By: Jeff Simonds
For a writer, there are few things as scary as watching the cursor blink and not knowing what to write (the three scarier things for writers: carpal tunnel, poverty, and bears). The panic of writer's block can strike ninety pages into a project, or it can seize you before you have even started. It only gets worse when you think of famous authors who seem to never struggle with writer's block (we get it, Stephen King and/or Danielle Steel... you want your own private sections in Barnes & Noble... calm down). But, when that anxiety and uncertainty arises, it's good to try a few different things to work through the blockage.
1) Get some exercise. Physical exertion will not only give you time away from your project (preventing fixation and anxiety), but it also aids the brain in creative processes like writing. Getting some exercise will stimulate brain plasticity, release many beneficial hormones, and work to reduce "stress hormones." But the biggest benefit of exercising is that it might make you more attractive in your future book-jacket head-shot. Who will even care if your writing is any good if you look attractive on the book-jacket? Why do you think Edgar Allan Poe got so famous? It's because of his dreamy eyes, mustache, and eight-pack abs.
2) Explore other creative outlets. It can be helpful to take a little time away from a project if it has grown stagnant or if you are unsure how to start. Keep your creative muscles in shape by substituting writing for other creative outlets. Playing an instrument, painting, or even cooking an elaborate meal can keep your mind in a strong creative space while giving you time to breathe away from your work. And, who knows, maybe you will discover you are an amazing chef-- in which case, just do that instead. The world needs more chefs. Some people never read-- but everyone eats. In fact, regardless of whether or not you have writer's block, try to become a chef also. Maybe try to get a reality cooking show.
3) Inspire yourself. One prime source of motivation and creativity for many writers is to engage with art that inspires them. Don't be afraid to take time away from your project to find inspiration by watching a movie from a film-maker you love or reading a novel from your favorite author. And when you start to get jealous and depressed that brilliant film-makers and authors can make it all look so easy-- then inspire yourself by getting drunk, trying to find their addresses online, and throwing eggs at their homes. Speaking of...
4) Drink whiskey. Why not get drunk? Lots of brilliant writers drank a ton. Maybe that's the secret. Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Poe (that dream-boat of a man)-- they all drank. And they all were brilliant! I bet they never had writer's block-- and, best of all, none of them ever suffered any negative health effects from... wait... hold on... maybe skip this suggestion.
5) Quit and become a lumberjack. Look, I'm going to be honest with you: writer's block can be really tough. But I bet you've never heard of "Lumberjack's Block." Y'know why? It doesn't exist. They just cut down trees. There are plenty of trees to cut down. There's no need to get frustrated at not knowing where to start your novel-- just grab an ax. Lumberjacks are still TECHNICALLY part of the publishing industry, so you're still in the ball park.
6) Extortion/Forgery. You might get stuck while writing your own project, but there are plenty of authors out there who have found ways to work through writer's block. And while you could spend months trying to find your own method of working through your blockages and frustrations just to compete with those other authors, there are alternative paths to publishing fame. To save time, just find some dirt on Cormac McCarthy (he has to have some secrets out there worth finding, right?). Maybe then his next novel becomes YOUR next best-selling novel.
7) Put labels with your name on all the book jackets at your local book store. If all else fails, label-makers are cheap. If you have thirty minutes in a book store, suddenly you have a bibliography that will impress anyone at your twenty-five year high school reunion.
While some of these tips may not be sound advice-- and at least two suggestions include felonies-- the true "solution" is probably simpler than any of these suggestions (simpler, in fact, than any suggestion you will likely find on any blog): to work through writer's block, just keep working through it. There will be weeks when any writer feels stuck. But enough writing during those weeks (no matter how much of it feels incorrect or sub-par) will always lead to something that can be used-- something that can be molded into a breakthrough, a new idea, a new direction. And if that doesn't work... there are always lumberjack positions.
Jeff Simonds teaches writing in New York and Massachusetts and lives in Castleton, NY, with an ill-mannered cat. You can find his writing in several magazines, on Amazon, or by stealing his laptop