B.C.E.(Before the computer era!) writer's block buried your muse under a pile of wrinkled paper and left you bemused.
The word bemused must have been coined by a blocked writer. Its synonyms are synonymous with writer's block: addled, muddled, overwhelmed, paralyzed, perplexed. These are the feelings writers get when they convince themselves they can't write.
Writer's block happens when the muse you depend on to spark your imagination has gone strangely silent.
- You can‘t think of a single thing to write about today.
- You have a topic, but are clueless as to how to develop it.
- You can‘t keep your topic on-topic.
- Your content isn‘t as long as you‘d like it to be.
Pull out those writer's blocks by using a few timeworn, yet timely tips.
Write about what's on your mind.
How did Beethoven start a symphony? Did he sit down and write a symphony from beginning to end or did he start with just those few haunting notes that permeated his consciousness? What happened to those notes in the finished symphony? Did they begin the piece or did they end up somewhere in the middle or even at the end? Or did Beethoven finally delete them from the finished work?
What happened to those first notes isn‘t really important. What is important is that just a few notes, or a phrase that spanned a few musical bars might have resulted in a symphony that has lasted for centuries.
Many times, a major impediment to writing isn‘t coming up with a topic; it‘s coming up with the title. Yet, just because the title heads your piece doesn‘t mean you have to choose it before you start writing the body.
What's on your mind right now? It might be the very thing that is keeping you from writing. Write down your first thought about it, no matter how short, ill constructed, or trivial it seems to you. It doesn't matter how you build around it. In fact it doesn't matter if it ends up in the final work at all. Look at this phrase like a Jenga piece. It may be integral to your completed tower or it may be a removable, inconsequential, even disposable block.
Let Your Thoughts Develop Your Topic
Hamlet‘s Soliloquy starts with the famous “To be or not to be“, but are those the words that inspired Shakespeare or was it maybe these bold words: “To sleep, perchance to dream; Ay, there‘s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come...“(1)
Although little is documented about the life of Shakespeare, one documented fact is that his only son, Hamnet (not a misspelling) died at the age of 11 in 1595. Is it a coincidence that Hamlet was written four to five years later?(2) Was Shakespeare perhaps contemplating his own mortality or wondering about the afterlife of his son?
Again, what is important is not what inspired Shakespeare. What is important is that he used his thoughts, perhaps random thoughts about his own life, to create a masterpiece.
Once you've written that first thought down, let your thoughts take you where they will. It‘s surprising the amount of content you can generate when you write naturally, as your thoughts flow. Don‘t worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling. Don‘t even worry about organization. You can edit and organize later. For now, just write.
Sometimes writng is just like life. It isn’t the destination that is important; it’s the journey. Your story might take on a life of its own. When that happens, the best thing you can do is let it breath.
Michelangelo is remembered for saying that the work of sculpting was simply a matter of chipping away the marble that was not meant to be a part of the statue. ”Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it” and “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”(3)
It could be that when (and if) his chisel slipped and gave David that extra curl or his Angel an extra dimple in his tunic, Michelangelo believed that the wayward chip of marble wasn‘t meant to be there in the first place.
Don‘t be afraid to let your chisel slip from time to time and don‘t throw out the whole block of marble if it does. Could be that an extra curl is just what your content needs.
Know When to Quit
Even those hard-to-start pieces have to end somewhere.
At some point, you will have said all you have to say. It‘s time to organize, edit, and choose a title if you need one. After you‘ve finished, you may look at your content in complete dismay, believing it‘s too short. Go through one more time and look for spots where you can add keyword phrases or replace pronouns with nouns. Find what is unclear and clarify it.
In Lincoln‘s Gettysburg address, he says, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here.“ How wrong he was! In just 272 words, he developed a concept that has lasted well beyond four score and seven years.
Yet, contrary to legend, Lincoln didn‘t write the Gettysburg address on the back of an envelope while traveling by train en route to Gettysburg. There are five known drafts of Lincoln‘s Gettysburg address, each about as long as the others.(4) He honed his content to say precisely what he wanted to leave with his audience.
So with that, I‘ll end this long treatise in hopes that I‘ve given you some good tips on how to smash through writer‘s block.
- “‘To Be Or Not To Be’ - Hamlet’s Soliloquy by Shakespeare.” 2014. Accessed October 30. http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/quotes/hamlet-to-be-or-not-to-be/.
- “The Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet by Stephen Greenblatt | The New York Review of Books.” 2014. Accessed October 30. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2004/oct/21/the-death-of-hamnet-and-the-making-of-hamlet/.
- “Michelangelo Quotes.” 2014. Accessed October 30. http://www.emichelangelo.org/quotes.jsp.
- “Virtual Gettysburg-The Gettysburg Address.” 2014. Accessed October 30. http://www.virtualgettysburg.com/exhibit/lincoln/feature.html.