Balls of Steel™: Unblock the Block

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares how she beats writers block to a pulp.
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Writer’s block is a writer’s impotency. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our careers. Sadly, there’s no magic pill to cure it.

Films like Misery and Below Zero highlight the mind of a writer void of thoughts, ideas, or the ability to execute. Short of being trapped with Kathy Bates, or locking ourselves in a meat locker like Below Zero’s Jack the Hack, we have to find tried and true ways to combat it.

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Why do we get writer’s block? Simple – fear.

We fear the execution won’t live up to the hook. Or fear our characters won’t be as vibrant as they appear when they dance inside our heads. We fear not meeting the deadline, so we procrastinate to the point of panic, needing that pressure of a ticking clock to push us. But mostly, we fear failure.

For most writers, the fear starts with staring at the blank page.

Depending on whether I’m writing an article or a script, I use different tricks to tame the dreaded white sheet taunting me.

For a blog post or an article, I spend ten minutes brainstorming a list of points I want to make in the piece. Once I’m satisfied with the list, I call out a writing sprint on Twitter.

A writing sprint is either 30 or 60 minutes of uninterrupted time to get the words on the page. Knowing other writers are suffering through a sprint at the same time helps my morale. That either defines me as a twisted chick or a competitive freak. Either way, I can live with it.

I’m actually doing a writing sprint right this very minute. See how this works? Pretty damn good.

If I’m working on a script, I take the outline and import it directly into my screenwriting software. Each scene has a slugline and description of what I want to explore both in story and character development. I then give myself a goal of writing either a certain number of scenes each day or a page count.

But what if even with these tricks I can’t produce?

I pick up the phone and call my brainstorming partner. There are many ways to collaborate in this business, but for me, there’s one person who I know will always help spark an idea. All it takes is a ten-minute phone call, and I’m unblocked.

Perhaps I could do the same by talking to myself in the mirror. I might try it someday, but I’m quite certain my teens would have me locked up. There’s only so much embarrassment they can endure.

If my brain is still clogged, I go for a run. No iPod or headphones – just my sneakers, the fresh air, a few squirrels, and me. I take a digital recorder with me though for when brilliance strikes. No doubt I will listen back and pay more attention to how heavy I was breathing than to my thoughts, but 99% of the time, moving my body is all I need to get my brain in gear.

What if you’re not into exercising?

Change your scenery. Put some clean clothes on and go out in public. Live your life. Read a book or go to the movies. Make love. Go shopping or stalk people at Panera.

If voyeurism and sex don’t do it, then maybe today just isn’t your day for creation. Above all, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, give yourself permission to completely walk away.

My experience is if I force myself to sit still and push out the words, those words will be worse than vomit. Nothing worth reading will come of it. When I step away and get in the right headspace, inevitably the writing goal is met in half the time.

Since every writer is different, and no one has the same set of fears, I’d love to hear what techniques you use to unblock yourself. Please share your tips in the comment section, and let’s get the conversation started!

Ironically, while some people think conversation is a procrastination tool, it is a fabulous way to free your mind. Anything that gets your mind moving can spark a nugget of an idea you can run with, even if you’re not a runner.

How do you beat writer’s block to a pulp?

Email jeanne@jeannevb.com questions or topics you’d like addressed in future "Balls of Steels" columns and follow her on Twitter @jeannevb.