Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writer's Block: Beating the Block

It's happened again. You pull up your chair and park yourself behind your desk, place your fingers at F and J and wait. You wait for the ideas to sprout, the words to flow, and the thoughts to spring forth. Get it comes...nothing.

Okay...So you move a few things around, file that receipt, take a sip of coffee. I can do this. I'm a writer. Writers write. So write something already, numbskull.

You check your email, take another gulp of your coffee, which is still warm so you must not be doing too badly, and place your fingers back on the keyboard. Nothing. I'm finished. I'll never be a writer. I can't even get one word down on the page. My writing will be limited to the family Christmas letter and Facebook status updates.

Writer's Block, that gremlin lurking in the back of every writer's mind. Last month we talked about the first type of blockage that stops a writer's fingers in his/her tracks--Writer's Bloat. Click here to read. Reviewing quickly, Writer's Bloat is when the writer has too much information but not enough plan to start the actual writing process. The writer simply needs some focus to battle back from the edge of despair.

The definition of Writer's Block according to is "a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work". This is the good, old-fashioned version of staring at the blank screen or page. So what's a guy or gal to do?

Here are a few proven tactics to get you back on the road to The End:

1. Pray. Thank God for bringing you this far in your current work. Thank Him for giving you words and ask Him to speak His message through you. Ask God to calm your heart and focus your thoughts. Ask Him to show you any reason He might not want you to proceed. Could you be on a path He doesn't want this particular work to go? Possibly God wants you to leave your characters behind for today and minister to some real flesh-and-blood people? Colossians 3:15 says, Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."

2. Get physical. Olivia Newton John aside, our body is like complex machinery. If we don't take care of it, it can't take care of us. Are you getting adequate rest? Are you eating healthy snacks between those meals of chocolate? (Kidding..sort of...) Are you exercising at least a little each day? Are you getting out to enjoy God's creation? Studies show that as little as five minutes outdoors increases self-confidence and vitality.

3. Read. Read something you enjoy to "prime the pump," to use a cliche. Read a book on craft or even one devoted to writer's block. Study a specific topic such as characterization or setting, and then go back to a previously completed section of your WIP and apply what you've learned. Chances are that once you start writing, the momentum will carry you past the blockage.

4. Write. Sometimes our writing becomes difficult out of doubt or fear. Write something you know you can finish with success: your grocery list, an email, a blog entry. Not only will your time be put to good use, you will have completed a task and written something successfully. Or change things up a bit in your WIP. Add a new character, seek to write something wacky, unusual, or out of the ordinary in a scene. Think of something silly or crazy that you've seen, read, or heard about and see if you can work it in. Writing in a unique way may get your creative juicing flowing again. You can always edit it out later if it doesn't work.

5. Exercise your brain. Last month I introduced you to Brain Gym movements ( Try these exercises the next time you are stuck:

A. Arm Activation. This movement relaxes you and releases the stress of over-focus. It loosens your arm muscles, making the actual act of writing come more easily. Raise one arm straight up over your head toward the ceiling. Put the other arm behind your head, grasping the raised arm at the elbow. Press back against the hand of your bent arm. Move your hand to the front side of your elbow and press against it. Move the hand of your bent arm so that you can press out away from your body and then again so you can move in toward your head. Repeat with the opposite hand raised.

B. The Calf Pump. This movement not only warms up the muscles that hold you back, but stimulating both the front and rear portions of the brain releases fear and allows you to get moving.This is basically that leg stretching move that you see runners do often. Stand with your left leg behind you with the ball of your foot on the floor and the heel raised a few inches. Bend your right leg and place your hands on your thigh for support. Slowly press your left heel into the floor, then raise. Repeat, exhaling when your heel goes down, inhale when you raise it. Change legs and repeat.

C. Hook-Ups: This activity relaxes your central nervous system which is especially helpful when your blood pressure rises due to Writer's Block. Crossing the mid-line of the body stimulates both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, enabling you to use both sides equally. Perform this movement by sitting in a chair and crossing your legs at the ankles, left leg over the right. Extend your arms in front of you, crossing your wrists, left over right. Place your palms together and lace your fingers.Now bring your hands up under you chin, close your eyes, and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Sit quietly for a minute and breathe deeply.

6. Drink. We talked about this last month. Your brain is not capable of efficient thought when you are dehydrated. Sipping room temperature water keeps your brain functioning well with the added benefit of getting you up and going--literally.

No writer ever wants to think that the dreaded Writer's Block will strike them. When you find yourself in the midst of this frustrating situation, read Romans 8. I won't quote the whole chapter, but let me pick a few key phrases out to encourage you today:

"...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." (v.1)

" did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship." (v. 15)

"...then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (v. 17)

"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." ( vv. 20,21)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (v. 28)

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (v. 31)

" all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." (v. 37)

What better encouragement than that do we need in our fight against the foe of Writer's Block? What are some tricks you use to get yourself writing again?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus


  1. Cool, Nikki! I'm going to print this off and put it on my wall.

    I definitely pray a LOT when I write. Also, I get great ideas during housework. Boring, true. But maybe it's the movement of housework that stimulates the brain? Who knows? I have written some of my best songs that way!

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Next week I intend to rewrite the opening scene of my novel to make it more captivating. I'm stymied already with lack of ideas, so I'm praying "Help, help, help!" now. I'm also going to review portions of Les Edgerton's book, Hooked, and Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages to get my engine revved up. I've found that staring at an empty monitor is self-defeating, so I'll have some baskets of laundry nearby to keep my hands busy while my mind sifts through possibilities.

    Prayer, stimulation, and mind-freeing busyness have proved successful for me, and now I'm going to add some of your suggestions. Thanks, Nikki!