How I Get Out of a Writing Slum – And You Could Do It Too

Writer’s Block. If you’ve ever dabbled in writing, you’re bound to encounter moments where you struggle to even get a proper sentence on a page. You might be tempted to rewrite that sentence (or even a single word) over and over again because it just doesn’t feel right. Or, you might not even think the sentence is worth writing down.

So, imagine this: you are staring at an empty page for hours on end. You’ve been writing for six hours now and you haven’t gotten a single word down. You think you would be lucky to even get half a page down before you retire for the night. You reach out and put your fingers on the keys.

But you just can’t get the wording right. You just can’t frame it right. You just can’t express the thought in the way that you want. You write down a word and then you immediately press backspace. You think for a moment, then you write down a sentence. You keep going. You have about two-hundred and thirty words written–then, you stop. You stare at what you wrote. You frown. You press Ctrl+A and then you press backspace.

Your document is blank again. You close the writing application and decide that you’re better off spending the night watching Netflix.

Hits a bit too close to home? Don’t worry. You’re not alone.

As someone who started writing in 2012, I can say I have faced my fair share of the dreaded Writer’s Block. At first, I succumbed to it. I didn’t write when I felt like I was in a writing slum. I lounged around and did other things. Then, one day, I’d get bored enough to unclog my mind and creativity. That was how I dealt with my writer’s block for the first few times.

Then, when I started my undergraduate degree, I realized I can’t afford to lounge around lest I wish to fail every single one of my courses. I did have a mild case of writer’s block during my first year, first semester. I told my teacher about this and he said, and I quote, “There’s no such thing as a writer’s block. Just write.”

At first, I was offended. You’re a creative person, too, teach. You should know that there are days where the pen just won’t flow across the page. It just happens. But the more I thought about it, as I am forced to write, the more realized that there might be a nugget of truth in what he said.

To rephrase his sentence into something easier on the ears, what he meant was, “Just keep writing.”

I know it’s easier said than done, but it worked for me. During my first year, second semester, I was hit with by far the worst case of writer’s block I’ve had. I couldn’t get a single word down on a page without fear that it wasn’t good enough. Luckily enough for me, I managed to get past the second semester but I did stop writing for myself. I applied for a summer job.

While I had things to do at the job, they didn’t give me enough to do. I spent most of my time just sitting in front of the work computer because they can’t afford to give the temporary employee anything more “confidential” than PowerPoint presentations.

It was more than just boring. I was melting into the seat. I decided to do what I do best. I started to write again.

I made the Word document as small as I can. I zoomed out of the page and made the font a size 8. I could barely see what I was writing and half the time, I had to pretend I was looking at something else while I just let my fingers glide across the keyboard.

And, you know what? It worked wonders for me. When I can’t see what the hell I’m writing, I won’t be tempted to go back and edit. I would finish the writing, send it back to myself via e-mail, and then I’d review it once I get home. That usually meant I got a four hour gap between finishing the piece and re-reading it. When I finally get to re-read the piece, I would see that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

That’s how I managed to churn out two pieces or more a day. I was the most productive I’ve ever been and I’m having trouble matching my progress of that summer ever since.

It’s easier to edit a page of “crap” than it is to edit a blank page.

After that, a thought stuck to me. My writing was never crap, it was just my inner critic that’s telling me it’s not good enough. But I never allowed myself to properly review what I’ve written to know that it was actually crap. Even it is, it would be easier to edit a “crappy” draft than it is to edit nothing.

You should just let yourself write. Don’t look back on what you wrote, make the document so small (or big) that you can only see two lines at a time. If you just let the words flow, you’ll be able to reach the word count or the natural end that you’ve been aiming for in no time. You might think it’s crap the moment you put the words down, but give it an hour or so to breathe, then when you go back to read it, maybe you’ll see that it’s not as bad as you thought.

This is the method I discovered that worked best for me, but everyone is different so don’t worry if this doesn’t work out for you. There are other methods were recommended to me by others and I’ve tried. They all say it worked for them, though I can’t say they helped me with getting over my writer’s block.

One such exercise is called the “stream of consciousness.” It’s the same concept where you would just write what’s in your mind without pause. It’s supposed to trick your brain into the habit of just writing without going back and editing, which would aid you in further writings in the future.

I find that exercise hard to do as there are times where my mind is just blank. I have no thoughts to write down. Or, my thoughts are too sad for me to face them. However, if you feel so inclined, you can give it a go. I also suggest a “mindfulness” session to probe deeper into your thoughts.

Recently, I have discovered a new study technique called the Pomodoro Technique. Wikipedia describes it as the following:

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.

Pomodoro Technique. Wikipedia

The technique, as well as the peer pressure of everyone else around me working, has forced me into writing moods. The timer pressures me into getting work done within the time limit, which we have extended from 25 minutes to 50 minutes, and it eventually leads to actually productive sessions. I also find that it’s helpful to do it in a group, as the peer pressure and the fear of standing out is always a great motivation to just hunker down and avoid social stigma.

My study group has also taken my idea of writing a short piece revolving around a single word. I got the idea from oneword.com. We found a list of single word prompts and we pick two for each week, allowing people freedom to choose from one or the other to allow for maximum creativity. Sometimes, the prompts lead us to places we would never think to go to, as well as an opportunity to try genres and ideas that we never had the chance to. I find that it’s very helpful in getting our–or my–creative juices flowing and I always look forward to those sessions.

I’ve also found that I am able to start writing again after reading my favorite writer’s works. If I ever find myself in a lapse of creativity or ideas, I just go read two or three of Raymond Carver’s short stories and I’m good to go. I am fascinated with the idea of making the mundane interesting, which Carver’s writings are mostly about. I’ve spent hours reading and rereading about a man sitting in his living room and drawing a cathedral without looking. The inspiration and the desire to be like Carver is what drives me into a creative spur.

Perhaps you can revisit childhood favorite books, or go to classics. If you can’t think of any, it doesn’t hurt to give Raymond Carver a shot. I also recommend reading Ernest Hemingway’s stories. Of course, it’s completely up to you.

And that’s how I get over being in a writing slum. I just keep writing, or I look for inspirational works that jog me into a writing mode. So, get inspired, get writing.

Anything is better than nothing.

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