How I beat the worst writers block ever – twice

I was stuck. On page one.

Life stuff had hal­ted my writ­ing for months but today was the day I’d re­claim my real life. The only prob­lem was noth­ing got bet­ter after the first page. In fact, the first ten chapters of the nov­el I was work­ing on prob­ably con­tained the worst words I’d ever written.

It was like get­ting into a brand new, shiny red Mercedes with black leath­er seats and then hav­ing a fis­sure crack open on all sides of the vehicle with no way over it.

I stewed, fret­ted and cursed. But no mat­ter how much I stared at the page, I couldn’t get past this road­b­lock. Usually, a walk on the beach or in the woods clears the way for cre­ativ­ity. But there seemed no way back into this story.

In my 30+ years of writ­ing, I’d nev­er been this stuck be­fore. It was like ter­min­al con­stip­a­tion of the brain.

Finally, Harold Macy, a friend and writ­ing col­league since my wanna be a writer days, told me to ditch start­ing at the be­gin­ning of the story and to just dive in any­where. Another long­time writ­ing friend, Caroline Woodward, said she was go­ing to write 1,000 words a day for a month. I wondered if I could too.

Following Harold’s ad­vice, I chose the cli­max of my story — where there was plenty of ac­tion and ex­cite­ment — as my re-entry point to the nov­el. The en­ergy was palp­able and work­ing back­wards was eye-open­ing. I couldn’t re­mem­ber if I’d set up events in pre­vi­ous chapters so it was al­ways a sur­prise. It was al­most like read­ing a book in­stead of writ­ing one.

One thou­sand words a day – or even more – no prob­lem. I was elated!

Then I got to chapter 10 and the red Mercedes screeched to a halt. The first third of the book still sucked. I felt like the guy in this photo — lots of ideas and all bad, bad, bad.

I was back where I star­ted. But in­stead of a crevice, the Andes Mountains had sprung up in the road and there was no way over, through or around them.  The prob­lem was, I still really liked the story and didn’t want to aban­don it.

I felt like a fail­ure and wondered if I should give up writ­ing. Be con­tent with what I’d already ac­com­plished. But, if I didn’t write, what would I do?

Then Derrick, a tai chi buddy, told me a story about one of his wife’s cats. I’m not a cat per­son but the couple’s struggle with Sophie stuck in my mind. A few days later I watched a 2003 Russian com­ing of age film, The Return.

A scruffy, doped up cat and two young boys ad­just­ing to the re­turn of their fath­er was all it took. The moun­tains crumbled to dust and the Mercedes roared to life. I wrote a pro­logue and totally re­vised chapter one. The mo­mentum kept up for re­vi­sions of the fol­low­ing chapters. After months of angst, I was writ­ing again. And lov­ing it.

So, what did I learn about deal­ing with a double whammy of a writ­ing logjam?

-Be open to find­ing in­spir­a­tion any­where, on a bus, in the gro­cery store or in between moves on a check­er board.

-Set writ­ing goals and stick to them. The act of writ­ing it­self can shake some­thing loose.

-Approach your story from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent angle, try work­ing back­wards, in­tro­du­cing a new char­ac­ter or chan­ging a character’s point of view.

-Don’t be shy about shar­ing your woes and listen­ing to suggestions.

-And per­haps most im­port­antly, if you be­lieve in your story, don’t give up.


Feature im­age cred­it: iStock 1085064170 Moussa81




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