“SOS! Send Words and Sandwiches”: 6 Helpful Suggestions for Overcoming Writer’s Block

You’re at your computer. You’re staring at a blank screen that you have promised 1000 words to before the day is up.  And NOTHING is happening. Not even so much as a clear thought is forming in your head. You’re distracted. You’re bored. You’re frustrated with ideas that are good in theory if only you could figure out a way to get them out of your imagination and onto the page. And even worse, if you’re among the lucky few who are working with actual deadlines from editors and publishers, you have a reputation to worry about. People are expecting you to deliver the goods, and your freight is empty.

You are a writer, and this is a problem.

There is no easy fix for this dilemma. You can pop all the emergency Adderall you want, the words still aren’t guaranteed to come. And even if they do, you might end up facing an even worse problem: The words that you just slaved over, the creative blood that you just squeezed from one last shriveled dried up vein that is now crusted over-all those hard thought out words and descriptions…suck. This is a worst case scenario, and my hope is that your writer’s block will not come to that. So, if you’re like me and writing prompts just don’t do it for you, here are a few helpful suggestions to get you out of your funk:

In my opinion, this is the ultimate “duh” suggestion. Reading and writing act as the ying and yang for good (and smart!) writers. But you’d be surprised how many writers choose not to read in their off-time. Which is sad. I feel sorry for these keyboard bangers. Everyone needs a mentor. Everyone needs to remember why they do what they do. Walk over to your bookshelf and comb through some of your old favorites. Or drive down to the library and check out a good 5 to 10 lbs of books. Note: Pick authors that INSPIRE you. Pick authors that you long to be like. The last thing you want to do is read a bunch of rancid self-published self-edited self-proclaimed crap that someone just threw on to make a buck (I’m talking to you YA/NA/erotica people. I love my girl porn just as much as the next person, but I guarantee you Martin Scorsese doesn’t log onto to get his next Oscar nomination). Challenge yourself. Challenge what you perceive as read-worthy. If you read crap, you’ll write crap. And that’s the truth.

Just like illustrators and directors and advertisers storyboard their vision of a project, I strongly suggest taking a blank wall inside your office or house, and turning it into a storyboard for your book. This will compartmentalize your workload and provide a visual layout of your progress. I use Post-its and color coded sticky tabs. I give every scene a nickname; each scene gets its own Post-it. If I know that something should come between one scene and another-but I don’t know what, I plug in a blank Post-it or two. And I use color-coding tabs to let me know what needs to be written, revised, checked for continuity, etc. The great thing about storyboarding is it gives you a sense of control when you feel like the work ahead of you is just too vast and/or intimidating to even begin. It also works as a constant reminder that you should be writing, not fiddling on the computer.

Step away from the keyboard. Step away from your overworked imagination. Log onto Netflix (or if you’ve got some cash, pull an all day flick-fest at the local movie theater) and just relax. Let other creative minds treat you to a full-day of storytelling and visual stimulation. An even better suggestion is to watch movies you haven’t seen a trailer for-because that’s just like reading a book. You have no clue what the plot entails. No spoilers! Let the characters and the pacing guide you through. Plus, you get to sit around in your PJs all day and ignore your phone. And that’s way better than writing prompts. Some great titles currently streaming on Netflix include Safety Not Guaranteed, The King’s Speech, The Trip, Trainspotting, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Brokeback Mountain, and so on.

I’m not saying go out and buy a trunk load of food from Kroger (because I can save you a few pounds by testifying that I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work). I’m saying think of an AMAZING meal, something that makes your mouth water just thinking about it, and go eat it. Cook it. Buy it. Whatever. But once you get it, savor everything about it. The smell. The texture. The sound. The taste. Think about the first time you ate it. Think about who you ate it with. Gorge yourself on the sensory. Not only will the experience be enjoyable on a personal level (because your taste buds will be dancing), but it will open up your ability to observe details in a controlled environment. As writers, we sometimes get lazy and forget about the smallest details. The simplest pleasures. And hey-if you’re brave enough, do the opposite and eat something disgusting. You won’t get the joy, but you might get a spark of inspiration. Me? I opt for a killer Whichwich sandwich drenched in mayo with house potato chips and a Barq’s root beer. Ooooohhhhmygoooodnesssssss. Don’t judge. I’m a girl who needs her sandwiches.

Go somewhere you normally wouldn’t go and people watch. The other night, I met a friend for a drink at a bar that’s known for its “old people inside/young people outside” mix. And lemme tell ya, watching early 20somethings grind their naughty bits against one another in a drunken stupor is quite the out-of-body experience. On one hand, I was totally judging and on the other hand, I couldn’t have been more happy for them. You’ll find that plugging yourself into an environment where you are the minority can be quite eye-opening. Just don’t go anywhere you can be perceived as “creepy” (Men: don’t perch yourself on a park bench right in front of the swing sets and proceed to pull out your binoculars. Leave that to the legitimate creepsters.)

Money tends to add a layer of “pressure” to any problem. But you can use that to you’re advantage. If you rent a $100 hotel room for one night to get some serious writing done, you better believe you’re going to get some writing done! Otherwise, you just wasted 100 bones of your own money to do nothing. And you’re a writer; you’re poor. You NEED that money to count for something. So fish out a credit card or save up some money and book a solo trip. Or a hotel room. Or, hell, buy a “thinking” couch. Buy something that’s going to make you write because you shelled out money on something you couldn’t afford and you HAVE TO see the fruits of that investment. Otherwise, you’re just a idiot who thought money would magically solve your writing woes-and, ironically, that’s how most writers feel about money. Note: If you’re going to rent out a hotel room or a vacation rental for a solo weekend of writing, make sure you have a plan. Have an outline of scenes or various plot structure issues you want to tackle. Otherwise, you run the risk of wasting you’re trip (and your money) on thinking, not working. And that’s no different from what you’re doing at home when you’re stuck in your writer’s block.

Regardless, never give up. Never. Give. Up. A lot of writers have to step away from their material for weeks, sometimes months (years even) before their creativity comes back from a long lunch break. But, in my experience, when it does come back-it’s like a dam breaking. Like it really was just a blockage, not a drought. Don’t abandon ship. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep seeking out the things that inspire you. Eventually, it will come.

Trust it. 🙂