How to deal with the Writer’s Block
Have you ever wanted to do something else when starting a letter or report? If so, you would be among the many writers who have the same urge. In fact, I would say that most writers – whether they write full-time or part-time – are likely to resort to a variety of means to avoid getting started.
In a column titled “Writer’s Block,” Wikipedia tells us, “Throughout history, Writer’s Block has been a documented problem. Professionals who battled this affliction included authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joseph Mitchell, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.
In his helpful guide “105 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block,” Justin Arnold reassures us, “There is no such thing as a writer’s block that cannot be unblocked. It’s just a matter of understanding why the blockage happened and figuring out how to unblock it so you can move on. (Later in this column, we will meet Mr. Arnold again as he develops such action plans.)
WHERE TO START
To avoid false starts, the editorial authorities strongly recommend the following:
- Know your topic and, if there are any gaps, gather what you need to move forward; examples are graphs, tables, agendas, previous publications on the same subject.
- Develop a work plan that will provide you with provisional direction. It can and should be changed as needed throughout the writing process.
Once you have completed these preparatory steps, begin your first draft, keeping in mind the dos and don’ts that follow.
From Professor HJ Tichy, author of “Effective Writing for Engineers, Managers, Scientists”, these pertinent thoughts come to us:
- “A lot of reluctant writers hate to start because they try to do too much in the first draft. They are determined to produce the final copy immediately. For most writers, this is a frustrating stalling experience as it requires a constant shift from creation to review.
- “Some authors told us that they had this irritating experience two or three times for each page… They found it painful, but thought it was necessary.
Dr Tichy points out that these “back and forth” movements lead to self-criticism at the wrong time. She explains: “Unfavorable criticisms are always mitigating, even overwhelming; Yet writers who try to edit while they write inflict disheartening self-criticism on themselves at a time when they are most sensitive.
Let’s say you do what Dr. Tichy suggests, that is, you refrain from neat writing and mostly limit it to later versions. A great next step is provided by Jenna Glatzer, author of eight books, hundreds of articles, several anthologies, and the copying of countless greeting cards.
In her book, “Outwitting Writer’s Block”, she guides us to the next step:
“If you don’t know where to start, but have a clear idea of your ending, write the ending first. If you get stuck on a part, don’t let that prevent you from writing all around it. The great thing about your audience is that they will never be able to tell the difference. . . You are the captain of your own ship, the engineer of your own caboose. Change plans. . . Change things. Interrupt.”
(Ernie’s reaction: I take this approach often. But I limit it mostly to early drafts. Making major changes to “final” drafts can be incredibly time-consuming, painful, and overwhelming.)
In the third paragraph of this column, I mentioned that we will come back to some additional thoughts from Justin Arnold. Here are some excerpts from his book “105 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block”:
“In many cases, the reason for the blockage is physiological. If you haven’t slept well recently, or if you haven’t eaten for a while, (or). . . you have been worried about a family member in the hospital, then your mind is hardly going to be working at full capacity. “There is no doubt that writing takes focus, and focus takes energy. Without enough sleep, food, and drink, you can’t expect to perform as well as you would like.
“Rather than thinking about spending 30 minutes writing, try a 400-word goal. By having a manageable and achievable goal that is based on the number of words. . . you are much more likely to find that you are making productive progress. “By having a daily word count goal, you can also plan more precisely how long it will take to complete your writing task.
“The biggest problem for most writers, especially those who use a computer, is that throughout the writing process they are constantly reviewing, criticizing, and correcting everything. Most word processing programs point out grammatical inaccuracies and punctuation errors. . . It is decidedly unnecessary. The best writing tends to be one that is written freely, without being hampered by constant reviews and criticism. There will be time for them later.
IDEAS FROM THE FIELD
In his experiences of teaching adults in business, industry, and government, Dr. Tichy has discovered some rather surprising ways in which some of his “students” deal with writer’s block. She recalls: “An executive in one of our classes was convinced that a special type of cigar helped her write, and a medical writer believed her favorite scent was needed. Coffee is essential for many.
She concludes: “Habits and sensory calls that seem silly can come in handy. We know very little about the relationship of habits and senses to the writing process. If muscle actions help spellings, why shouldn’t writers experiment to see what helps them? “
Times-News columnist Ernie Mazzatenta, a resident of Hendersonville, can be contacted at [email protected]