Tackle that block: overcoming writer’s block

By Dennis Schrag/Tree Full of Owls

The proposal is due tomorrow. It has to be unbeatable. The pressure is intense. You sit at your totally empty computer monitor. Your mind feels totally empty, too. It’s the despicable, always terrorizing writer’s block.

F. Scott Fitzgerald suffered from it. Ernest Hemingway, when asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, said, “A blank sheet of paper.” Stephen King, who knows panic, said that the “scariest moment is always just before you start writing. After that, things can only get better.”

Writer’s block is defined as an inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes it as a “psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece of writing.”

Why does it happen?  The Purdue Online Writing Lab says, “Because writers have various ways of writing, a variety of things can cause a writer to experience anxiety and sometimes this anxiety leads to writer’s block. Some experts believe writer’s block is caused by an over-awareness of the audience that produces paralysis.” It is stage-fright on paper.

How to tackle that block…

It seems simple, but it works. The first thing to do is resign yourself to the fact that you have to write. Reflect on the essence of the completed piece. What must it do for you and the reader? Write those goals. Finish the following: “When this piece is complete it will…”

You accomplish a number of things when you complete the above mini-assignment:

  • You physically begin writing.
  • You engage the Stephen Covey “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” principal of “starting with the end in mind.”
    • You consciously stop the non-productive comments running through your head by replacing them with productive ones.

Next…just cool it…

  • Breathe deeply. Close your eyes; then, take four or five short deep breaths. Hold each breath until it hurts, and then let it out slowly.
  • Stretch. Stretch as many muscle groups as possible. Try tensing and releasing various muscle groups.
  • Have some special formula writing success like a Snickers bar, chewing gum, or listening to jazz etc. use them.

Next…just do it.

Paula LaRocque, the expert on business writing, says there is no such thing as bad writing…there is only bad rewriting and editing.

  • Spell out five words…any five words about your topic. Keyboard those five random words on the monitor. Write five more words. Triple space them on the screen. Good god…it is almost a full page of material. Try a sentence behind each word. A block ends when you start making words on a page.
  • Keyboard out the most important elements of the piece that are in your head. Write crap…it is OK. Write down all the primary ideas you want to express and then fill in each with the smaller ideas that make up each primary idea. Voila, you have an outline.
  • ·          If you know there are three major concepts that need to be conveyed…chunk them out Chunking is a method of splitting content into short, easily scanable elements.
  • ·          At this stage, nothing needs to be eloquent, exact, or sequential. Pound out all the stuff you know about the topic.  No one knows it better than you.
  • ·          Write the middle. Stop fretting over a perfect lead or the crescendo. Write the next part or the part after that. Write your favorite part.
  • ·          The good news….you are writing.

A few more things:  This is “craft” not “art.” Stop beating yourself up. Just do it.

You will be amazed at how much you have in your head that is now on the monitor. By the way, do a “save” or “save as.” Keep it.

Next…just re-do it.

This is the easy part for anyone with writer’s block. Fix the “junque” on the monitor. Sequence it correctly. Substitute commanding words for wishy-washy ones. Get rid of those long sentences. Swap in powerful verbs. Make it simple. Add a mini-story. Drive home your key points. Spice it up.

Guess what? It’s over.