Shedding Writer's Block
December 6, 2001 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Shedding Writer's Block 30 minute hot shower does it, but wide open to other suggestions.
posted by Voyageman (28 comments total)
Hedgebrook is a privately funded, not-for-profit artists’ community for women writers of all ages and from all cultural backgrounds. Overlooking Puget Sound on Whidbey Island in Washington a setting of meadow, forest, and garden, six cottages house individual writers.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:18 AM on December 6, 2001

Go for a walk. Wallace Stevens used to write his poems walking. "Walking is Thinking," he said. Walking creates a physiological change that can be inspiring. One catch: it can't be a walk to work or any destination you need to be in a certian time period.
posted by brucec at 6:21 AM on December 6, 2001

That would be nice place to go. Living with as many people as I do, my retreat is usually the tenuous solitude of my own thoughts.

My standard cure for writers block has always been two things.

1). Sleep. Take a pill if you can't shut your mind down. Try and get at least 8 hours of contiguous sleep. Bad thing, if I get too much, I wake up too slow-headed and miss that crucial 2-3 hours of waking time that is most productive.

2). Do a mundane and repetitive task. Wax the car, mop, wash windows, paint... whatever gets your mind dulled and working on producing a distinct and repeated pattern.

For myself, sleep often cures the anxiety and delirium that is normally induced by writers block. Since most of us procrastinate, we are operating on a sleep deficit to accomplish the work anyway, particularly if the work time sensitive and deadline intensive. Also, the waking hours following sleep can be the most inspiring and productive parts of the day for me.

The mundane and repetitive thing seems to clear the mind and establish a pattern for repeating. Thus, you tend to think of your work in a more linear fashion. Instead of a chaotic cloud of ideas crashing about in your head. You can arrange ideas in a line, rearrange them and discard them as needed. Adding new ones comes as a matter of course while doing the mundane.

Worst case, you get a shiny car and a lot of sleep.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 6:38 AM on December 6, 2001

I'll tell you the best place to write your novel: In your office. At work. Nothing spurs energy and creativity like knowing that you're blowing off important projects and deadlines to do your own writing. You write better and fiercer and more intelligently when there's something big at stake. Like your job and home and children's education.
posted by Faze at 6:41 AM on December 6, 2001

I second walking. Riding the bus is good, too. Public transportation offers a wealth of source material.
posted by jennyb at 6:47 AM on December 6, 2001

Amazingly, WriteField is still online. It offers suggestions on defeating writer's block during a time when I was suffering from writer's block. I live for irony.

I don't believe Thoreau's solution was a solution at all. Separating oneself from humanity in order to write often causes one to lose the ability to hone in on the needs and wants of one's audience, and reading Thoreau's work proves that. The man was one big ego. His prose speaks at you but never to you.

A great way to defeat writer's block is to realize that if you can't get anything out, it means there's still something missing. Going out and experiencing life and humanity often builds more fodder for the mind to mold into something interesting. Observing humanity helps. Go out to a mall and watch people. Realize that each and every person who passes you has within them a story, and try to imagine what that story is, based on what you see. Take notes.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:01 AM on December 6, 2001

Yeah, yeah, yeah - but how can you get writer's block?
ZachsMind: you're with me on this, surely!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:10 AM on December 6, 2001

You want writer's block? Well I'm sure if someone offered me a chance to make money with my writing, my well would dry up immediately due to stress and lack of self-confidence. Again, I live for irony.

So if you want writer's block, just find someone who will pay you to write. I'm sure you'd have no problem finding writer's block wrapped in a bow right next to a deadline. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 7:19 AM on December 6, 2001

Apparently you can catch it from toilet seats.

My tips: don't have a guitar in your work room. Work late at night (Walter Benjamin: "Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight."). I find it takes two or three hours to get into the zone.
posted by Mocata at 7:23 AM on December 6, 2001

i remember philip gourevitch saying he went to a retreat to write his first book, but i couldn't find where it was, although there was this conversation with him on writing.

The mundane and repetitive thing seems to clear the mind and establish a pattern for repeating.

going straight to the gutter: masturbation seems to work...
posted by kliuless at 7:25 AM on December 6, 2001

Listen to the Grateful Dead. Works for me, but I doubt anyone else.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:41 AM on December 6, 2001

Yeah, yeah, yeah - but how can you get writer's block?

