Famous Authors on Writer's Block
One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is how I deal with writer's block/getting stuck. I have a few methods, but I also googled some other authors to see what ingenious ideas they might have. (Please note: I do not put myself on the same level as any of them, nor am I "famous." But I needed a title for this list.)
- •Me: Go for a runIf I ever find myself stuck, I get up from my desk, plug in my headphones and either go for a run or a walk. It is solitary time that allows my mind to wander - and it is some of the only time in my day when no one can reach me or ask anything of me, and inevitably, it helps me resolve the blank space on the page.
- •Me (part 2): Put Down Your PhoneIMO, to write well and be fruitful with your ideas, you have to have a clear brain. Too often, we are willingly distracted by technology, social media and the like. You have to be willing to separate yourself from all that noise to allow new ideas in.
- •Nick HornbyI listened to a @nerdist podcast a while ago with Hornby, and he said that when he's stuck, he turns to a table in his office to focus on a jigsaw puzzle, which allows just enough concentration to distract him but still keep his mind churning. I think this is genius. (And confession: I do this a bit with Candy Crush, which does the same thing for me.)
- •Neil GaimanI found this quote on Shortlist: "Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time."
- •Ernest HemingwayAlso from Shortlist: ""The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time." (Not to compare myself to EH but I do this do: literally stop in the middle of a scene - it helps.)
- •Stephen KingKing doesn't often suffer from block himself, but in his On Writing book, he recommends adding conflict/struggle whenever one stumbles upon blank mental space. I agree and do the same. By adding in a problem, you inevitably have to write your character out of it, and this adds new momentum.
- •Hilary MantelFlavorwire offers this quote (which I agree with: related: PUT DOWN YOUR PHONES): “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
- •Anne LamottIn Bird by Bird, Lamott suggests writing 300 words a day - about anything. The thought being that as long as you're flexing your muscles, you're keeping your writing self in shape and eventually, something will unlock in you.
- •JK Rowling (Minesweeper master)(I don't know that this addresses "block," but like Hornby, it gives her brain a break): ""In the bad old days, when I wanted a few minutes' break while writing, I used to light up a cigarette. I gave up smoking in the year 2000 and now chew a lot of gum instead (hence the state of my desk). However, chewing a bit of gum does not give you an excuse for a nice little brain-resting break, so instead I like to escape the complexities of the latest plot by playing a quick game of Minesweeper."
- •Jodie FosterI realize she's not an "author," but she is a creative type, and I just listened to a fantastic @nerdist podcast, in which she talks about the importance of removing all the clutter from her life to help her creative side. I do this too. For me, it's SO critical to have a neat desk, an ordered office. It lends to non-distraction and helps focus. It's no coincidence that authors purge their office to purge their minds.
- •Susan OrleanDo your homework. Orlean told the @washingtonpost: "I also think if you’ve got writer’s block, you don’t have writer’s block. You have reporter’s block. You only are having trouble writing because you don’t actually yet know what you’re trying to say, and that usually means you don’t have enough information. That’s the signal to walk away from the keyboard, think about what it is that you don’t really know yet, and go do that reporting."
- •Kate Atkinson"I work at home, so I'll move around to different rooms to alleviate the boredom. [laughs] Being in the same place has an odd effect on your brain. When I'm in the really fretful stage, then I either go away somewhere or I take to my bed. Rather like Elizabeth Barrett Browning or something! If I put headphones on and ignore everything in bed, that is remarkably good at focusing."
- •Tom PerrottaPerrotta told the Financial Times: "I retype, or rewrite in longhand, what I already have." (Similar to Gaiman's smart advice.)
- •Liane Moriarty"Sometimes when I’m stuck, I really do need that cup of tea, or that chocolate, or a break, or a walk, but in most cases what I actually need to do is make myself keep writing until it flows again. I’ve always found this hard to accept because it’s counter-intuitive, like when people say you should exercise harder to cure a stitch. (Although, I don’t believe that at all. Stop! Rest!)" - per Writer's Digest. In other words: JUST WRITE!