7 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
A would-be teacher was assigned to tutor a boy who was not just reluctant, not just resistant, but actually hostile to reading. The first day, the tutor took the boy aside and asked him to read the first sentence of a book. The boy did so, slowly, haltingly, but he reached the end without much difficulty.
Before he had a chance to throw up his hands and go into his “I can’t read!” act, however, the tutor stopped him, thanked him, and brought him back to his classroom. The next day, the student was permitted to read only two or three sentences before his tutor stopped him. This pattern continued for only a few days before the boy asked to be able to continue reading.
What is this, the chorus-of-angels moment in a mawkish TV movie? No, it’s a true story, and it’s an intriguing idea for writers as well as readers (and the first of these seven tips): If you have writer’s block, sit down and write one sentence. One sentence. Even if you want to keep going. The next time, allow yourself two sentences. The third day, stop after three sentences.
Avoid the urge to leap to an impressive word count right away. Try for 100, 200, then 300 words. Only then, after about a week, should you set a more ambitious goal.
2. Establish a consistent schedule that you fail to keep only in the case of an emergency. You have commitments and responsibilities, certainly, but if you can watch TV or surf online or exercise each day, you can write each day. Do it on your lunch hour or during your commute if you have to, but do it.
3. Commit to achieving a word count, not persevering for a certain amount of time. Try for 500 words, and then ramp up to 1,000 if you feel up to it. Those counts may not seem much, but at those rates, you can write a substantial article or a short story in a week or two, a short nonfiction book in a month, a novel in a season. (Revision is another matter, and another post.) If your writing requires ongoing research, cut the actual word count in half (and do the writing first), or set aside a given number of days a week to just fact finding.
4. Don’t rewrite until you’re done. If your project is a book, give each chapter a single pass but then move on, and don’t review it again until the entire manuscript is done.
5. There’s no law that says you have to write something in the order in which it will be read. Sketch the beginning and the end, whether it’s an essay or a novel, but tackle the parts you’re itching to get to first. But don’t evade troublesome or onerous sections by repeatedly reworking completed portions.
6. Juggle more than one project. If you weary of one article or story or book, give it a rest and run with another one for a while.
7. Remember the only readership that matters: You. Your goal is not to write the greatest article or poem for how-to guide or epic novel ever created. Your goal is to satisfy yourself. Author Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” And you must do so because you want to read it. If anybody else does, too, that’s just icing on the cake.
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