More tips for breaking up writer’s block

August 25, 2009 at 10:17 am Leave a comment

In my last post, I discussed two strategies for beating writer’s block: starting anywhere and brainstorming. These techniques for getting something, anything down on paper lead directly to my next strategy, which is…

Let it be crap. Too often when we write, the desire for perfection is hounding us. We expect the words in our head to flow onto the computer screen fully realized and shining with precision. After all, haven’t we thought about our research enough? Putting the words down should be easy.

Alas, it isn’t, not for nobody, no how – and yet, we cling to the possibility that we’ll be the first. That’s why I think perfectionism is the number one cause of writer’s block. It certainly is for me. I don’t want to see a bunch of awkward, stiff, embarrassing sentences dribble from my pen. I want excellence right off the bat, and if I can’t be excellent, then I sit and sweat, or get up and avoid the task altogether. It’s understandable – no one likes to witness a train wreck, least of all one of her own making. But being squeamish about making a mess also doesn’t get one very far.

So in the name of progress, let your writing be bad, bad, bad – as bad as it needs to be to get the job done. I’m not going to lie: This can be uncomfortable. But try to be okay with the discomfort; don’t run away. Then, once you’ve written some crap for a while, you’ll read it over, spot a few pearls in amongst all the tidal wrack, and start cleaning it up. You’ll rearrange, you’ll cut, you’ll rephrase, you’ll augment, and pretty soon, the entire piece will be much closer to pearly white.

Time yourself. When actor and filmmaker Woody Allen famously said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” he could easily have been talking about writing. In other words, if you can plunk yourself down at the keyboard for even a short period, often the words begin to flow on their own. So, make a deal with yourself to write for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, a half hour, every day. Then buy a timer and stick to it, even if on some days you do nothing more than stare into space.

I’m guessing that if you can get yourself to show up, you’ll end up writing for longer than your original time limit. But don’t count on it, especially if you’re really blocked. And tempting as it might be to increase the time period after a good day, keep to your original goal for at least a week, so that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself and burn out again. It’s like running. When you’re trying to motivate yourself to run regularly by sticking to a mere one to two miles per day, you don’t suddenly increase to five simply because of one good outing. You stay at one or two for awhile, because the point is just to keep heading out the door every day.

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Entry filed under: Getting started.

Don’t get stopped by writer’s block How to write a good abstract

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