January 2, 2017

Fight writer's block with this simple trick

I accidentally made a useful discovery last year. I'm still thrilled this actually works!

I have a recurrent problem with writer's block. I've spent many an unproductive hour (or evening) alternately staring at the blinking cursor on a blank page and checking Facebook status updates on my phone. And while I should probably try to limit my Facebook time (I'm not ready to quit cold turkey!), it's not the sole cause of evil here; I suffered from intermittent bouts of writer's block long before Facebook existed.

Writer's block is a complex phenomenon; depending on the person, it can take different forms and have various causes. I'm very much a perfectionist, so the fear of producing weak, substandard content is an important factor in my case. Since childhood, I've been taught firmly to value quality over quantity, and I'm pretty sure that I take this approach too far at times. My inner quality inspector* is programmed to say "Don't write junk", but in practice his message often translates into "I won't let you write anything today because you MIGHT write junk". Not good!

So how do I trick this pesky guy into shutting up and letting me write?

I used to do 95% of my writing on an offline laptop, but last year, while practicing writing short essays in German for the Goethe Zertifikat C1 exam, I unexpectedly discovered that I become much less prone to writer's block when I write by hand. It doesn't work as well with fiction, but drafting a quick blog post anywhere, anytime has suddenly become super easy! 

I use loose sheets of paper, rather than a notebook, because my writing style makes notebooks look awfully messy (I'll often cross out a phrase, write another one, cross it out, think for a moment and rewrite the first phrase...) To make things worse, whenever I get stuck on a sentence, I'll mindlessly doodle faces all over the page! A sheet filled with messy writing and crossed-out sentences can simply be tossed away after I've retyped the text on my computer, doing a bit of editing here and there.

If you're like me, and a blank page in Word makes you feel stuck and paralyzed, try my trick. Turn off your laptop or PC, take a sheet of paper and a pen, focus your thoughts for a moment and begin writing. Some people find it useful to have a timer on hand and work in 20-minute increments (I don't routinely do this, though). If writing by hand works for you, it'll also help cut down the time you spend in front of a computer screen.

Below is a photo of my notes for a blog post. I think I may deserve the Pigpen Prize for the messiest drafts ever; these pages are by far not my worst!

Do you have a problem with writer's block? How do you tackle it? Have you ever tried writing by hand? Has it helped you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

*) Not the same personage as my inner critic. The latter is so overactive, overbearing and demanding that I find it almost impossible to work with him, and usually do my best to tune him out... but that's another story.

No comments:

Post a Comment