramatic metaphor was to describe how it feels to go blank in the middle of your story. How everything can be going so well and then all of a sudden for there to be nothing. Look, I know how it is, it’s as though it’s right there, you can see the sequence of events unfolding in your head, the words are flowing elegantly and smoothly, you’re finally gaining traction. Your characters all seem to be in tune with the dialogue and the setting has been more than established, but there’s one little thing causing your story to come to an abrupt halt–you have no idea what’s going to happen next–so what do you do?

Should you eat a snack? Do some chores? Go for a walk?

Well, the answer is, maybe. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going to cure your writer’s block. After all, everyone has their own process, and nothing is guaranteed. All I truthfully can tell you is that these things at some point, either through inderict factors or immediate contact, have in one way or another worked for me in the past. And maybe, just maybe, one of these things will work for you, too.

1. Always have something to fall back on.

This is number one for a reason. I’ve always tried to keep some sort of record of my immediate thoughts. If something pops into my head and I feel as though it’s going somewhere or it’s something that simply sounds strange or attractive, I fiddle for the nearest pen or paper or phone or whatever and hurry to write it down. No matter how strong your idea is, no matter how many times you repeat it over and over again in your head, all it takes is one little distracting blink and poof, it’s gone forever. The mind works in mysterious ways and we never know when it’s going to simply just blank out. I want to believe that if an idea is truly good than it will eventually make its way forward from the back of my mind, but I’ve found that unfortunately that’s not how it works. The best thing to do, if you find yourself in this situation, is to try to relax and let it go. Maybe something completely random and unrelated will spark it. You have to accept that if it’s ever going to come back, it’s not going to happen by thinking about it too hard. The bottom line is, keep track of your thoughts, especially if you have good ones.

2. Emerse yourself in your influences.

This one’s pretty simple. Basically, go read a book, kids. Preferably one that you would like to pull from that follows similar themes, plot structures, or touches on issues that you would like to incorporate or try in your work. Even watching television shows and movies is a good way to stimulate yourself, though probably not as much as actually reading. You’ve all heard the tales of famous writers copying down their favorite books word for word just to get a feel for how the sentences are formed, well, sometimes that’s what it takes. You’re writing should be a culmination of the things you consume, meaning that you’re never actually being completely original. It’s an awful thing to accept, but the sooner you realize this, the sooner you will begin to see the bits and pieces of other people’s work that come together to make up this style you call your own. To sum it up, I’d like to refer to a quote by one of my greatest influences, Chuck Palahniuk, who said, “Nothing of me is original, I am the combined effort of everyone I have ever met.”

3. Live your own story.

For all of you glued to an iWhatever right now, this is called real-time storytelling. No matter how much of a rush reading your favorite book or watching your favorite movie will give you, there is a unique psychoactive element present when you  experience something for yourself. Your senses are stimulated so much that it forces you to consciously decide whether or not you are going to reinforce your personal perspective on something or alter it permanently. And either way, if you’re proven wrong and defeated or if you get lucky and succeed, you can probably come up with at least one unique insight that no one else has on why it did or did not work out for you. It is so much harder to fabricate an insight than it is to discover one on your own. What I mean by insight is, something you are able to tell someone that they did not already know considering the knowledge was previously unavailable to them. An insight is unquestionably the most valuable aspect of storytelling. Believe it or not, Google won’t indulge every curious whim you throw at it, some questions can only be answered through your own misguided trial and error. With that being said, don’t ever gamble with your safety or personal relationships on the mistaken whim that you’ll become any wiser or more interesting because of it. It’s a common belief among most writers and artists that they are more likely to accomplish more in their work by throwing obstacles out in front of themselves in order to maintain this unnecessary distance from the things that are holding them together. For a while, I actually believed that this naive formula would work for me the way it did for some of my favorite writers, until I realized that I can never be the character I wanted to create, that my reality would never live up to my imagination, and that things would eventually take a turn for the worst without my help.

4. Separate yourself from your work.

Remember, writing is much like being in a relationship, meaning that most of the time it has nothing to do with you. Sure, it may make you feel that you’re part of it because you created it, but in the end it’s about the people you are trying to reach. The problem is, most people tend to write about the things they know, and that’s great unless, of course, you’re some kind of walking stereotype or if you’re constantly trying to exaggerate yourself in hopes that you will eventually become interesting. Chances are if you have to exaggerate any aspect of your lived experience than it’s probably not worth hearing about in the first place. Don’t be discouraged if you’re one of these people, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it just means that you’re an overzealous storyteller and a flat out lier, just kidding but that can be a very intriguing character flaw if you’re honest enough to admit it and accept that as your struggle. Some of the best characters are some of the best characters because they know exactly where their faults lye and are actively and hopelessly engaged in a struggle to overcome them. However, it’s very difficult to see these faults in yourself, therefore we must always be looking for them in others, comparing and contrasting those around you with yourself. As writers, our observational skills have to be honed so tightly that we are able to see directly through people like some kind of awful, condescending superpower. Though, it’s not as bad as I make it out to be, because to be able to do this we have to constantly be thinking about how others feel and finding out why they feel that certain way about those things. You have to always assume that the person sitting next you is more interesting than yourself, and if you stop constantly looking for the next opportunity to open your mouth and instead just listen, than you’ll begin to learn why people act the way that they do. Perhaps not completely, but after some time, you’ll begin to understand more why, thus leading you to make more well-informed, carefully thought out assumptions instead of just the shitty, regular assumptions people make.

5. Don’t give up.

My last piece of advice is short and sweet, just whatever you do, don’t give up. Anything worth doing is frustrating and tedious and extremely time consuming. Just because you’re stuck doesn’t mean it’s a dead end. But seriously, all cliche fatherly words of wisdom aside, whatever story you’re trying to tell, whatever message you’re trying to send–make it a part of you, think about it deeply and often, and most of all make it an extension of yourself–like a limb of your body, something that you wouldn’t ever consider getting rid of or throwing away, at least not willingly.