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Michael A. Banks on Writer’s Block

September 12, 2009

“Writer’s block is a common malady. Most people (especially those who don’t write) don’t understand it. And many writers don’t understand it, either.

If you understand how and why something works, you are halfway to solving your problem. So I propose now to remove the mystery surrounding writer’s block.

Ready?

Writer’s block is not being able to write. That’s it, plain and simple.

Well, okay–there’s more to it than that. But writer’s block is neither exotic nor mysterious. It’s often nothing more than a technical impasse that occurs when you reach a point where you know something is wrong, but can’t identify it. The subconscious wants to resolve the problem, and won’t let you progress until you do.

When this happens, you can work your way around (or through) the block by writing.

But how can you write if you’re blocked? There are two approaches. One is indirect, the other direct. Either will remove whatever roadblocks writer’s block has thrown in front of you.

Sneaking up on Writer’s Block

The indirect approach to ending writer’s block: Start another writing project. Tackle something you already know will get you going again. This foils your frustration over not accomplishing anything, and gives you the break you need.

After you’ve been away from the original blocked project for a few days, you’ll gain a fresh viewpoint on it. The main thing to remember: Keep yourself away from whatever has you stuck for a few days. THat includes even thinking about the problem. So pull out another project to work on and think about.

If you can, give your subconscious up to two weeks. This is more than enough time away from a project. Now your fresh viewpoint will often point right at the hidden problem. And by identifying the problem, you probably now know how to solve it.

Write Through It!

If you have a deadline and must get the work out, you can still write your way out of the block: Write the parts you know how to write first.

Jump ahead in your short story or novel and write a scene you know will take place. You might even write the ending. If you’re writing nonfiction, write a book chapter or article section that you already know how to handle.

No help? Outline it! Outline as much as you know, including what you’ve already written. Then, fill in the blanks between the outline headings.

Eventually you gain a viewpoint or an insight that will help you work out your problem. At the same time, you’ll avoid compounding your problems, extending the ‘block’ with frustration.

I can’t tell you which approach to take, but when you feel like you have writer’s block, try one approach or another. In the rare instance when you have a more serious case of it, admit that you need a brief vacation from writing of any type. You’ll come back refreshed and eager to write.”

— from How to Become a Fulltime Freelance Writer by Michael A. Banks (The Writer Books, 2003)

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