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GETTING OVER WRITER’S BLOCK



I used to get writer’s block. Not always but there were times when I got so stuck that I abandoned the story I was writing in frustration. That changed after I got a job with a cable TV network’s creative services department. The main thing I did was write and produce thirty second videos called promos. They aired during commercial breaks and promoted upcoming movies on the network. The promos had to be entertaining enough to get viewers interested in watching the movie and informative so that viewers would know when to watch the movie. I loved the job. It was creative and I got to write for a living.


The promos aired before the movie did because there was no reason to tell viewers about a movie after it aired. That meant I had to hit a deadline. I was assigned at least six movies every month to promote which meant a lot of promos and a lot of deadlines. It was an amazingly stressful job considering how low the stakes were. Nobody was going to die if my promos didn’t air. But if my promos didn’t air on time, the network would replace me with someone else. I couldn’t afford to have writer’s block.


Out of necessity, I learned techniques to help me get past writer’s block. I hope you find them useful.


WRITE DOWN BAD IDEAS.

While brainstorming on a script, I would think of ideas that I knew wouldn’t work and would try to ignore them. But that just made the bad ideas stick around in my head. I found that if I wrote them down on a legal pad or in a word doc, then it was out of my head, and I could move on to the next idea. Sometimes the bad idea inspired a better idea. And sometimes, I would realize that the bad idea was actually not a bad idea if I looked at it from a different angle.

 

LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

Voltaire is credited with the aphorism, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Trying to write something perfect, which is impossible, keeps you from writing something good. Even though I knew this, I would still catch myself trying to write something perfect. Then I lowered my expectations and just tried to write something good. For me, it was a relief. I didn’t have to write the best story ever told. I just had to tell a good story.

 

ALLOW YOURSELF THE TERRIBLE FIRST DRAFT.

I got this from Anne Lamott’s writing guide Bird by Bird though she used a different word than terrible. Similar to lowering your expectations, acknowledging that the first draft is probably going to be terrible freed me to concentrate on getting the story on the page. Once I had a story written down, I could make it better on the second and third draft.

 

TALK ABOUT IT.

Some writers don’t feel comfortable telling someone what they are working on before it’s done. Some writers believe someone might try to steal their idea. However, it helps to talk about your story especially if you’re stuck. Find someone you trust who will be honest, constructive, and considerate. Telling them the story and discussing where you hit a wall in the narrative will help you get past your writer’s block.


When I was working on Always Agnes, I talked to a friend of mine about it. He had been my creative director when I worked for Cartoon Network Latin America, so we were used to discussing story ideas. I told him how Always Agnes was going to end but I couldn’t decide on the best way to get to the end. Instead of talking about the part I was blocked on, he suggested a different ending. I realized he was right. That was what the ending should be and once I had the right ending, I knew exactly how to get there. His suggestion not only got me past my writer’s block, but it also made Always Agnes a much better story.


WRITE NON-LINEAR.

Don’t feel like you have to write the story in order starting with chapter one and going until you get to the end. If there’s a part of the story that is on your mind, write it. Thinking about that chapter may be what’s causing your writer’s block. Get it out of your head and down on the page. The first time I wrote non-linear, I felt like I was cheating, but having that chapter done helped me better understand the chapters that were going to come before and after it.

 

PUT IT ASIDE…FOR NOW.

I have a lot of stories I started but then put aside because I just wasn’t ready to tell that story. I need at least a year to write a novel sometimes longer. That means I’m going to have a long-term relationship with that story. It sounds like I’m dating the story and in some ways I am. Writing a story is an intimate act. Sometimes I realize I’m not ready to make the commitment to that particular story and I move onto one I am ready to write. Then later, when I’m ready, I dust off the one I put aside and write it. The time away will also give you a fresh perspective on the story.

 

There is one drawback to NOT having writer’s block, though it’s not really a drawback. Now that I don’t suffer from writer’s block, I have tons of story ideas. I come up with new ideas all the time. I write them all down even it’s something ridiculous like Pool Shark Monkeys. Why are they pool sharks? They need the money to buy bananas. Some ideas, like that one, I will write down and go no further. But some of the story ideas I write down, like Always Agnes, eventually become novels.


Happy writing.

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