Five Slightly Unorthodox Ways To Overcome Writer’s Block

Like any aspiring writer, I’ve read at least a dozen different articles and books addressing the oft-cursed, little-understood Writer’s Block.

Most of these articles are quasi-inspirational, useful, and even insightful. But after reading one, you’ve basically read them all. Most of the suggestions are universally echoed: follow a schedule, believe in yourself, make a painting.

So what follows are a few suggestions that I’ve never seen on any such list.

1) Take An Improv Class

Improvisational Theater is an art form that requires very little space, very little prior experience, and an insane amount of flexible creativity. This is the art of making something up right now, right away, with other people. In Improv, every scene is essentially a case of Writer’s Block, and it’s your job to overcome it instantly. Learning how to do this on a stage or in a Community Theater classroom can severely improve your ability to do it on paper.

But wait, you say, I’m a pseudo-stereotypical writer. I’m incredibly introverted and shy and I don’t like being the center of attention, or acting, or playing Charades in social situations. To you, I say, get over it. Most class venues are extremely low-pressure, overly inclusive, and are completely fine with someone just taking a beginning class to try it out. And of course you want to be the center of attention, because you’re writer.

2) Throw It Away

Writer’s Block may just be your own subliminal mind telling you that what you’ve written isn’t really all that good. And that it may even be a waste of time. If you’re not excited about writing it, no one is going to be excited about reading it.

Now, before you start screaming at me about how Stephen King once threw away Carrie before getting it published, listen to what I’m really trying to say. I’m not telling you to throw away your nearly-completed novel because the chapter that sets up the emotional climax has difficult dialogue. I’m not saying to delete your only file or burn your only manuscript. I’m saying that most published writers have a folder that houses all of their unused ideas. It’s possible that the idea that you’re forcing yourself to write needs to be an unused idea.

If it doesn’t stay in that unused folder for very long, because you just have to write it, congratulations, you’ve overcome Writer’s Block.

And keep in mind that many excellent ideas began life as two separate and mediocre ideas. Orson Scott Card is notorious for combining two concepts that could each be stories in and of themselves.

3) Write A Character Instead Of A Story

This is just what it sounds like. Invent a character with absolutely no intention of using that character in any other context. And I’m not talking about the old acting exercise where thespians create useless backstory for their stage characters (i.e. The frosting on the cake for her seventh birthday was chocolate with red sprinkles). Because no one watches Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and says, “Wow, you could really tell that Maggie’s seventh birthday was a happy one. That really came through, because you could see it in her eyes.” I’m talking about creating an original character. A one hundred and fifty-year-old woman. A time-traveling monk. An ultra-normal mother of three. A bus driver that has a degree in Applied Thermonuclear Physics.

Tom Stoppard has said of The Real Inspector Hound that he originally had no idea how the play was going to end. Essentially, (and I’m paraphrasing here) he just put all of the characters in one room and watched what happened. The great thing about writing a character instead of a story is that Writer’s Block is almost impossible. Either you have a character, or you don’t.

As an optional exercise, take the characters you do have, extract them from their stories, and see how they measure up to the ones you just created.

4) Watch A Movie You Have Never Seen Before In A Language You Do Not Understand

When I was in High School, we had a TV with only a rickety antenna, which left us with roughly six viable channels. Three of these six channels were in Spanish, and they were the only ones that came in with any consistent clarity. So I’ve done this several times.

The most interesting thing about this exercise is that your mind creates dialogue and a basic story, despite you having no idea what the story is actually about. Eventually, you start to realize what you hope the story will be about, and what you hope will happen, and what you want the characters to be saying. Most of the time, this exercise is just entertainment. I once watched the movie Simon Sez in Spanish, which featured Dennis Rodman, and an as-yet-undiscovered Dane Cook. It was one of the most unique things I have ever experienced. But it can also help you learn what kinds of things you want to see when it isn’t exactly certain what you’re seeing. And this, in a very roundabout way, can help with Writer’s Block.

5) Starve Yourself

I don’t mean that literally. Or maybe I do.

What I really mean is, figure out something that you like to do more than writing. No matter how great, or prolific, or dedicated the writer, everyone has something. Most of the time, that thing is just more attractive because it’s easier than writiing. For me, it’s usually videogames.

So the new rule is that you’re not allowed to do that thing until you’ve completed a certain amount of writing. No exceptions. Wait, you say. I saw something kind of like this in another essay on Writer’s Block. This isn’t even close to unorthodox.

Find something you love. And kill it. Unless you write. Break off your engagement to your girlfriend of five years. Unless you finish your book. Put down your beloved Golden Retreiver. Unless you finish that epic poem. Buy tickets to see that band’s final show before they break up forever, and do not go. Until that screenplay that you’ve been telling people about for the last five years is actually sitting in front of you.

Don’t actually break up with your Golden Retreiver. Or do. I’m just saying. I bet you’ll finish that short story.

So there are a few more things to throw into the ‘cliched writing advice’ pile. But that’s all I’m going to say about it. Because now I actually have to go write something.

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