MC, you are simply too well trained a writer. (Whoever hired you as an editor? What were they thinking?!?) Here's how you can get writer's block: Think about what you're writing. Ask yourself if you really want to say that, that way. Alas, 99.99 percent of the time the answer is, No....

My block is simply that I don't know what I want to say. And every time I figure something out, find some clarity, I realize, I don't need to say it anymore. I've only found one subject so compelling to me that I can't imagine that happening, but I don't yet have the skills or preparation to handle it (as a writer). I'm working on it, though.
posted by mattpfeff at 7:59 AM on December 6, 2001

Nothing has helped me kick writer's block as quickly and efficiently as having an editor throw an ashtray at me. The ideas just come whizzing in.
posted by UncleFes at 8:08 AM on December 6, 2001

I'm with lupus and Miguel -- there's no such thing as writer's block, and the Dead can cure it. Or playing pinball.
posted by muckster at 8:11 AM on December 6, 2001

You want block - here, take mine.

I do all my best thinking on the toilet. I'm considering having a keyboard installed.
posted by Neale at 8:45 AM on December 6, 2001

I don't think this article is about writer's block at all. It's about writers using isolation to keep them from procrastinating and to allow them to concentrate.
posted by bingo at 8:55 AM on December 6, 2001

Writing through writers block, no matter how godawful the results might be, is another solution. I once started a first draft of an article which was eventually published with "Okay, see, there are these homeless people, who have the problem of not knowing where to live." Yes, it's crappy. No it's not the sentiment I was going for. But having the sentence down on paper gave me a jumping off point and something to revise later when I was feeling more literate. It's easier to revise a page of crap into a page of respectable writing than to try to get it perfect the first time.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:56 AM on December 6, 2001

In Bird By Bird, Ann Lamont suggests doing short assignments -- breaking up a project into shorter pieces and getting it done that way, or doing completely unrelated bits of writing. Eventually, the juices'll get flowing again and you'll be free to write what you will.

Barring that, I find procrastinating until you have *just* enough time to get the thing done to be a great motivator.
posted by me3dia at 9:01 AM on December 6, 2001

i used to get writers block very badly during my time at university. i found the best solution was to go to the library and just copy someone else's work.

either that, or crack one out.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:07 AM on December 6, 2001

I used to think I was blocked
When I get writer's block
The thing about writer's block

First step - logout from MetaFilter.
posted by liam at 9:10 AM on December 6, 2001

Second step -- log in to MetaFilter. Sometimes writing about (or thinking about, since I don't post comments very often) something I've happened upon via MetaFilter helps banish writer's block. Sometimes not. Like now, for example.
posted by Badmichelle at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2001

I also liked Hemingway's habit of always stopping at a point where he knew what to say next -- so, every time he sat down to write, he was able to get started again, and never had to start cold. (He wrote about it in A Moveable Feast.)
posted by mattpfeff at 9:16 AM on December 6, 2001

I'll second the motion that simply keeping the pen (or cursor or typewriter keys) moving is the best way through writer's block. A good part of writing is reactive rather than creative (hey -- they're anagrams!) -- you see how two words or images or ideas set against each other, and you use your writing to respond to it (or explain it, or obfuscate it). And none of it is permanent. You're welcome to burn your first drafts if you like.

Also, try accident. Pick two words from the dictionary at random and make them work together. Works sometimes.
posted by argybarg at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2001

I have found a deadline to do wonders, especially after I've missed it.
posted by kindall at 9:54 AM on December 6, 2001

Sex and alcohol. Not in that order.
posted by raaka at 4:11 PM on December 6, 2001

I go running.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 4:13 PM on December 6, 2001

For a year or so I've been keeping a book of strange words and phrases that I run across through my day. It actually started as a song-lyric-writing book, until I discovered my skills in that realm were piss-poor. So the book just degenerated into a note-taking and stream-of-consciousness exercise.

One page reads as follows: "lawn gnome, ibis, noon paoug, orse crvico, you can't take the opera out of operations, sijniflcant, prison soap-drop passion, gunner peterson (old postmaster of Tyler, MN), skulduggery, jackalope, hobo jerky, seed crystal."

The ideas have no immediate use, beyond the bizarre images they trigger. Some allow themselves elaboration, some are best left alone. All remind me that there is stuff out there that's inspiring.
posted by Dane at 7:59 PM on December 6, 2001

I like writing on the bus, subway. That way I'm not stuck in the same place all the time, while still being able to sit down and be relatively warm.
posted by ookamaka at 8:56 PM on December 6, 2001

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